“I’m ready,” Ms. Palin answered without any hesitation in an interview with ABC News on Thursday, saying she had felt no doubt about accepting Senator John McCain ’s offer to run as his vice-presidential nominee.
“I answered him yes, because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink,” Ms. Palin told her interviewer, Charles Gibson. “You have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war.”
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Is this sort of confidence a good thing or a bad thing in a political leader?
Certainly a lot of Americans are impressed by it. They like people who believe in themselves and radiant certainty about what they are doing. People loved W after 9-11 because he came across as absolutely certain that we are right, our enemies are wrong, and we will defeat them. And maybe it was good for the country, in that time, to have something to believe in. Come to think of it, Roosevelt showed the same kind of confidence in opposing the Depression, and in fighting fascism.
But W's confidence led us into the disaster of Iraq. His belief in the justness of his cause obscured the realities of world politics and led him to see close allies like the French and the Germans as enemies. His confident pose hid a deep ignorance of world affairs, of the nature of warfare, and of the difficulty of establishing democracy.
And what about Sarah Palin? Her confidence has carried her from hockey mom to mayor to governor to vice presidential nominee in a decade. People see her and think, wow, she is something, she is going somewhere, she can change things -- because that is how she sees herself, and she projects that self-image to the world. Actually, so far as I can tell, she has been a mediocre mayor and a worse governor, and the thought of her having any real influence on US foreign policy is chilling. But she won't blink.
I think she is a narcissist, maybe even a sociopath. She believes that she deserves to lead others because she is just that special. She is incapable of thinking that she has done anything wrong or of understanding her own faults.
But I don't think she is alone. I would say exactly the same thing about W, John McCain, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Ronald Reagan. The reason I have a soft spot in my heart for Bush I is that I never thought he saw himself as a demigod. Now, there are some people who have good reasons to be full of themselves -- Churchill thought he was the man to lead the opposition to Hitler, and if this sometimes led him to interfere stupidly in the decisions of his generals, he really did show extraordinary leadership in one of the world's greatest crises. And there are a lot of politicians who think that mastering government policy is part of their job as leaders, which is why I always forgave Bill his outrageous vanity. He believed he was a man of destiny, but he saw his own very hard work as part of that destiny. I suppose that is part of why Hillary appeals to so many people -- she has always been willing to do the work that goes along with power. Other leaders attach themselves to causes and come to see themselves as the representatives of those causes, as Reagan saw himself as the leader of anti-communism.
But the whole lot of them, as far as I can see, are sociopathic narcissists. And maybe, really, that is almost a requirement for being a political leader. Who else would make decisions that might condemn thousands to death, or millions to poverty? The questions that hangs in the air whenever any leader makes an important decision for others is, "Who does he think he is?" And if he didn't believe himself to be some kind of superman, how could he do it?
I don't know about Obama. To believe, as a fatherless black man, that he could be President, he must have an extraordinary ego. People talk about how cool he has been throughout the ups and downs of the campaign, never getting upset when things look bad -- is this just the reflection of a belief in his own destiny? But he seems to like listening to advice, and he has a fondness for consulting the top academic experts in everything. His books suggest a degree of real self-reflection and a keen sense of his own deficiencies. So maybe, just maybe, he is that rare thing, a man who reaches the top without being in some way seriously deranged.
Which raises another question: if he really doesn't believe in himself at a positively made level, can he make the decisions necessary for a President? I suspect so, but I guess you never know.
But to get back to Sarah Palin and John McCain: I think they are a very dangerous pair. They are both absolutely certain of their own superior morality and judgment, convinced that their opponents are corrupt and wicked. McCain, at least, has a disturbing fondness for violence and war, and from what little Palin has said on the issue she also seems fond of acting out God's will on the battlefield.
I am not sure what disaster will befall the nation if they are elected, but I am sure it will be bloody and expensive.