Sarah Palin's Tweet: A Typo or Something Worse?

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Earlier this morning, Sarah Palin tweeted:

"Pennsylvania:makes sense 2 send GOP 2 DC 2 avoid PA economic disaster that will occur under Obama/Pelosi Cap & Tax scheme;workers need Raese"

And ... within an hour, this had become a news story. Palin confused Republican Senate candidate
Pat Toomey with John Raese (or Pennsylvania with West Virginia). And ... within a slightly longer period of time, it had become a story about it becoming a news story. (Some liberal activists obsess over someone they consider irrelevant -- and obsess over people who cover someone they consider irrelevant.)

I think Sarah Palin made a careless error here. Our vice president, who is quite smart, has made a number of similar errors, often on the campaign trail, often in front of actual audiences. Having myself made tweet typos like that -- and worse --- it's hard to see how confusing the names of two Senate candidates qualifies as evidence for stupidity. When Palin contradicts herself or makes policy mistakes, feel free to go to town with that evidence and build her into whatever you think she is. But a typo is a typo.

Carelessness, however, is not trivial. To her supporters, Sarah Palin's to-heck-with-all-y'all style, her lack of preparation and attention to detail, her refusal to take outside advice, is refreshing. But Palin does not exist in a vacuum. She will need to better hone her skills as a retail politician if she wants to run for president. She will need to pay more attention to detail. She will need to make fewer typos. She will need to spend more time thinking about politics and policy and everything else. She will not survive a week's worth of campaigning in Iowa if she does not take politics seriously.

Now one reason why Palin responds so quickly to criticism is because she gets criticism for every tiny mistake. To her, it's like the lower 48 jumps on her back at the slightest malapropism. That's an exaggeration, but it's what she feels, and it helps explain her bunker mentality.

When Palin tweets something positive, like her endorsement of Christine O'Donnell, it makes frontpage news. Her tweets have become the way Palin interacts with the rest of Big Media, because she doesn't talk to us.

So in that environment, she should know that her tweets will be scrutinized, and that the bad comes with the good and is part of the game, or the freakshow.

Palin can't have it both ways: she can't expect the media to lavish attention on her endorsement tweets and then not be able to take the criticism that accompanies a tweeting blunder. If the media ignored Palin's endorsements and only focused on her mistakes, she'd have less of a case to make. But the media inflates her power by covering her endorsements.

Maybe Palin shouldn't care what the "lamestream media" thinks, but the fact that every other tweet refers to, well, us, suggests that she does care what we think. In other areas, she's mastered the freak show arena that is modern American politics. She gets attention and knows how to channel that attention into the things she wants to do.

Palin might not able to BS her way through an Ivy League seminar like everyone here at The Atlantic can, she's not very good when interviewers aren't friendly, she is careless and inattentive to detail, but stupid she isn't -- she's not stupid. She knows how to manipulate the media.

That Palin isn't stupid does not mean she is qualified to be president, or is particularly smart. There's no question that even among Republicans, a lot of folks feel that she doesn't have the intellectual chops to be president. Palin should know this by now -- she should know that the "credibility" bar bears little room for error, and that tweets like this are symbolic of her potential greatest challenge: learning that details matter. (People noticed when she didn't pronounce Nick Saban's name correctly, and when she misquoted John Wooden.)

Also: Palin needs to admit that she's a human in order to be treated more like a human. When she makes a mistake, she ought to admit it. But she's used to media bullying, and so she probably expects it -- and when it comes, her instinct is to double down, which just perpetuates both the gaffe and the negative coverage.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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