Sarah Palin, bless her heart, is such a perfect spokesperson for the tea party crowd. I watched portions of her speech in Nashville before the tea party elite and could only shake my head. She has such a way of saying nothing so well it grabs your attention and leads you to believe she is on to something big. However, after the euphoria dies down, you sit there reflecting on her speech and think, “uh?”  It slowly dawns on you that she speaks in broad strokes, stringing together a series of popular sound bites that convey little more than patriotic fervor.

As someone trained in critical thinking, I wince when I hear Sarah talk about drill, baby, drill, and realize that she has failed to drill down into her “positions.” Do not think that critical thinking is about criticizing everything. Indeed, it is about taking an argument apart, looking at its components, and making up your mind whether the argument has validity, whether the argument has merit, or whether the argument is robust or weak. It is examining an argument to make sure you are not suckered by the snake oil salesperson. However, Sarah fails to provide any details. Therefore, you cannot assess the impact or the consequences should her broad statements be converted into policy. For a thinking person, this is heresy. She mines the shallows and collects the easy pickings, leaving behind complexity and detail.

Sarah taps into anger. She taps into emotion. She taps into the mood of her audience. However, she does not tap into reason. She is the best snake oil salesperson I have ever seen working a crowd. She is like a mirror, reflecting the mood, and misinformation, of her audience. You really have little idea about her true, behind-the-scenes beliefs. She is so good at reflecting your beliefs you believe they are her beliefs. She reflects, and feeds, the worst emotional excesses of tea party members.

When she says, “We want our Constitution back,” I wonder what part of the Constitution is lost. I am unaware that I have lost any of my rights granted in that document. At the tea party convention in Nashville, it was said that we do not need any document but the “four pages of the Constitution.” I guess they forgot the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery, giving women the right to vote, gun ownership, and a host of other issues not addressed in the Constitution. Sarah reflects the tea party crowd because they speak before they think. They forget that the states had to ratify any changes to the Constitution.

There is little doubt I would like sitting down and having a beer with Sarah. I think we could have a great conversation. However, I do not think the conversation would have much substance. Interview after interview reveals that she does not know basic facts about the issues important to our country. Anybody who thinks looking at Russia from Alaska constitutes foreign policy experience has just included anyone who has ever travelled to a foreign land.

What Sarah has going for her is a folksy, down-home friendliness. It is with a smile that she criticizes everything without offering solutions. Indeed, her criticisms reflect her lack of understanding of the issues. You cannot help but like her as a vivacious person but the shallowness and negativity of her arguments do little to lift the political discourse. Or, include facts.

To listen to Sarah is like listening to a string of marginally related ideas. Her talks go something like this: “We need to be energy independent and give our hard working people a tax cut and make sure there is a gun in every home and put our country first and get our Constitution back and reclaim the freedoms we have lost, and … did I say give our people a tax cut?”  I will make a deal with you. I will show you Obama’s birth certificate if you show me Sarah’s high school diploma.

Sarah quit the governorship of Alaska after two years because she recognized that more money could be made running around the country talking sound bites. Compared to running a state – which requires detailed, complex thinking — addressing angry crowds who demand little more than platitudes is easy pickings.

People who refuse to do their homework are destined to follow snake oil salespersons like Sarah. Intellectually, the easiest route to travel is to rail against positions for which one lacks understanding and detail. However, to be a true patriot, one needs to be informed about the issues facing this country and appreciate the complexity of society, and thus solutions.

Jim Fitzgerald

Jim Fitzgerald

A clinically trained psychologist, Jim had a private practice in Cobb County for almost 30 years. For the last ten years he has been a Professor of Psychology at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, but lives in the North Georgia Mountains.