Sunday, September 14, 2008
Bering Straight Talk
By MAUREEN DOWD
I’ve been in Alaska only a week, but I’m already feeling ever so much smarter about Russia.
I can’t quite see it from my hotel window, but, hey, I know it’s out there somewhere, beyond all the stuffed bears and cruise ships and glaciers and oil derricks.
The proximity of the country from which William Seward bartered to buy Alaska for $7 million — Seward’s icebox — is so illuminating that I suddenly realize that we would commit a grave error by overestimating Russia’s economic strength. After all, it represents only 2.8 percent of the world’s G.D.P., even though its gross domestic product has ballooned from $200 billion in 1999 to $1.7 trillion this year.
But I overanalyze.
An Arctic blast of action has swept into the 2008 race, making thinking passé. We don’t really need to hurt our brains studying the world; we just need the world to know we’re capable of bringing a world of hurt to the world if the world continues to be hell-bent on misbehaving.
Two weeks after being thrown onto a national ticket, and moments after being speed-briefed by McCain foreign-policy advisers, our new Napoleon in bunny boots (not the Pamela Anderson kind, but the knock-offs of the U.S. Army Extreme Cold Weather Vapor Barrier Boots) is ready to face down the Russkies and start a land war over Georgia, and, holy cow, what business is it of ours if Israel attacks Iran?
The trigger-happy John McCain has indeed found a soul mate. Trigger squared. In Fairbanks on Thursday, at a deployment ceremony for her son who is going to Iraq, Governor Palin followed the lead of McCain and W. in fusing Osama bin Laden’s diabolical work on 9/11 and the mission in Iraq. She told the departing troops, “You’ll be there to defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans.”
Asked by Charlie Gibson what insight into Russian actions her Alaskan proximity gave her, Sarah blithely replied: “They’re our next-door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.”
Being a next-door neighbor is not quite enough, though. If Sarah had been reading about the world she feels so confident about leading rather than just parroting by rote what Randy Scheunemann and the neocons around McCain drilled into her last week — Drill, baby, drill! — she might have realized that as heinous as Russia’s behavior toward Georgia was, it was not completely unprovoked. The State Department has let it be known that it warned McCain’s friend, Misha, the hotheaded president of Georgia, not to send troops in to crush the rebellion in two breakaway states.
And she might not have had to clench her jaw and play for time when Gibson raised the Bush doctrine, the wacko preemption philosophy that so utterly changed the world.
The really scary part of the Palin interview was how much she seemed like W. in 2000, and not just the way she pronounced nu-cue-lar. She had the same flimsy but tenacious adeptness at saying nothing, the same generalities and platitudes, the same restrained resentment at being pressed to be specific, as though specific is the province of silly eggheads, not people who clear brush at the ranch or shoot moose on the tundra.
Just as W. once could not name the General-General running Pakistan, so Palin took a position on Pakistan that McCain had derided as naïve when Obama took it.
“We must not, Charlie, blink, Charlie, because, Charlie, as I’ve said, Charlie, before, John McCain has said, Charlie, that — and remember here, Charlie, we’re talking about John McCain, Charlie, who, Charlie, is John McCain and I won’t be blinking, Charlie.”
She tried to finesse her previous church comments about Iraq, asking worshipers to pray “that there is a plan, and that plan is God’s plan.” Earnestly repeating after her tutors, she said she had meant to echo Abraham Lincoln, that in war we must pray that we are on God’s side rather than that he is on ours. But her original comments sounded more W. than Abe — taking your policy and ideology and giving it the hallowed mantle of a mission from God.
Sarah has single-handedly ushered out the “Sex and the City” era, and made the sexy new model for America a retro one — the glamorous Pioneer Woman, packing a gun, a baby and a Bible.
Her explosion onto the scene made Obama seem even more like a windy, wispy egghead. Like W., Sarah has the power of positive unthinking. But now we may want to think about where ignorance and pride and no self-doubt has gotten us. Being quick on the trigger might be good in moose hunting, but in dealing with Putin, a little knowledge might come in handy.