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Columns

May 21, 2010

An authority on the Constitution, Palin is not

— I wish Sarah Palin _ among others who purport to be Constitutional scholars _ could have met Harry F. Wilhelm. She might have learned something, but then again, probably not.

In 1937, Mr. Wilhelm recited from memory what was at the time the entire Constitution of the United States, right up through the newly adopted 21st Amendment.

Our nation was celebrating the Constitution’s 150th birthday at the time, and for his efforts, Wilhelm was given a job in the Sesquicentennial mail room.

Since she resigned as Alaska’s governor last year, Mrs. Palin has earned a lot more than that mail room job paid Harry. Some reports estimate she’s taken in more than $12 million from a book, speechesand other endeavors. Not that I’m envious of the results of her financial cunning, of course.

No, certainly not. ... Nah.

... Well, maybe just a little.

... OK, truth be known, she’s really getting on my nerves.

What bugs me most is that Palin’s colossal ignorance is fascinatingly regarded as some kind of virtue by a legion of followers who have helped make her so rich. I didn’t mind so much last month when Fox News was decrying President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce both Russia’s and the U.S.’s nuclear warheads by a third.

Palin made a fool of herself on the show by loudly intimating that “We miss Ronald Reagan” because he would never do such a thing.

It’s hard for a Republican to go wrong when invoking Reagan’s name on any subject, but Palin managed it.

She was apparently blissfully unaware that on May 9, 1982, Reagan proposed exactly the same reductions in warheads.

What really frosts me _ and I dare say good, old Harry F. Wilhelm would have felt the same _ is that this woman, who could have been a heartbeat away from responsibility over all those nuclear weapons, knows little if anything about the Constitution she wanted to pledge to protect and defend.

Less than a month before the 2008 election that could have inflicted her upon the United States as vice president, she was asked on television by a third-grader what vice presidents do ... and got it wrong.

“They’re in charge of the U.S. Senate, so if they want to, they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes,” she said.

Not even close.

The Constitution says that the vice president has the title of President of the Senate, meaning he or she does not participate in debates, make any “policy changes” and is not “in charge” of anything other than reading the results of the Electoral College every four years and voting only to break a tie.

What put me over the edge regarding Sarah Palin and the Constitution was her on-air chat May 6 with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly (whose column runs weekly in The Daily Star). America is a Christian nation, the two agreed.

First of all, as a Jew, I find that deeply offensive, as I imagine would the millions of other non-Christians whose family members have fought and died for this country.

Palin’s frequent references to a “Judeo- Christian” tradition don’t mitigate her apparent view that all non-Christians are somehow second-class citizens in her Christian nation.

Then, she blathered on.

“Nobody has to believe me, though,” Palin said. “You can just go to our Founding Fathers’ early documents and see how they crafted a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that allows that Judeo-Christian belief to be the foundation of our laws, and our Constitution, of course, is simply acknowledging that our unalienable rights don’t come from man, they come from God.

” Whew. She must not even have bothered to read the CliffsNotes version of the Constitution. I happen to believe in God, I truly do, but Mrs. Palin is full of beans. The framers of the Constitution went out of their way to avoid any religious references.

The Constitution contains 4,543 words, including the signatures _ 7,591 words if you want to include all 27 Amendments.

Of all those 7,591 words, not one of them is “God.” Nor is there any other reference to a deity.

It’s true that Benjamin Franklin proposed that the Constitutional Convention in 1787 open its meetings with a prayer.

But when a North Carolina delegate pointed out that there was no money to pay a chaplain, the motion failed. Later, Franklin would write: “The convention, except three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary.”

It’s not necessary, of course, for Palin _ a possible presidential candidate in 2012 _ to memorize the Constitution word-for-word like Harry F. Wilhelm.

But it would sure be nice if she read it.

SAM POLLAK is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at 432-1000, ext. 208.

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