Close Readings: Sarah Palin’s view of expertise

"Are you going to stand there babbling about what carbon does, or are you going to get the first woman president a fuckin' Jamba Juice?"

There is much to enjoy, guiltfully, about this review of Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin, the tell-all book by former staffer Frank Bailey. Memoirs like his threaten to become an ugly micro-genre of an already ugly mini-genre, but there is something in the essential sameness of Sarah Palin Stories—the pride in ignorance, the deceptions of others en route to self, the different supporting characters in the same vexed orbit around our heroine—that suggests a form whose themes transcend detail. They’re like Sherlock Holmes stories. As Holmes was to Victorian London and solving crimes, so is Sarah Palin to suburban America and being a mindless church bitch. What I’m saying here is that I think here oeuvre is more than genre work. That’s good news for Close Readings, which received from Stubble yesterday this wonderful gift:

Remember: amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.

That sweet little morsel comes from one of the many internal emails excerpted in Bailey’s book, which means it enjoys simultaneously increased and reduced credibility. On one hand, it’s time-stamped and has “” or whatever at the top, so probably it’s real. It’s also a rare opportunity to read something Palin constructed originally for print—which explains why it contains a verb and doesn’t begin with “you know, this great country.” On the other hand, it came from a book that Frank Bailey wrote, so who knows?

Bailey’s intellectual honesty is questionable. Early in the memoir, he describes how his infatuation with Palin was fueled by her particular combination of faith and politics, saying, “In my mind, God had chosen her, and this was His will.” A few hundred pages later—after Palin has, for example, responded to complaints from her neighbor about media presence at the house by sending Bristol out to sell lemonade* and then ridiculing him in the press for objecting to “children at play”—Bailey is convinced “that her priorities and personality are not only ill suited to head a political party or occupy national office, but would lead to a disaster of, well, biblical proportions.”

So one thing we know about Frank Bailey is that he is comfortable invoking divine authority to justify his opinions. He has that in common with his erstwhile boss, whose glib dismissal of “professionals” packs so many infuriating assumptions into such a small space as to constitute a sort of smug haiku.

There’s that initial “remember,” which is the rhetorical equivalent of flicking the lights on an off before you speak. Don’t just listen to what I am about to say now, “remember” says. Also refer to it in the future, so that it becomes a guiding principle of your new life, which will begin as soon as I say this. What she says next contains two subtle logical flaws:

1) Amateurs did not build the ark. Nobody built the ark or, if you prefer, a man who lived for 600 years built the ark according to instructions that were laid out for him by God and included specific measurements.

2) Professionals built the Titanic, but they also built thousands of non-disastrous ships, as well as the space shuttle, the Bible, and the fucking internet Palin used to convey this clever indictment of knowledge.

What makes this one so perfectly infuriating is that it combines two of Palin’s worst habits of thought. First, there’s the deduction by counterexample: a famous boat built by experts sank, ergo expertise is inferior to ignorance. Second, there’s the presentation of evidence whose authority is derived from the very point she’s trying to make. Inherited folk wisdom is superior to knowledge acquired through study, as this folk tale reminds us.

Either one of these tactics is maddening on its own, but in combination they strike a mind-halting chord of arrogant know-nothingism. It’s like when you hum and whistle at the same time and the dog stops everything to look at you like, I know you perfectly and I still can’t figure out what’s wrong with you. Sarah Palin hums and whistles so continually as to render either sound white noise, but then she does both simultaneously and my brain becomes a labrador for thirty seconds.

The beauty is that this construction can be used to generate any number of koans of stupidity:

Remember: Leaders gave Europe World War II, but Adam and Eve ran a perfect paradise with no clothes and some animals.

Remember: Scientists built the atomic bomb, but a child’s smile is innocent.

Remember: Obama didn’t balance the federal budget, but Lot started a new family by impregnating his daughters after his wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking at the destruction God rained on Sodom and Gomorrah in punishment for their desire to perform group sex on two angels He had sent to tempt them.

Always remember.

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  1. The problem isn’t the premises, it’s the conclusions that are drawn from them.

    Professionals built the Titanic and amateurs built the Ark; therefore, an illiterate, alcoholic high-school dropout treading water just above the poverty level (or a former beauty queen, for that matter) has just as much expertise about the workings of the world as someone with a master’s degree in foreign policy from an Ivy League school.

    As we all know, that is not true. She is free to speak your mind, but the educated and experienced have the right to call her on her bullshit. That’s what upsets me the most about these sorts of things; people wearing ignorance as if it’s some sort of badge of honor.

  2. Sarah Palin is hot.

    I’d do her.

    Those are the facts.

    Thats all I know, all I need to know and all that matters.

    Palin/Godfathers pizza 2012!

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