September 05, 2008

Compared to Biden, Palin Beyond the Pale

After the American Century

Compare Sarah Palin with Joe Biden. He went to the University of Delaware, majoring in history and political science, and then completed a law degree at Syracuse University. He was elected to the Senate when just 29 and now has served there for 35 years. He has been fully vetted by the press, as a result. There is little likelihood that there are any skeletons in his closet.

In contrast, Palin's shorter life remains largely undisclosed. Several blogs back I said that she had attended the University of Idaho for her BA. This was what it said on her official website, and I was silly enough to believe it. In fact, she attended four different schools, moving five times in the space of five years.

Hawaii Pacific University fall, 1982, in business administration
North Idaho College spring and fall, 1983, general studies
(whereabouts unclear) spring of 1984
University of Idaho fall 1984, spring 1985, broadcast journalism
Matanuska-Susitna College fall 1985,
University of Idaho spring 1986 to spring 1987, broacast journalism.

It seems difficult to uncover good reasons for all this moving around. In my more than three decades of teaching, I have found that such peripatetic students are rare, and usually there is something wrong. A student who moves that many times cannot build lasting friendships and usually there is something amiss when someone never settles down for long . It can be problems at home, poor grades, a stalker, a death in the family, pregnancy, or any number of things. College students can have a huge range of problems. Palin studied for nine semesters over a space of five years to get a four year degree. So either she failed some courses or some of them were not deemed transferable. There may be good explanations for this moving around, but it would be nice to know what was going on before election day. Even if the explanations are convincing, her education could not have been particularly coherent, being a mishmash of courses from different curricula.

None of the schools Palin attended is an educational powerhouse. They lie on the outer edges of quality. There is some meaning in the ratings of universities put out by various independent organizations, notably Business Week. None of the places Palin attended is in the top 400 institutions of higher learning in the United States. To bounce around in this educational nether world is not encouraging. At the very least, it suggests merely average intelligence and lack of focus. Her record is quite a contrast to Joe Biden's, who completed both his BA and law degree in the minimum time - 7 years - attending just two universities, both of them well-regarded.

Imagine that you have a job to fill. Not something as exalted as Vice President of the United States, but a mid-level position at a fortune 500 company. Imagine that Biden and Palin applied, and imagine that the selection process was blind. All you have to go on is their educational transcripts, with no idea of whether the candidates are male or female, old or young, experienced or not. Which one of these applicants would set alarm bells ringing, and which one would seem a good prospect? Biden alone stands for stability, rapid execution, and quality. Palin stands for uncertainly, instability, slow execution, and mediocrity. Palin just doesn't measure up.

There is a clear connection between having a second-rate, mishmash of an education and many of the policy positions Palin holds. How many well-educated people think that "creationism" is a valid theory that ought to be taught in the schools? She does. How many well-educated people think that global warming is not a problem and that it is not caused by human activities? She does. How many well-educated people would agree with Palin that there is never a good case for abortion, even when the mother's life is threatened or even when she has been raped? She does. Is there any pattern here?

It seems unlikely that Sarah Palin actually has any ideas beyond what she reads on the teleprompter. She merely has opinions that she has received uncritically from others. She is passionate about unexamined notions, and she has the self-righteous certainty of a poorly-furnished mind. Putting her a heartbeat away from the presidency would be the worst mistake the American electorate ever made. (And I make that statement with a full knowledge of some impressive past mistakes.)