[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
Sarah Palin provided prime material for news outlets and comedy programs when she said on Glenn Beck's radio show Wednesday:
"But obviously, we've got to stand with our North Korean allies."
If she hasn't already, I'm sure Palin will say that the "elitist," "lamestream" media is doing her wrong, and that she is once again a victim of "gotcha journalism." And Palin's small but passionate group of supporters will undoubtedly argue that Palin made an honest slip of the tongue, something that could happen to any of us. Her supporters are right. Saying "North" instead of "South" is something that any of us could easily do.
But here's the thing: Any of us did not stand up two years ago and claim we were qualified to fill a job that is a heartbeat away from the American presidency. We haven't written books, made speeches, endorsed candidates and spoken to the (mostly right-wing) media as if we were policy experts. And we haven't been scouting office space in Iowa for a 2012 presidential run.
In short, more should be expected of Sarah Palin than any of us, based on how she has portrayed herself, and how she is treated by the media.
The real story, though, isn't that Palin said "North" instead of "South." Let's be honest: Vice President Joe Biden could have just as easily blown a line like that.
No, the real story is that Palin was discussing a complex, precarious, highly dangerous issue as if she was an expert, even though she clearly isn't.
Does anyone outside of Palin's relatively small group of smitten followers honestly believe that she is competent to act as an expert on Korean policy? That she knows the intricacies and risks of engaging with the North Koreans? That she understands the possible leadership struggle going on there? Do you think she has the first clue about the history of Korea over the last century? Do you think she's ever heard of Syngman Rhee, the Bodo League massacre, the Battle of Inchon, or National Security Council Report 68, or that she knows about the decades of Japanese rule in Korea? Do you think she's ever read about the role the propaganda efforts of the post-Stalin Soviet government played in the eventual armistice that ended the fighting?
Doubtful, at best.
Now, do you doubt for a second that Joe Biden could reel off a dissertation-level analysis of these issues from the top of his head?
That's the real story about the Palin flub about North Korea that the media isn't covering. It's not that she misspoke, but that anyone cared what she had to say on the issue in the first place.
Sarah Palin, with her reliance on spouting talking points, simplistic approach to issues and complete lack of experience beyond a half term as governor of a state the size of Columbus, Ohio is not competent to be discussing North Korea. And shame on any media outlet that treats her opinions as if they're worth anything.
The real damning Palin quote in the Beck interview is the one in which she worries if "the White House is gonna come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea's gonna do." Putting aside her usual butchering of the English language, she takes a complicated problem facing the United States (and the world) and reduces it to a talking-point political attack on the president.
Her comment reveals that she has no understanding that we are dealing with a North Korean leadership that may not be rational and may even be self-destructive. And one with the firepower to kill legions of South Korean civilians. To her simplistic, politics-driven approach, it's only about how the Democratic president isn't tough enough. (As an aside, she is talking about a president who has increased troops in Afghanistan, stepped up drone attacks on the enemy, and taken out more Taliban and al-Qaida leaders than George W. Bush ever did, but I digress ...)
She recklessly portrays the North Korea crisis as one that is simple and only requires American strength, when, in reality, it is a difficult-to-solve issue fraught with danger. It is complicated and nuanced, and one wrong move could lead to an attack on Seoul.
I wonder if Palin would be so cavalier in her approach if North Korea's missiles could reach Anchorage, Dallas or some other city in Real America?
And this person wants to be president? It's a joke.
Palin's "North"-for-"South" flub matters, but not because she misspoke. It matters because we, as a country, are acting as if she is some kind of policy expert, when, in reality, she is simple-minded and ignorant. She can say the wrong name, just like us. But just like most of us, she has no business acting like she understands the North Korea crisis in the first place.