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“A grand slam home run,” the commentators agreed.  More like a foul — a
very foul — ball to me.

The subject is, of course, Sarah Palin, whose not-yet week-old candidacy
for Vice President of the United States has sucked up so much oxygen
these last days.  The reflections that follow were composed on day two
of that candidacy — before we learned of the truncated vetting process,
before we learned of the daughter’s non-abstinence, before we learned,
as we did in her maiden speech last night, just how sloganeeringly
mean-spirited she can be, this pit bull with lipstick.  The wonder — of
Palin and Guliani and Huckabee and Romney — is two-fold.  A whole
evening, and not only no word, not a single word, re Bush/Cheney, but a
failure to note that for the last eight years, it has been their White
House, for six of  those eight years, their House of Representatives,
for five of those eight years, their Senate.  How can you run against
Washington when it’s been your town?

Here;’s how: These people — and Palin in particular — are running
against the sustaining myths of the cultural right.  They are running
against pornography and promiscuity and crime, against “European ideas,”
against community organizing, against welfare, against the left-wing
media, against the elites, against “cosmpolitanism.”  They present
themselves as the embattled minority, sounding thereby more like Nixon
and Reagan than like either Bush, much less Cheney.  And the reason they
see themselves as the embattled minority is that that is in fact who and
what they are.  Time is not on their side.  They feel themselves
beleaguered, and that is because they are. Truth is, they’ve not been
treated well, neither by history nor by the cultural elites.  But that’s another matter,  Here, some reflections from a Jewish perspective.

But where does she stand on Israel?

The question, of course, is directed at John McCain’s featherweight
choice for Vice-President of the United States.  Please note well: This
is neither an endorsement of Governor Palin nor a refutation of her
candidacy. 

No, my concern here is with noting how fatuous it is to begin an inquiry
into a candidate’s readiness for such high office with the Israel
question.   It is also a reflection on political anorexia.
Political anorexia?  “On The Issues” is as comprehensive a compendium of
the views of candidates as we have.  (See http://ontheissues.org.)  If
you want to know what Governor Palin really thinks about the great
issues facing our nation, it’s a terrific place to browse.  And here is
what you will learn:

On foreign policy: “No issue stance yet recorded by OnTheIssues.org.” On
homeland security: “No issue stance yet recorded.”  On free trade, on
government reform, on immigration, on drugs: “No issue stance yet
recorded.”  On jobs, on families and children, on principles and values,
on technology: “No issue stance yet recorded.”  On war and peace, on
welfare and poverty: “No issue stance yet recorded.”  (These may no
longer be entirely accurate; in the days since her selection, Palin’s
web site has begun to be fleshed out.)

Now I do not want to exaggerate here.  The Governor is not a blank
slate, not at all.  She has positions on a number of issues.  For
example, as quoted in both the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Daily
News, she is opposed to all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.
On teaching creationism and intelligent design, her position is “Teach
both. You know, don’t be afraid of information.  Healthy debate is so
important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of
teaching both.  And, you know, I say this, too, as the daughter of a
science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be
given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject –
creationism and evolution.  It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But
don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.”
No to stem cell research, no to civil rights for gay couples, no to gun
control  (including praise for the Supreme Court?s 5-4 decision to
overturn Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns), yes to the death penalty;
she believes “that health care must be market-and business-driven,
rather than restricted by government;” a year ago, soon after visiting
Alaska National Guard troops in Kuwait, her press office released the
following statement: “Governor Sarah Palin today informed Alaska
National Guardsmen and women serving in combat that big game hunting
opportunities will be available when they return from combat zones this
fall.”

And so forth.

Still, she’s a woman, and that counts for something.  Think of Margaret
Thatcher, of Golda Meir, of Indira Gandhi, of Angela Merkel, of Aun Sung
Suu Kyi, of Mary Robinson.  Can’t you see Sarah Palin joining that
august sorority after four years of on-the-job training – or sooner, if,
heaven forbid, need be?

We all know about that hypothetical 3 A.M. call that Hillary Clinton
used to such good effect during the primary season.  Surely it’s fair to
ask the less melodramatic question, not at all hypothetical: How
comfortable will you be knowing it’s Vice President Palin sitting at the
side of the president at 3 P.M. when disaster strikes, crisis erupts,
tragedy befalls us?   And who would you prefer take the awesome call
when the president himself is indisposed?

Enough of that.  I know what you’re waiting for.  You’re waiting to
learn where she does stand on Israel.  Even if it isn’t the first
question that comes to mind, it’s not entirely trivial.  So let me be
perfectly clear.  I do not for second accept the rumors of Palin’s
association with Islamic terrorism.  The slender fact that if you spell
“Alaska” half-backwards you come up with Al Aksa, the name of Islam’s
third most holy shrine, right there on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is
surely inadequate as evidence of such an association.  True, there are
those who say that her biography is simply too spotless to be credible,
that she must therefore  be part of a sinister sleeper cell.  While the
absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, the FBI vetting process
is reliable, no?  Conspiratorial thinking is neither appropriate nor
helpful.   So scotch the rumors; do not pass them on.

Instead, pay attention to what Jewish sources and friends of Israel in
the United States told Israel’s YNet just the other day – that “the
Alaska governor has maintained very warm relations with the small Jewish
community in the state, which comprises roughly 4000 people.”  Moreover,
and this one’s the killer, “Palin [has] met with Israeli Foreign
Ministry official David Akov, who served as Israel’s Consul General for
the Pacific Northwest Region.  During the meeting, the two discussed
cooperation between Israel and Alaska on various issues, such as
counter-terrorism efforts. Akov invited Palin to visit Israel and the
governor expressed her desire to do so. She also reportedly told Akov
that “‘Alaska’s residents love Israel.'”

Awesome.

And one more thing, almost delicious. “The winter sky of Alaska is a
Talmud of gray, an inexhaustible commentary on a Torah of rain clouds

and dying light,” Michael Chabon writes in his The Yiddish Policemen’s
Union, so brilliantly set in Alaska, so idiosyncratic.  Oh to know what,
if anything, Sarah Palin took away from Chabon’s book (soon to be a
motion picture by the Coen brothers).  What can a devout Christian
understand of the chaos of Chabon’s imagined universe?  Or, perhaps,
what does a native Alaskan get that remains alien to those of us so
decisively non-Alaskan?

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