In an article published by Newsweek, Sam Harris has expressed his concerns about Sarah Palin. As we’ve come to expect from Harris, it’s a carefully-articulated piece of writing. It was also a bit of a surprise to me, because Harris appears much more concerned about Palin’s lack of competence than her ostensible religious beliefs. I’m with him 100%. Here are a few excerpts from his article:
What doesn’t she know about financial markets, Islam, the history of the Middle East, the cold war, modern weapons systems, medical research, environmental science or emerging technology? Her relative ignorance is guaranteed on these fronts and most others, not because she was put on the spot, or got nervous, or just happened to miss the newspaper on any given morning. Sarah Palin’s ignorance is guaranteed because of how she has spent the past 44 years on earth. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—even the welfare of our species—as collateral in her own personal journey of faith.
Harris raises a concern that we are starting to hear from thoughtful others: what if Obama proudly showed off his unmarried pregnant teenage daughter (Not that Obama has a teen-aged daughter)?
And just imagine if, instead of the Palins, the Obama family had a pregnant, underage daughter on display at their convention, flanked by her black boyfriend who “intends” to marry her. Who among conservatives would have resisted the temptation to speak of “the dysfunction in the black community”?
The thing that which is most unnerving about Palin’s popularity is that her biggest fans don’t seem to care that she is wildly and proudly ignorant about so many things that should be important to one who aspires to lead the United States.
What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.