For Gov. Sarah Palin, last week's vice presidential debate was about political survival. She performed well enough to remain in the race all the way through to Election Day by speaking with reasonably intelligent language. But especially in regard to the foreign policy discussion, it was readily evident she wasn't expressing any deeply formulated personal views.
The truth is Palin lacks the sense of humility to admit that she's been a distant observer to international politics. She exemplified this by excitedly misleading Americans on her commitment to help stop the genocide in Darfur, which was the one opportunity as Alaska's governor where she had a chance to lead on an issue related to the larger world.
When Darfur came up in the debate, Palin emphatically stated that our Legislature needs to pass the bill that would force the Alaska Permanent Fund managers to divest of the stocks of companies doing business in the Sudan. She failed to admit that her administration opposed the measure during formal hearings last February. It wasn't until April that she came out in support of the proposed legislation.
This isn't a case of being against proposed legislation before she was for it. Palin viewed this bill like she was looking at Russia from Alaska's shores on the Bering Sea. She never used the power of her position, nor her popularity among voters, to even try to make a difference. Yet she told the national television audience that "all of us, as individuals, and as humanitarians and as elected officials should do all we can to end those atrocities in that region of the world."
Sure, it's not unusual for politicians to stretch their records during campaigns for public office. But to appear credible to the national electorate, Palin has gone beyond embellishment by claiming she has any foreign policy experience at all. There's no other way to describe the nonsense that Russia's proximity to Alaska is anything more than a vague lesson in world geography. And even if we distinguish knowledge from experience, Palin's inability to tell Katie Couric the name of one major newspaper that she reads calls into question how closely she followed matters of international significance before her nomination for vice president.
To be fair, Palin acknowledged early on as governor that she was more concerned with the needs of Alaskans. And there's nothing wrong with focusing on Alaska issues as the chief executive of our state.
The problem is Palin has compromised the core of her truths to dismiss justifiable questions about her candidacy. The fine line between embellishments and dishonesty parallels the distinction between poor financial management and corruption. Should voters trust her ability to clean up Wall Street and Congress when she so easily exaggerates the limits of her knowledge and experience?
Palin had the chance to atone for her earlier mistakes when asked late in the debate about the lack of experience being the Achilles' heel to her candidacy. With honest humility she could have said she was wrong to claim that having Russia and Canada as Alaska's neighbors qualifies as foreign policy experience. Instead, she avoided the issue because she's afraid to admit she has none.
So why hasn't the difficulty she's had with these questions raised an awareness of self-doubts about her ability to be vice president and, if called upon, to assume the highest public office in America?
When Charles Gibson asked her this during her first national interview she replied that she has "the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission."
Such decisiveness is needed for a firefighter entering a burning building, not for making the most important decisions of our lives. We need to seriously question the source of our self-confidence. Humility is the human tool which guards us against the undue inflation of self-importance.
If Palin hasn't honestly examined the truth of her qualifications, then she's failed to place the country ahead of her self-image and ambitions. By succumbing to the seductive power of position and popularity, she is becoming part of the culture of political corruption that she wants to change.