Sarah Palin’s weird ‘Sputnik’ story

By Stephen Stromberg

On Wednesday night, Sarah Palin attacked the “Sputnik moment” line from President Obama’s second State of the Union address.

That was another one of those WTF moments, when he so often repeated this Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.


In her rant, Palin wildly misconstrued the president’s argument, which was not about emulating the Soviets in the 1950s but instead about the Americans who responded to early Soviet success in space exploration by educating themselves and out-innovating the Soviets. Did she listen to the speech? Alexandra Petri has more on this here.

But let’s pretend that wasn’t Obama’s point. The Soviets didn’t have an empire-draining debt problem until some 30 years after Sputnik passed over America. And when they did, it was in large part a result of massive overinvestment in heavy industry, which supported Soviet military pretensions. None of this is to argue that the Soviet economy is anything we should emulate. But let’s at least get the basic facts right when we criticize it.

It’s a fair guess that Palin thought she was borrowing her “insight” from the mythology of Ronald Reagan, who massively increased America’s spending to spur the sort of competitive expenditure that contributed to the ballooning of Soviet debt in the 1980s. According to many conservatives, this was a — if not the — crucial factor that catalyzed the Soviet collapse.

But in claiming that the Soviets incurred their consequential debts long before Reagan was president, Palin ends up arguing that the Gipper wasn’t nearly that responsible for the USSR spending itself to death. If a reverence for Reagan’s anti-Soviet spending inspired her narrative in the first place, then this is incoherent. If she’s just making this all up, then she’s really also claiming that the Reagan-brought-down-the-USSR narrative is overstated.

Palin appears to be lazily checking a lot of Fox News boxes. She wants to criticize Obama’s State of the Union address, so she grabs hold of the Sputnik line. She wants to make a point about debt, so she invents a history in which the USSR had a debt crisis decades before this inference could have made much sense. Even better — her argument sounds like an implicit vindication of Reagan, but that really just makes it either self-contradictory or hostile to Reagan’s legacy.

Even worse, it seems that Palin planned her rhetorical disaster, as she goes on to discuss the “Spudnut Shop,” a bakery in Washington State that’s succeeding without government support. Yet more evidence that her judgment in both what she says and who she has vetting it is pathetic. It’s not even cleverly manipulative. It’s just dreck.


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. LisaB
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 09:22:20

    It was certainly a WTF moment.

    I just wanna know how much googling it took them to come up with the “Spudnut” bakery. LOL


  2. SP
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 09:55:57

    @ LisaB

    Probably none. They did a show about the Spudnut shop on the Food Network. Cable TV is clearly bad for Sarah. Among other things.


    • LisaB
      Jan 28, 2011 @ 11:15:35

      Oh. Figures. I suppose the idea there was any effort put into *cough* “research” was a stretch. I should have realized it was something she or one of the monkeys saw on TV.


  3. WakeUpAmerica
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 11:08:45

    She’s a walking WTF moment. I imagine that she walks around with a cloud of dirt – much like Pigpen in Peanuts – and a WTF thought bubble over her head and branded on her chest.


  4. SP
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 11:29:03


    However, it was a really cool show and I want to try a spudnut some time. :). Never watch the Food Network hungry.


  5. Martha
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 13:31:22

    You can see Palin’s teleprompters reflected in her glasses AGAIN!

    Talk about a WTF moment.

    It was more than apparent throughout her “blood libel” rant and NOW she is unable to do a even friendly interview with Van Sustren without being COMPLETELY SCRIPTED!!

    It has gone past the point of someone “pulling her strings”.

    Palin has become a complete HAND PUPPET….lol


  6. WakeUpAmerica
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 17:17:51

    You can’t cure stupid, Syrin. It’s what we have come to expect from the Tundra Turd. Nothing to see here. Move along.


  7. Syrin
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 18:40:22

    You know, the part I want to reiterate here is that Sarah and her brand of hubris, ignorant, WTF, grizzly mama is and should not be representive of a Conservative Republican! I can’t keep letting important people and issues become preverted and looked at in the abstract, not seriously.
    She has tried to redefine everything from words, ideas and even history!


  8. snowlady
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 21:40:53

    And what makes it even “funnier” is that the Spudnut shop is located in a town heavily dependent on the federal government for jobs and wages – including wages that get spent at the Spudnut shop (and is probably keeping them in business.)


  9. serena1313
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 00:36:21

    Here is another angle that I thought was interesting:

    ” […] Or maybe crafty Sarah ‘All Yer Heartlanders Are Belong to ME’ Palin, re-defining the collapse of a great superpower to better suit her side’s narrative. As conventional sane historians understand it, Russia’s collapse was precipitated by extravagant spending on military hardware, some of it in reaction to Reagan’s proposed ‘Star Wars’ militarization of space. But it is a sacred tenet of Palin’s fellows and supporters that there can never be “too much” military spending (especially if the people on the receiving end of such spending are supporting Palin’s continued media presence).

    “Recasting Sputnik—technically a military project, but one of those delayed-gratification science-y projects run by pocket-protector nerds, not a cool projectile-based genitalia enhancer with great visuals—as the cause of Mighty Russia’s downfall means it was the eggheads at fault, not the generals. …”

    If Sarah thinks throwing red meat to the base by deliberately revising history will effectively thrill her base, she is probably correct. But it only serves to discredit her further with the rest of America.


  10. serena1313
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 00:47:23

    Syrin, my apologies!

    I thought I had removed the part of the last sentence that contained “not a cool … ”

    If I offended anyone, I sincerely apologize; It was unintentional.


  11. Syrin
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 11:30:06

    Michael Steele and Maher: ‘The Knives Are Out for Sarah Palin’


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