Palin Touches Down in Haiti

December 13, 2010; Source: USA Today | Sarah Palin’s two-day visit to Haiti on the invitation of Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, garnered some controversy over a picture that the Associated Press ran with a caption that the former Alaska governor was having her hair done before a photo shoot.

It was a silly fight and the AP caption was a distraction. The interesting thing about Palin’s visit wasn’t how she pinned up her hair, but what she was doing in Haiti, with whom, and why. Directing a faith-based NGO called Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham has been a subject of other articles at NPQ. Read here, here, and here.

He seems to have struck a working relationship with Palin establishing him as her religious guide. Were she to become president, he might serve her the way his father functioned as sort of the nation’s pastor during Nixon’s presidency. In return, she has defended him, for example, for his repeated attacks on Islam that have made him unpalatable even to some conservative groups.

Her visit to learn about the challenges in Haiti occurred within the confines of Samaritan’s Purse aid sites, so she didn’t get to experience alternatives to Graham’s approach, and she was shielded from the press—except for the accompaniment of Greta van Susteren, Palin’s Fox News colleague.

What did Palin learn? That conditions in Haiti were “much harsher” than she expected, that Americans should “get out of [their] comfort zone and volunteer to help,” that conditions merited “a military airlift to come bring supplies that are so needed here,” and that she came away with “a better understanding of the problems facing the country now.”

But she only saw the country through Franklin Graham’s NGO lens. It was only the fourth foreign country she has ever visited. It’s good that Palin is touching down in other countries. Though her time in Haiti was only a weekend, she showed up during a devastating cholera epidemic and presumably saw its horrendous effects. But her questions, as reported by Samaritan’s Purse staffer Ken Isaacs, about why Haiti had such poor sanitation and infrastructure sounded naive and unresearched, and she needed to be talking to more than just Graham’s aid providers. There’s a big world to learn about, Governor Palin, and there is a world of NGOs to understand beyond Franklin Graham’s often controversial religious group.—Rick Cohen

  • Tim Unnerstall

    Could it be that your criticism of Gov. Palin for not doing enough and for being naive is idealogically motivated? How many national political figures haven’t bothered to go to Haiti? Am I the only reader of NPQ’s Nonprofit Newswire that gets tired of Rick Cohen’s anti-conservative lens? Okay, so Palin’s visit could have been better. But why does it seem that you always want the perfect to be the enemy of the good as it relates to conservative personalities? Can’t you just acknowledge the positive aspect of Palin bringing renewed focus to a crisis that too many Americans have pushed to the back of their minds? “Controversy” can be created out of thin air. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a world of NGOs to understand beyond what I can get from Rick Cohen’s often controversial liberal bias.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Tim: Let me clarify some points:
    1. If only the liberals thought I was as liberal as you do.
    2. Unlike the liberals, I thought the foofaraw around Palin’s hair was not only stupid but insulting to women. The fact that her opponents picked on that was ridiculous and bereft of thought.
    3. Palin isn’t a run-of-the-mill politician or news personality. She’s a potential presidential candidate. Therefore, when she visits other countries, she ought to do it with a depth of preparation that fits her stature–whether I support her or not. That means, in her case, both studying up on Haiti and visiting more than just Franklin Graham’s aid operation. That’s not making “perfect…the enemy of the good,” but suggesting that a potential presidential candidate ought to start building the policy knowledge that fits someone who might run for president. I would suggest that rather than listening to a liberal like me, check out Charles Krauthammer’s commentary the other evening on the O’Reilly Factor (, yes, I watch it religiously). He bemoaned her decision to forego developing the kind of policy expertise that would make her a credible presidential candidate.
    4. Lots of national figures have gone to Haiti, lots of people in general have gone, in many cases not necessarily being helpful. I respect Palin’s willingness to go to Haiti to try to learn, and to go to Haiti in the midst of a raging cholera epidemic, and to go to Haiti to learn from an NGO like Samaritan’s Purse which, despite its sometimes over-the-top religious fervor on occasion, delivers some excellent services on the ground. But for Palin, to learn would require doing more than being squired by only Franklin Graham for a weekend visit. I’ll guess (don’t get angry) that Kate Gosselin spent more time in Alaska with Palin for the governor’s reality TV show. Like Krauthammer, I’d like to see Palin go for more depth on the policy issues than she has so far.

    Thanks for reading, Tim, and I appreciate your feedback.