I have to say that I’ve been oddly surprised by how little work Sarah Palin’s writers are doing in trying to understand anything about the quotes they choose to include in her speeches.

In her speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin recalled a quote by an unnamed writer as such:

A writer observed: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.

It turns out that otherwise-anonymous writer was Westbrook Pegler, a rabid anti-semite who openly wished for the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was felt to be so extreme in his bigotry that he was kicked out of the John Birch society. (That, ladies and gentlemen, takes some serious work to pull off.) It’s hard to reconcile her use of Pegler with her self-professed love of Israel, given Pegler’s belief that Jews could not be the victims of persecution because persecution “connotes injustice…They are, instead, enduring retaliation, or punishment.” Lovely stuff, that.

Similarly, in her closing statement at last week’s VP debate, Palin paraphrased and quoted Ronald Reagan:

It was Ronald Reagan who said that freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.

Looking beyond the surface of that quote reveals that Reagan made that quote in a context that’s not exactly in agreement with that in which Palin used it. In 1961, when Reagan’s film career had waned and he was contemplating a move into politics, he made a recording for the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Medical Association as part of Operation Coffeecup; the recording was supposed to be played at coffee klatches organized by the wives of doctors, and warned people of the evils of… Medicare. His contention, as a paid spokesperson for the AMA, was that Medicare would be a sure step towards the United States becoming a full-on socialist nation. Here’s the full context of that quote, which you can hear on YouTube (the whole thing is an interesting listen, but the money comes at 9:30):

Write those letters now. Call your friends, and tell them to write them. If you don’t, this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day… we will awake to find that we have so­cialism. And if you don’t do this, and if I don’t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

Nevermind that Reagan’s scary socialist America never happened (or that John McCain has been covered by taxpayer-financed health care for nearly all of his adult life); given the fact that the GOP has presided over what might be the largest expansion of government in United States history, and laid claim to an evisceration of individual liberties in the wake of September 11th, 2001, it’s again hard to reconcile Palin’s idea with the notion that the it’s an encroachment of liberties by the Democratic Party that we should all fear — this is just another example of what appears to be the GOP theme this election year, repeating total fantasies enough times that people might believe them to be true. I’m glad to see that the past few weeks’ worth of polling data shows that the theme isn’t catching on.