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In last Thursday's debate between Vice Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, moderator Gwen Ifill asked both individuals to describe their Achilles' heel. Palin's response revealed her to be the unlettered tundra hick that we'd always suspected:

[Crossposted at]

PALIN: My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence and that's extremely important.

But it wasn't just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills? About times and Todd and our marriage in our past where we didn't have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care? We've been there also so that connection was important.

But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights. Those things that we stand for that can be put to good use as a force for good in this world.

John McCain and I share that. You combine all that with being a team with the only track record of making a really, a difference in where we've been and reforming, that's a good team, it's a good ticket.

1) The Achilles' Heel:

This is standard fodder for Job Interview 101 -- explain your weaknesses. But Sarah Palin clearly doesn't understand the literary reference to the Iliad, much less the common -- even threadbare -- expression of the Achilles' heel that is used to describe a character flaw or personal weakness. I think we know what her Achilles' heel really is: she doesn't read anything.

2) American Exceptionalism:

The term American Exceptionalism is an academic keyword used as a criticism of American nationalism, our belief in a "manifest destiny," and our willful forgetting of all the violence and suffering that attended the founding and  expansion of our nation. It carries the exact opposite meaning that she intended.

3) A Shining City on a Hill

Palin's statement that America is a "shining city on a hill" is falsely attributed to Ronald Reagan. Had Palin  actually read Reagan's speech, she would know that the former president himself acknowledges that the source of the quotation is John Winthrop, a Puritan, and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Significantly, Winthrop's quote -- which is taken from his sermon entitled "A Model of Christian Charity (1630)" -- is widely discussed as the earliest expression of American Exceptionalism. Winthrop describes the Puritan's presence in the New World as a mission from God. Several million Indian deaths later, the idea appeared somewhat less "shiny." Oh, and Winthrop didn't say "shining" -- Reagan added that part.

And we should also point out that Reagan wasn't even original here: he ripped the idea off from John F. Kennedy who used the line in a speech to the Massachusetts Legislature on January 9, 1961 as he assembled his cabinet in preparation for taking the office of the president.

Oh, and Kennedy quoted the line correctly.

Originally posted to stockphrase on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:41 AM PDT.

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