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The Importance of Ignorance

By       Message Ross McNamara     Permalink
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In Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The American President,’ fictional commander in chief Andrew Shepherd analyzes his election competition saying, ‘I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it!’

Since the Democratic convention a few weeks ago our own non-fictional campaign has our candidates focused on selling just that: their competition simply doesn’t get it.

It began a quarter of the way through Obama’s acceptance speech when he entered into his first real McCain assault declaring, ‘It's not because John McCain doesn't care; it's because John McCain doesn't get it.’ From the middle class to the war in Iraq and everything in between, the Illinois Senator postulated that it wasn’t a lack of compassion on McCain’s part, for in the end – who could have more compassion than an Ex-POW and war hero? No, Obama merely speculated that perhaps Mr. McCain was a tad ignorant on some matters.

Thus the gauntlet was thrown and the important seed of ignorance was planted in the election.

At the first debate between the two men, the gauntlet of ignorance reappeared – but by this time it had switched hands. Obama now was more interested in laying out plans and trying to point out any falsehoods he felt his opponent was voicing. But this time around, question after question, McCain prefaced nearly every answer with, ‘I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand that...

The trend had emerged. It didn’t matter whether or not the accused truly didn’t get it – what mattered was simply saying that they didn’t. Both men spoke clearly and intelligently about the night’s topics – and each has an academic record and long list of experiences that make it more than a reasonable assumption that they both understand even the most obscure idiosyncrasies of the issues they face.

It seemed, instead of an actual attempt to prove any misunderstanding, to be a fledgling hope that uneducated voters might be fooled by these juvenile attempts to cast aspersions.

And then there’s Sarah Palin.
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Here’s a woman who actually doesn’t get it. By this time, most of the country has watched at least a clip of the few interviews she’s been allowed to have. Perhaps only a few viewers were tough enough to make it through the duration, as the rambling and pointless answers were at times uncomfortable to watch.

Right wingers have claimed, however, that these interviews do not reflect negatively on Palin, but rather are proof of the liberal bias in the media. They perhaps rightly claim that the networks are using ‘gotcha’ questions and fact based prompts that would put any interviewee in an awkward position.

However, it is not the responses themselves that matter the most. As we’ll see in the vice presidential debate, any candidate can be coached into reiterating scripted answers when prompted. After all, high school drama students around the country consistently put on Shakespearean plays. But simply because they can recite the Bard’s words does not mean they have even the vaguest idea what they mean.

In Palin’s interviews and speeches so far, her rhetoric has at times lacked an air of professionalism, but more importantly she sounds like she doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. And, at a time when our country is at war, the economy is collapsing and foreign policy has all but gone out the window – a candidate that doesn’t have an acute understanding of what that all means is a dangerous thing.

So while it’s a tough case to prove that either McCain or Obama doesn’t understand what they’re talking about, it’s an open and shut one for Palin. American voters would do well to remember that two names appear on the ticket for each party.
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Perhaps Matt Damon said it best when he compared Palin’s vice presidential hopes to a bad Walt Disney movie. But for a country on the brink of collapse, it’s time to leave the imaginary story telling to Disney and Aaron Sorkin, and leave the fate of our country to the candidates that actually understand what needs to be fixed.

 

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Ross works and eats in Minnesota.

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