30 September 2008

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore: A rant of a political nature

I'm mad.

I'm mad about the fact that Sarah Palin's candidacy is still being taken seriously by anyone in the voting public of this country. But I'm also mad about the way the discussion is being framed as a question of the importance of experience.

I think experience is overrated. I believe in what JFK told Robert McNamara, when the latter expressed hesitation to accept the job of Sec Def: There's no school for secretaries of defense, and there's no school for presidents, either. A great president isn't made by experience alone, but a combination of judgment, personal strengths, innate ability, intelligence, experience, yes, and millions of other things.

The issue isn't her inexperience - it's what the way she DEALS with her inexperience says about her as a leader, manager, and person.

Whereas almost any thinking, moderately self-aware individual would pause to reflect before accepting one of the most important jobs on Earth (as McNamara did), Sarah Palin didn't blink, as she told Charlie Gibson. She has no interest in even acknowledging that it's CONCEIVABLE she's not prepared. Here's someone so insecure that she thinks it would have been a flagrant admission of unworthiness if she had simply said, "Yes, John offered me a huge responsibility, and after much reflection and discussion with him, I decided to accept and allow the American public to make their own decision."

Watching these interviews, which provide our only glimpse of what the non-scripted Sarah Palin is really like, I'm not so concerned about her incredible degree of ignorance and her inability to form a coherent sentence; I'm more concerned that she is evidently EXTREMELY uneasy being challenged or pressed on anything she says. Is this someone who's going to surround herself with people smarter than she is, people who will tell her when she's wrong, people who will tell her what she doesn't want to hear? Or will she surround herself with sycophants who reinforce her own worldview and her opinion of herself? Is she going to let facts and common sense guide her decisions, or will she be more concerned about asserting herself as The Decider and proving to her advisors that she's not an idiot? What does the record show us? The image of her working out the state budget with her husband Todd and the emails from her subordinates saying things like "You're SO awesome!" do not paint a very optimistic picture, were she ever to occupy a position of real power.

What scares me about Palin is not inexperience or ignorance. It's that when I watch her in those interviews, every fiber in my body tells me that what I see is an insecure, defensive, and incurious individual who knows she's already ascended beyond her abilities, and is deeply uncomfortable with being faced with that reality. If given the opportunity, I'm sure that she would shield herself from it as much as she possibly could - probably without even realizing she was doing it.

Just look at Mao to see what happens when an insecure, small-minded human being is handed vast amounts of power. The reason the Great Leap Forward resulted in 50 million deaths is, above all, that Mao unwittingly created incentives for people to tell him what he wanted to hear, even if it wasn't true. People have a natural tendency to favor those who make them feel good, which can backfire against managers in a very big way; and Sarah Palin gives no indication that she's the sort of person who understands or appreciates this issue. It doesn't matter how much executive "experience" you have (not that she has much of that, either) if you don't have the mental and psychological qualities of a great manager. And courageous, intelligent management requires more psychological fortitude than Sarah Palin has demonstrated in any of her interviews, where she comes across as fragile, fussy, and impatient towards any kind of intellectual challenge.

She's bad news, and it's not because she's inexperienced.

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