Just how factual is Sarah Palin?: Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Jun 07, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news in a live Q&A. In his most recent column, "Sarah Palin's revisionist ride," Robinson writes, "Palin is certain about everything and knows about nothing. The only true facts are those she recognizes; other facts, when cited to contradict her private truth, are deemed politically motivated. History books are nothing more than weapons used by her enemies in their incessant attacks, their pitiful attempts to play 'gotcha.'"

Have a question about his latest column and more? Ask now.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to our regular discussion, in which we solve the problems of the known world. Today's big news is the Washington Post poll showing that President Obama has a tougher reelection campaign ahead of him than many (incuding me) suspected. The winner in 2012, I still believe, will be the candidate who comes up with an effective, forward-looking message on jobs. Meanwhile, we have Sarah Palin's gallop into the fens and bogs of history; John Edwards' legal woes; Anthony Weiner's... well, his you know what. And there are signs that the coming withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan might not be so inconsequential after all. Let's get started.

I heard on the overnight news broadcast that "somebody" (presumably Palin enthusiasts) was attempting to edit the Wikipedia entry recounting Paul Revere's ride to be consistent with Palin's gibberish. Have you heard that and do you know if it's true (the editing, not Palin's version of history).

We have a story ip[ about the Wikipedia wars over Palin's version of history. Lots of editing and counter-editing.

She never said that he "personally" rang bells or fired guns. Did you ever watch the Russell Crowe movie Gladiator? At the start of the movie, his character also "rode his horse [in front of his men] to send warning shots". Russell Crowe didn't personally fire any catapult in that movie.

And I quote:

“He who warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells, and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”



While Sarah Palin may be the worst practicioner of false truths, don't you think that much of the Republican party has similar problems ? I mean the whole Tea Party movement often expresses radically incorrect thoughts on what the "Founding Fathers" meant and what the Constitution says.

I agree. We have a story up about how the Founders -- and other luminaries -- are constantly being quoted on things they didn't say. 

I grew up in Lexington/Concord area and have no beef with people who take certain liberties in telling the story of the American Revolution. It is the kind of story that Holleywood Movies are made about - such drama such suspense. Plus, few people spend a whole year learning about it the way we did at our school . FYI Paul Revere did not ring a bell and ride down the street yelling The British Are Coming, he was trying to be very quiet so that he could get to Lexington to warn John Hancock & Samuel Adams that The Regulars were heading there (everyone was British, so yelling that the British were coming would make no sense.) Both Revere and a guy named William Dawes started out in Boston and took two different routes out to Lexington to make sure that someone made it through. They both did, and after meeting up with a guy names Samuel Prescott, they went on toward Concord (MA not NH) to help proptect the munitions. It was then they were stopped - they all fled in different directions and Revere was captured, but he was later able to escape. That being said, my bigger problem is the inability for anyoe to ever say "oops, my bad, I was going for the feeling of the story and it's participants so some of the details may have been incorrect." I have a much much bigger problem with someone who can never admit they are wrong (even about the stupidest, smallest stuff) than someone who - gasp - has to admit they don't know everything.

And that was the point of the column -- not that she spoke nonsense in front of a tv camera, which can happen to anyone (me included), but that she couldn't say, "Boy, I blew that one," and laugh it off. 

First off, I rarely agree with much that you write, but I think today's piece on Palin was spot on. I'm a little surprised, though, that there hasn't been any comparison to the Weiner situation. These are both situations in which just 'fessing up and admitting wrong would have likely resulted in the end of the story, yet both insisted on continuing with their story. I'm pretty sure most of us learned at a young age that the truth gets you far more respect in life. What are your thoughts on the comparison?

I hadn't seen that common thread, but I do think you're right. In Weiner's case, he would still be in trouble (both politically and at home) if he'd fessed up promptly, but certainly less trouble than he's in now. 

The widely shown clip only has Palin's rambling response. What was the question asked her?

It was a general question about what she'd seen in her New England tour. She was not asked about Paul Revere -- she brought up his name. It wasn't a gotcha (though she claimed it was).

Check out this article from US News&World Report that says, according to the historians they checked with, Ms. Palin was closer to correct than most of the media.  I look forward to reading your correction!

I'll call that US News article, and raise you one from that well-known radical/liberal rag, National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/268933/what-sarah-palin-got-wrong-and-we-did-too-joel-j-miller

Do you think that a Teapartier, such as Michelle Bachman, has a serious chance of receiving the Republican nomination?

These days, the U.S. political scene is like the old saying about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything. The conventional wisdom, at the moment, is that Bachmann could do very well in the Iowa caucuses -- but that, ironically, the impact would be to undermine Tim Pawlenty (also banking on a strong showing in Iowa) and thus boost Mitt Romney (waiting for Pawlenty and others to fall by the wayside). But the conventional wisdom at this point in the 2008 cycle was that the general election would see Clinton facing off against Giuliani.

Mr. Robinson, I am of the opinion that the left tries very hard to sell the narrative that most on the right are stupid. I have always refuted (refutiated?) this notion with my liberal friends, but since the fall of 2008 I have had an albartoss in the form of Sarah Palin around my neck. I don't, however, think she's stupid - I think she's intellectually incurious. She doesn't know basic facts she should - and she doesn't care, which is worst of all. People who worship at the alter of the Founders should probably know a little more about them. At least Michelle Bachmann (of whom I'm no great fan, either) had the good sense to admit it when she misplaced the Shot Heard Round the World.

I agree. Sarah Palin is not stupid by any means, but I do believe she is intellectually lazy and incurious. In the three years since she came onto the national scene, she has shown no evidence of having deepened her grasp of the issues, foreign or domestic. 

Gene, I'm starting to see more and more narratives about how it's the economy that will determine the 2012 election and not the candidates. While I understand the history, it strikes me a a very shallow analysis. Do people honestly believe that when the GOP nominee stands opposite Obama and blames him for everything wrong with this country and offers no solutions of their own other than tax cuts and American exceptionalism, that folks will still vote GOP in protest? Are voters so juvenile that substance won't matter?

No, I think voters will be looking for substance -- most voters, at least. And it's important to remember that President Obama will be running against a specific Republican, not a generic one. But I do think that people are hungry for a positive message about jobs, the economy and the nation's future. I don't think it's enough for Obama to point out that the GOP is offering stale beer. He has to offer his own message, one that connects with people.

Eugene, I love your work, but unless I'm mistaken this is two columns in a row on Ms. Palin. You must think that she is worthy of that much ink, but I truly loved those months after her despicable comments on the Arizona shootings when she was blessedly silent.

You're mistaken. Last Friday's column was about Rep. Anthony Weiner.

I'm not seeing how T-Paw's economic plan will create jobs, it seems like it will cut jobs and the tax cuts he is proposing seem incredible -- where will this magic money for his plan come from if taxes are not raised?

The magic money will not materialize.  We've tried tax cuts. Look where we are.

Republican Sen. Vitter, caught patronizing prostitutes, declared he had been forgiven by his wife and by God. And it worked. Vitter not only stayed in office but was reelected. If he didn't resign, why should Weiner?

Which proves that sometimes they survive in office and sometimes they don't. Weiners situation is worsened, in my view, by the fact that he lied publicly, and repeatedly, when initially confronted with the evidence. 

I enjoyed your column today, but I also read E.J. Dionne's column about the real problem in D.C.' the obstructionist blocking of federal appointments. Rather than focusing on Sarah Palin (who defies belief in her statements) couldn't the staff work more on demonstrating how the Republicans move to block progress rather than all this 'entertainment'?

I don't know exactly what you want us to do. We write a story saying "GOP planning to block appointments" and then another saying "GOP blocks appointments" and then a wrapup saying "GOP has blocked umpteen appointments as part of a pattern of obstruction" -- all this gets reported and analyzed. What we can't do is change the rules or the makeup of the Senate. Only the voters (and those they elect) can do that, if they choose.

Gene, the conventional wisdom has been that Mr. Obama would take the brunt of the blame if the US defaults on it's debt. But with the economy apparently being apathetic right now without clear lines of progress and with the GOP House unwilling to spend necessary monies, could Mr. Obama gain momentum with a GOP created crisis that would completely discredit them as a responsible party? I know it's not good for America and we all hope it doesn't come to that, but the GOP really seems to believe that nothing will happen and they seem perfectly willing to drag us into default for more tax cuts.

This is a game of chicken. In the end, neither side wants to risk being blamed for a default crisis. But the truth is that presidents tend to be held responsible for bad things that happen on their watch.


Folks, many apologies, but I have to end a little early today. I'll make it up to you next week. See you then.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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