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Sarah Palin's No Tina Fey: 'Palinisms' Fall Flat, What About Biden's Gaffes?

5 years ago
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It's always good, especially in these dark days for journalism, when a working scribe can make a buck for himself and his publisher, so for years I ignored conservatives' complaints and applauded Jacob Weisberg for figuring out how to monetize George W. Bush's penchant for faux pas. Jacob's Bushisms books sold a bundle and made people laugh, the former president included. What's the harm in that?
Anyway, a thin new volume arrived over the transom this week, an offering from Jacob Weisberg called Palinisms: The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of Sarah Palin. There are a few nuggets here, but it would seem from this little paperback that Sarah Palin is not the dimwit liberals make her out to be. Palinisms made me miss George W. Bush -- and Ronald Reagan, too. It also implicitly raises the question of where the comparable volume is for Joe Biden, the gaffe-prone pol who actually holds the job Sarah Palin sought in 2008.
Weisberg's critics have long complained that he's a liberal with an obvious partisan agenda, and while I can't speak to that, it's apparent than in modern political writing a point of view can be a shrewd marketing technique. My father, Lou Cannon, pioneered the literary conceit of the "Reaganism of the Week," ending each Reagan & Co. column with one of them, but those were an eclectic compilation, catering neither solely to Reagan lovers nor Reagan haters.

Some "Reaganisms" made The Gipper sound foolish, as when he mused about his "suspicion" that the Mount St. Helens volcano released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere than 10 years' worth of automobile driving. Others Reaganisms were clever. "I'm not worried about the deficit -- it's big enough to take care of itself." The best Reaganisms rendered his listeners speechless, which is how the leader of the free world left Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 when Reagan sought to establish common ground by telling the Soviet premier that if Earth was attacked by aliens, the Russians and American would fight the extraterrestrial invaders together. And some of the most memorable Reaganisms were statesmanlike -- as when Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and declared: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
The most endearing Reaganisms were self-deprecating: "It's true hard work never killed anybody," Reagan liked to quip, "but I figure why take the chance?" When a wire service reporter Reagan knew asked him to autograph a photo from Bedtime for Bonzo, the 1951 screwball comedy starring Ronald Reagan, the president signed it, "I'm the one with the watch."
Unfortunately, it's a different era now; we're supposed to laugh mirthlessly at those we voted against, and to use verbal misfires as proof of their idiocy -- whether or not they are laughing along with us at their own fallibility.
While giving the commencement speech at his alma mater, Yale, President George W. Bush said: "And to you 'C' students, -- you too can be president of the United States." Another time, while campaigning for reelection at a town hall in Ohio in 2004, one of Dubya's questioners identified himself as an operator of air compressor stations – a man who sells air. Bush retorted quickly: "You and I are in the same business. Is it hot air, by any chance?"
Such cleverness could be quickly negated, by George W. Bush's own hand -- or rather his tongue. The same day as the Ohio rally -- at a bill-signing ceremony, no less – the president uttered one of his most famous Bushisms: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
Everyone has their favorite Bushism. "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" he said while discussing education in South Carolina on Jan. 11, 2000. "I know the human being and the fish can co-exist peacefully," was his contribution to environmental thought. His economic theory? "We ought to make the pie higher."
The Texan's saving grace -- at least to some -- was that he was in on the joke, something that Jacob Weisberg himself explained. "People often assume that because I've spent the past nine years collecting Bushisms, I must despise George W. Bush," Weisberg wrote at the end of Bush's tenure in the White House. "To the contrary, Bushisms fill me with affection for the man -- and not just because of the income stream they've generated..."
Less than two years into a new administration, we're in a political environment that is even more polarized and poisonous. Into this milieu comes Palinisms. Two things can be said about the woman nicknamed in high school "Sarah Barracuda" and who calls her political allies "mama grizzlies." The first is that barracudas and grizzlies don't laugh, they bite. In other words, Sarah Palin doesn't easily laugh at herself -- not in public, anyway. The second point is that she's not all that funny, which helps explain why Palinisms is so thin.
The book is tiny -- 5-by-7 inches -- and fits in a back pocket. It's 95 pages, but the preface goes to page 13. And though the pages are small, the type is big -- and double-spaced with a picture on about half the pages. You can read the whole thing in five minutes. Worse, you've heard much of this stuff before, although Tina Fey said it better: "I can see Russia from my house!" is hilarious. But what Palin actually said in her infamous interviews with Katie Couric was: "They're our next door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." Not that funny.
Scanning this booklet, something else occurs to a discerning reader: Sarah Palin may be more careful than people think. She has given numerous interviews, talks, and campaign speeches since John McCain plucked her out of obscurity two years ago, and yet of the 116 Palinisms in Palinisms, eight are from her (ghost-written) autobiography Rogue. Another seven are from a single talk she made while speaking about her faith at Wassilla Assembly of God church; six are from those Katie Couric interviews; five from a speech she made in Ontario, Canada last April to raise money for Charity of Hope, which helps needy children; four came from her resignation as governor; three from an interview with Charlie Gibson.
The Palin material from the Gibson interview certainly isn't elegant, but it's simply not in Bush's league for being off-kilter or entertaining. "You are a cynic," she told Gibson (page 50), "because show me where I have ever said that there's absolute proof that nothing that man has ever conducted or engaged in has had any effect -- or no effect -- on climate change." Maybe I'm cynical, too, but that clunky prose sounds to me like the mind-numbing obfuscation that is a politician's stock-in-trade.
None of the Palinisms in this booklet are lifted from her 2008 debate with Joe Biden. And there's the rub: In that debate, Biden said numerous things, which, had Palin uttered them, would have generated pressure for John McCain to drop her from the ticket the following day. Palin wasn't perfect. Twice she referred to the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan as "General McClellan." (His name is David McKiernan), she claimed that McCain's $5,000 tax credit for health coverage was some how "budget-neutral," and she combined the last names of the Democratic ticket when she called opponent "Senator O'Biden," reminiscent of Biden's gaffe of introducing Obama to a crowd as "Barack America."
But Biden's performance that October night in 2008 wasn't characterized by slips of the tongue so much as wildly inaccurate claims about everything from the basics of the Afghanistan war to Constitutional provisions of the office he was seeking.
Joe Biden claimed that McCain voted against a nuclear test ban treaty "that every Republican has supported" (McCain actually voted with 50 other Republicans to kill the treaty), credited Pakistan with having intercontinental nuclear-armed ballistic missiles (it doesn't), and asserted that he had opposed Bush's support for holding elections on the West Bank (Biden actually gave a spirited defense of this policy). He also maintained -- while prefacing his point with the statement "facts matter" -- that the United States spends "more money in three weeks on combat in Iraq than we spend on the entirety of the last seven years that we have been in Afghanistan." Biden was so taken with this statement that he repeated this ludicrous claim, which was off by 2,000 percent.
Biden tried to establish his common-man bona fides by inviting voters to walk down Union Street in Wilmington and talk to regular folks at "Katie's Restaurant," which would have been hard to do because the diner (actually located on Scott Street) had been closed for 20 years. More substantively, Biden excoriated Dick Cheney for his "bizarre notion" about Article I of the Constitution (Cheney was correct) in a confused riff that reminded one commentator of John Belushi's famous rant in Animal House: "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"
Biden has continued in this vein as vice president. No less an aficionado of the official gaffe than Jacob Weisberg oversaw their collection for Slate. Weisberg explained to me that they didn't get a big response. Perhaps this is because Slate's readership trends liberal. Or, as Weisberg says, the problem might be that Biden's goofiness is so situational it doesn't translate well to print -- you have to be there to really appreciate the outlandishness -- which was often the case with John Kerry's verbal blunders.
Maybe the moral of the story is that employment is not the only thing in short-supply -- these aren't great days for political humor, either. Of course, there's always Twitter, and this may be the saving grace for collectors of Palinisms. A post-script to Palinisms pays homage to this truism with a "top 10 tweets" postscript. These are pretty good, and many of which have already been topped since the book went to press. My favorite: "Research is your friend, News Media," Palin tweeted on May 15. "Try it sometime."
To that, I'd say: Be careful what you wish for, Sarah Barracuda. You, too, Joe "Regular Guy" Biden.

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Tina is an actor, she is not real. Sarh is for real, go girl.....

August 27 2010 at 1:14 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

Regarding Saah Palin's background. Her parents are/were both teachers in Alaska. She enrolled in colleges in Alaska, Hawaii and Idaho, changing schools six times, before completing at the University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho. She worked as a "weather girl" and sportscaster with an Anchorage TV station, before marrying "First Dude" Todd Palin, who has been a snowmobile racer, operated a snow machine store and shop, worked on the North Slope oil fields (Before turning over confidential company records to the state when Sarah was in her first term as governor), and been a seasonal stream and shallow water commercial fisherman with an open whaleboat -- not an ocean-going crew served 75-150 foot fishing boat. Including the time off for the GOP national election for V.P., she served a full term as governor, with a somewhat lackluster record, although with an obvious talent for jumping into a completed situation and claiming credit. She is a seriously talented self-promoter. After reelection to her second term as governor, Palin recognized the economic return from exploiting her new national fame, started a book with a co-writer, resigned and began developing the profitable oppotunities. With a FOX show, the book, and frequent $100,000+ speaking engagements, she is a profitable multi-million-dollar franchise, while expanding her political base with the conservative branch of the Republican Party and the Tea Party faithful. First Dude Todd apparently is now just a seasonal fisherman. [Ironically, this week the Tea Party has been exposed as having been largely organized and financed by the Texas Oil Billionaire Koch Brothers. The research published to date shows the Kochs could be 90% responsible for the Tea Party's growth. Much of the Tea Party agenda has been promoting programs to benefit the Koch's oil businesses.] The contrast between Palin's academic record, bouncing from junior college to four year college, to junior college, to junior college, to four year university for a "soft and fuzzy" broadcast journalsim diploma -- Compared with President Obama, honors graduate from Columbia (the top liberal arts university nationally), service as a community organizer rather than cashing in with a big money Wall Street job, and then the top Harvard Law School, graduating among the top of his class. Even Michelle Robinson Obama has a distinquished academic (Harvard Law Honors graduate) and professional record. Sarah Palin essentially had her varied collegiate career paid for by her parents and the state of Alaska. The Obamas had to earn their own way, no free rides. Joe and Dr. Jill Biden both came from working parent homes and earned their advanced educations, Joe in Law, Dr. Jill in education, where she had earned international recognition on her own. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, after earning the right to an Ivy League education out of Arkansas. Hillary Clinton had a middle-class upbringing and achieved the Ivy League law degree. George W. Bush, by his own admission, was an alcoholic from his teens into his late-40s, early 50s, and even with the family "legacy" and considerable tutoring was never more than a "C" student. John McCain, with two Annapolis-educated Admirals behind him, required Navy Academy Prep School training to get into the Academy and graduated at the bottom of his class, after compliling the worst discipline and conduct record in the history of the academy. Then getting into Naval Aviation and crashing three planes before being shot down over Hanoi. In the Hanoi Hilton, McCain made propaganda videos and gave confessions of value to his captors. Some years later, while "shacked up" with his blonde heiress mistress in her luxury Hawaian home, he flew to the mainland and while his faithful wife and mother to his sons lay in the cancer ward, McCain walked in with divorce papers. McCain then married the heiress and her wealth financed his political career. These histories are public record and available to anyone who wants to do the research via Google.

August 26 2010 at 2:20 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply

Responders here continue with the fiction that President Obama is solely responsible for the current $14-Trillion national debt. Fact, GHW Bush piled up more national debt than all previous adminstrations combined. Clinton/Gore balanced the budget, eliminated the deficit and reduced the debt by a $500-Billion. They left the program in place to eliminate the remaining debt of less than $4-Trillion by 2010. G. W. Bush took the less than $4-Trilion debt and left office with more than $11-TRILLION in existing debt, to grow to at least $12.5-TRILLION wiithin months. Bush/Cheney left two drastically mis-managed wars. Instead of concentrating upon the job of wiping out Al Qaeda and totally disarming the Taliban in Afghanistan. They lied to the world about WMD and Sadaam Hussein/Taliban links. [Reality, Hussein and Bin Laden were total enemies. Sadaam was totally anti-religious, strictly ethnically oriented as a Sunni. Bin Laden was a complete conservative religious fanatic._ Bush/Cheney eliminated all controls they could and simply left many others unenforced -- so advising their business friends. [i.e.-BP's Gulf deep water disaster was largely the result of NO FEDERAL drilling permit enforcement and oversight, and no safety enforcement. BP did not secure the required drilling permit.] The increased national debt since January 2009 are directly attributable to costs of stopping the slide into total economic depression, jobs creation, unemployment costs, subsidizing state and local governments, the massive bank, insurance and auto industry bailouts started in September 2008 and ongoing costs of the two wars-- Iraq and Afganistan. President Obama has been left with pulling the nation and world out of economic colllapse largely caused by Bush/Cheney policies, regrouping to win two ":LOST" wars, actually rebuilding Louisiana and Mississippi coastal areas from Katrina, overseeing the BP gulf disaster, the Haitian disaster and now the Pakistani flood disasters. All this in the face of the most concentrated personal villification campaign in U.S. history. For example, he is the first president within the past half-century to expand rights for gun owners, making it legal to carry firearms for protection into national parks. (With parks budgets cut drastically after 2000, assaults with guns and other weapons became much more common against park visitors.) G. W. Bush was on vacation at his Crawford, TX, Maine and elsewhere about one-fourth of the time during his first two years in office -- or six months total. Pres. Obama will not total two months TOTAL vacation within two years. Plus, about half of his "Vacation time" has been used for official duties, as in promoting safe use of Gulf Coast beaches last week.

August 26 2010 at 1:29 PM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to danmcgrew123's comment

All that is wonderful, but it still stands that you cannot get out of debt by spending astronomical amounts of money. This is true with any president; as well as the current one in office.

August 28 2010 at 12:05 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
Hello alby

everytime I see BIDEN in front of a mike,I feel like I'm watching the show last comic standing,and the comic is bombing

August 25 2010 at 10:16 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
Mikki Robinson

You guys are really funny. You actually think a person who left before HALF of her first term was over could run the country? She can't even manage her own family. If President Obama's daughter had a baby out of wedlock, what do you think the 3 stooges who actually run the GOP (Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck) would have said? The fact of the matter is President Obama has done an outstanding job correcting the mess W left the country. Do you really think McCain/Palin white house would have the country further ahead? You really don't think that do you? I think Republicans/Conservatives are smarter than that. Or maybe you aren't.

August 24 2010 at 10:03 PM Report abuse -21 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mikki Robinson's comment
Mikki Robinson

Eric...Please clarify what was the country of your origin? When actually did 'the country of your origin' start looking different. Your comment is somewhat vague and lacks definition...pretty much like the 'game plan' of the GOP is vague and lacks definition. So if you could humor me and take a few moments of your time to clarify what you mean, I would greatly appreciate it.

August 24 2010 at 10:32 PM Report abuse -13 rate up rate down Reply
Sean Christopher

"Right" on! Sara isn't in office now, she QUIT! Why wouldn't she? 25% percent of American's think she is the second coming. All the money the Republicans spent dressing her up does show you can put lipstick on a pig and get her a prom date. And deficits? Are you kidding? George "what, me worry?" Bush bankrupts us, and we blame the messenger. What a world, what a world!

August 23 2010 at 11:14 PM Report abuse -17 rate up rate down Reply

Sara Palin falls so far short of what is needed for out government that it can't be believed. To think that anyone takes her seriously in any way is amazing. Just amazing. What is going on with the people in our country? Are they that stupid? I can't say what I want to about Ms. Palin. We need things with politicians that reflect wisdom and strength. Huge and powerful wisdom and intellect. These politicians need to stand huge and tall with unbelieveable greatness. They must understand economics at a PhD level. Finance at a PhD level. They should not be playing one upmanship with political offices. It is about helping all of us out. It is not about making our party the rulers. It is about helping all of us out with proper government. Intellect properly applied. What is actually the best for us. What is actually the best solution without stupid party politics. The hell with politics. How can leaders make the best things happen? That is what matters.

August 23 2010 at 7:09 PM Report abuse -19 rate up rate down Reply

palin,s book profited 30 million before being publish.president pays 450,000.mrs.palin left alaska 13billion surplus.and president obama a country with a 14trillion deficit .now whos stupid.

August 23 2010 at 4:52 PM Report abuse +30 rate up rate down Reply


August 23 2010 at 4:49 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply

Sara Palin has repeatedly stated that she will not run for national office. The "Tea Party" is not a political party - just a diverse conglomeration of folks that are dissatisfied with the direction our country is moving in.

August 23 2010 at 4:05 PM Report abuse +34 rate up rate down Reply

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