Before climbing onto her dogsled and heading home to Alaska, Sarah Palin told reporters in Phoenix, “If I cost John McCain even one vote then I am sorry about that.”
Actually, the devastation Palin caused went well beyond one vote. With occasional help from Senator McCain himself, she managed to lose solid leads in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana; and if she had spent a few more days in Missouri, she could have lost another lead there.
When Senator McCain first selected Palin as his running mate, voters displayed a good deal of interest in her. But once she started talking, those voters began to fly away like waterfowl escaping the Exxon Valdez. Talking, which requires thinking, did not go well for Palin, especially when television journalist Katie Couric asked the questions.
When Couric asked her what newspapers and magazines she read, Palin could not recall a single name. So she said, “I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.”
That answer didn’t satisfy Couric. “What specifically?” she asked.
Palin pondered. “Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years,” she said.
Palin’s ignorance of almost everything a vice president should know caused some nervous voters to begin practicing how they would fill in the proper bubble, push the proper icon, or do whatever the equipment in their states required on Election Day. They may have been undecided about McCain, but they were positive about Palin. They didn’t want her anywhere near the White House.
But there was much more news that they still didn’t know.
Every four years, Newsweek follows the presidential campaign, picking up bits of news from each candidate’s staff, news considered too intrusive to publish before the election is over. The magazine then publishes the entire report under the title Special Election Project. The election is now over, and the ink is dry on the page. For those of you still nursing a Grant Park hangover, let me give you a juicy detail from the Newsweek report.
Campaign aides discovered that Palin spent far more than the $150,000 previously reported for wardrobe renovations. One staff member estimates that Palin bought as much as $40,000 worth of new duds for her husband. The staff thought it would be best not to report these expenses to Senator McCain until after the election.
Not wanting to get left out of the fun, Fox News reporter Carl Cameron waited patiently until after the election to reveal that McCain’s staff had learned that Palin thought Africa was a country, not a continent. This insight has added a new dimension to the study of geography. South Africa has become the equivalent of South Dakota, and the region known as West Africa is much like West Virginia.
But there’s even more. Palin could not name all three of the countries in North America. She lives in one of those countries, and Canada is right next door to Alaska. So maybe Mexico was the hard part. The presence of New Mexico might also have led to Governor Palin’s confusion. Or maybe the nearness of Russia (which makes Palin an expert in foreign affairs) caused her to confuse Siberia with the Yukon Territory.
Before leaving Phoenix, Governor Palin expressed some personal regrets. “Two thousand twelve sounds so far off,” she said. Palin apparently sees a future for herself in Washington, D.C. But if even Fox News was glad to see her go, what chance would she have?
Maybe Palin should try to become the chairwoman of the Alaska Independence Party. After a successful revolution, she’d be known forever as the founder of her nation. And it would suddenly become easy for her to remember the name of one more country in North America.
PATRICK IRELAN is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.