With due respect to aficionados of the emerging India-US alliance, it is difficult to see how New Delhi qualifies as an appropriate destination for a potential presidential candidate to enunciate her “vision of America.” That was the theme of Sarah Palin’s speech at the India Today Conclave, a major media talkfest, in Delhi earlier today. Palin’s rambling and incoherent performance suggested two possibilities. First, the generous reason: perhaps the theme was too restrictive, like those school exercises which require students to construct whole essays around a key theme, such as rain or forests or the railways. Students often try to overcome this challenge by resorting to an old technique: write lengthy, unconnected passages and sprinkle them with the keywords. So in a dense essay about nothing, you’ll find repeated references to rain or forests or the railways. Palin borrowed that technique, holding together a suffocatingly vacuous speech by invoking, from time to time, the theme. So she would interrupt herself from time to time, pause for a second, and say, “my vision for America.”
The second possibility: Palin was out of her depth. It’s appalling enough that a contender for the American presidency, the putative leader of a popular anti-government movement, cannot conjure up a compelling vision for her country. But the speech also confirmed Palin’s illiteracy in foreign affairs. Talking about energy – the centerpiece, apparently, of her “vision” for America — Palin had no words to assuage Indian anxieties about nuclear energy in the wake of the tragedy at Fukushima in Japan. Energy-starved India is likely to be one of the world’s biggest markets for American nuclear technology, but Palin was content with empty platitudes: there was repeated praise of free-trade, condemnations of government spending, and even a mention of the moose her daughters had recently spotted outside their house in Alaska. Standing in the capital of the world’s largest democracy, she said nothing in her speech about the pro-democracy uprisings in India’s neighborhood. When prompted, she repudiated President Obama’s approach, but offered only a vague alternative of her own. What’s the biggest security challenge facing the world right now? The “evil dictator” of Iran (or, as she put it, “eye-ran”) and his nuclear program. Fair enough. How would she stop him? She seemed lost, suggesting economic sanctions and then military action. How will the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East affect Iran? Can India, which has strong relations with Iran, mediate? On China, she was refreshing, unafraid to sound the tocsin: India and the US should be partners in containing China, she suggested straightforwardly. And yet, for someone seeking the presidency, Palin seemed astonishingly unimaginative.
The world once marveled at Sarah Palin. In a very dull sport, the gun-tottin’, straight-speakin’ Alaskan was a refreshing star. But as we become acquainted with the dangers of reducing politics and policy to sport, how embarrassingly obsolete Sarah Palin looks.