Is it worse for an elected official, leader, public figure or opinion-maker to be dishonest, irresponsible, or stupid? Fortunately, any of three should disqualify an individual for power or influence, so answering the question is not essential. This too is fortunate, because it is sometimes impossible to determine which disqualifying characteristic is on display.
Take, for example, Sarah Palin’s recent comments, made to a religious gathering in Kentucky, that…
“Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our Founding Fathers, they were believers.”
This is historical and philosophical misrepresentation; nonsense, really. If Palin knows that, then she was lying. If she is misinformed and was carelessly misleading people who trust her to know her American history better than they do, then she was irresponsible. And if she has read the Founding Fathers and still thinks they didn’t believe in the separation of Church and State, then she is as dumb as a box of Anna Ferris movies.
Palin is a commentator on Fox News, and paid to offer her expert political opinion on TV and behind podiums. She is also, like it or not, a leader, because when a lot of people follow you, you’re leading. As a political leader in America, she has an duty to know what the Constitution says, and the Bill of Rights says that
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
That is what is known as “separation of Church and State.” Sarah can’t say not to believe that the Founding Fathers wanted it, because, well, there it is. All political lies are wrong, whether they are promises the speaker never intended to keep, intentionally dishonest characterizations of an adversary’s motives, or a denial when an admission or confession is required. Intentionally misrepresenting America’s core principles to the ignorant and gullible, however, is especially despicable. Unless, of course, Sarah is ignorant and gullible herself. Then it is less despicable than disgraceful and frightening.
Palin’s detractors in the media and elsewhere, meanwhile, are now victims of their own excesses and unfairness, and must play the thankless role of “The Boy” in the fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” They have spent so much time and so many words viciously attacking Palin for conduct and statements that were harmless, legitimate or defensible, that now, when she really deserves to be exposed, no one is likely to listen. This is the problem with being unfair to people who you have decided don’t “deserve” fairness. Unfair, unethical criticism inoculates them against legitimate criticism later. Sarah Palin is now the beneficiary of her critics’ unethical excesses, and her real flaws—dishonesty, irresponsibility, stupidity, or some combination thereof–will be harder to expose than ever.