Okay, so Sarah Palin made up a new word: “refudiate.” Even though it does provide a lot of amusement, it’s not really news; hey, we all make
tyops typos. But there are a couple of aspects to this story that are bothersome.
Her response to being called out on it was to get defensive in that jolly but thoroughly annoying passive/aggressive manner she has of going on the attack. She immediately defended it by tweeting, “‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!” She uses both George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s words to justify her own, and then she compares herself to Shakespeare as if she was a wordsmith herself. That’s just inviting trouble and mockery. Although I know Shakespeare coined words, I defy Ms. Palin to identify one that he came up with. All the evidence indicates that the only Shakespeare that she is familiar with is the company that makes fishing tackle.
Ms. Palin blew a great opportunity to score some points with her detractors. If she had come out and said, “Oh, gosh, that was silly of me, I meant to say ‘repudiate,'” a lot of people would have laughed with her and given her props for owning up to an honest mistake and no one — including me — would be writing blog posts about it. Instead she chose to compound it and send a dog-whistle to her anti-intellectual base by saying basically, “Hey, not everyone is a walking Websters and real Americans don’t care if there’s no such word.” It’s really revealing that the first response she has is to both get defensive and divisive over a malapropism. It sounds to me as if someone has some real insecurity issues, and that’s not what you expect — or need — in someone who aspires to leadership.
The second thing that bothers me is that reveling in ignorance is somehow seen as a good thing in American politics. It’s one thing to be ditsy and silly if you’re playing a twit in a TV sit-com, but not if you’re running for president. (Besides, we have already had a president who struggled with the language and deliberately mispronounced words and it didn’t work out so well.) I want a president who is the smartest person in the room, not someone I can have a beer with or who is “just like me.” In a world where cars blow up at the hands of religious fanatics, countries like Iran can get their hands on nuclear weapons, or an oil company can singlehandedly destroy a body of water the size of a small continent, I don’t want Mrs. Malaprop or Archie Bunker running the place.