Baffled and scared

>> Friday, September 12, 2008

I wasn't going to post a second entry for today, but I need to. I just had my mind blown in a bad way, a mildly terrifying way.

A portion of Governor Palin's interview with Charles Gibson for ABC is available online at ABC's website. I'll be honest, I wasn't going to watch and I wasn't going to talk about it. I expected softball questions and stock answers--and I was basically right. What I didn't expect was that the stock answers would be so lousy, so disconnected from reality, and so disconnected from the interview questions themselves so as to create the impression of a frighteningly inept and incompetent politician who has only been selected for as a Vice-Presidential candidate for her symbolic value.

The stomach lurches early, moments into the video. Gibson asks Governor Palin if she ever hesitated when she was asked to join the McCain ticket, whether she had any doubts about her fitness to join the ticket. There is only one correct answer to this soft-pitch question, even if it's a lie, even if you're an arrogant jackass who presumes entitlement to the position, and it goes something like this: "Well, Charlie, the Vice-Presidency is an extremely important job, so of course I had to think about it. I thought long and hard, I prayed over it, I consulted with my pastor and my closest advisors, and I questioned Senator McCain about his intentions and how I would fit into his mission to serve the nation as President if he was elected. And after a great deal of thought and consideration, I decided that I should accept Senator McCain's offer to help him lead this nation."

No, that's not what Governor Palin said, it's what she should have said, or something like it. What she actually said was: "I thought, 'yes,' right off the bat."

What. The. Fuck?

I cannot express how much I hope that was a lie. Because if it's true, Governor Palin is too stupid to be in politics and too arrogant to be given a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, much less the potential to eventually control the nuclear football.

I know why she blew the question: she thought it was a trap, see, and it was--just not the trap she was looking for. Governor Palin's obviously been coached to focus on her experience, because she (and the McCain campaign) thinks (correctly) that she'll be hammered on experience. So she heard the word "experience" and summoned up the mental flash card with the talking points to incorporate into her response. So the answer she gave probably is a lie. Not that this is that much better: there are many kinds of intelligence, and Governor Palin surely is an intelligent woman in a general sense, but while she appears to have the kind of intelligence to stay on message she doesn't seem to have the kind of intelligence that lets you think flexibly, and that's a bad sign. It's basically the same kind of intelligence George W. Bush has consistently shown over the course of his life and Presidency.

And it only gets worse.

Gibson follows with an obvious question: that Senator McCain has answered questions about Governor Palin's foreign policy experience by citing Alaska's proximity to Russia and leadership of the Alaskan National Guard. Once again, this is not a hard question--the correct answer (not the one the Governor gave) goes something like: "Well (laughs), you also left out Canada, Charlie. Yes, my responsibilities as the Governor of a state with bordering international waters, a sea border with Russia and a land border with Canada, and my responsibilities to the fine men and women serving their state and country in the Alaskan National Guard, have given me a vital perspective on international policy that, with all due respect, Senator Obama and Senator Biden just can't bring to the table."

Palin's response: "But it is about reform of government, and it's about putting government back on the side of the people. And that has much to do with foreign policy and national security issues." And then, apparently satisfied she's changed the subject, she starts talking about energy independence.

What? Did she hear the question? Was she in the same room?

It was a softball question. And she still blew it. How? Because she stayed on message at expense of the message, that's how. I'll ask you about foreign policy, you'll recite the canard about reform.

Gibson asks her if she's met a foreign head of state. Governor Palin says no and that "if you go back in history and ask that question of many Vice-Presidents, they may have the same answer...." "May"? It's probably true--but can you imagine how smart you'd look if you started reeling them off? Or hell, since it's not like too many people are going to factcheck you on this score, how about sounding certain? "Most Vice-Presidents have entered office without having met with foreign dignitaries--that's really a non-issue, Charlie." This is the question where you can give an unblinking answer, so why don't you?

And then, as part of her response, the Governor suggests that having a lengthy résumé is a bad thing. Because the desire of the people is for change. Sure. Heaven help us if we are now a nation where we deem applicants to the highest offices in the land overqualified, like a PhD. applying for a job at McDonald's. "Well, you know, we're looking for someone to take over the control of the largest military in the world if something happens to the Commander-In-Chief, and you really just know too much and have too much experience. We were looking for someone a little less qualified, tell you the truth. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors."

There's an edit at this point, to a later part of the interview, and this is really fucking weird: we get into the question-and-answer bit about Georgia and Russia that's already hitting the news, and Governor Palin mentions talking to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili; it seems like this might have been something to mention during the foreign dignitaries question, instead of discussing hypothetical and former Vice-Presidents. "Well, Charlie, I didn't have a chance to meet any foreign heads of state while running the executive branch of the Alaskan State government, but since joining Senator McCain I've had the chance to talk to President Saakashvili of Georgia about his country's current conflict with Russia...." Look at that made-up answer that she didn't give: you have a response to the foreign dignitary question, a reminder of your executive experience that's a big theme of your selection as veep nominee, and a chance to look knowledgeable about world events--it's a threefer! And you bloody missed it!

What the fuck? That's going to be a running theme, here, if you didn't notice. It should probably be the title of this entry.

Gibson asks Governor Palin what insights into Russian behavior her state's proximity to Alaska gives her. Russia, we learn from her response, reflects visible-spectrum light into the human eyeball. This, I grant, is useful knowledge: any dealings with Moscow will surely benefit from the fact that their country is not invisible, and if Russians are as visible as their land, we can probably use that to our advantage. Invisible Russians would obviously be an enormous national security risk, the biggest national security risk I think we could ever imagine--invisible Russians might be anywhere, at any time. Visible Russians, on the other hand, can be seen. This makes it easier to ask them for directions if you're lost (and you'll be able to see any landmarks they reference, since we know their land is visible), and also to shoot them if it proves necessary to do so.

What. The. Fuck?

The general interpretation of Governor Palin's response to Gibson's question about whether Georgia and Ukraine should be allowed into NATO isn't quite as bad as it's being made out to be. She says they should be admitted into NATO (that is bad), but she doesn't actually say we'd have to go to war with the (visible) Russians--she says we could be called upon to "help," and that is in fact what the NATO treaty requires; help doesn't necessarily have to mean going to war, although that's usually assumed to be the ultimate form of help and the agreement means little without that assumption. (If "help" means little more than moral support or airdropping first-aid kits, there's little point in being a member.) One could give Palin the benefit of the doubt here, I think. I hope.

Some guarded non-answers on some hard questions about Israel and Iran. I'm not going to hit the Governor for dodging these questions, because there isn't a right answer and they're probably the first tough questions Gibson asks. There's no answer that won't piss someone off or be used against you, and there's probably not an answer that couldn't be used to try to stake out your administration if you're actually elected. And if Israel did do "something" about Iranian nuclear facilities, realistically you'd have to deal with it on an ad hoc basis, probably with the usual mixture of guarded criticism and veiled support that's been a staple of America's Middle East policy since the 1940s. (You know, like when we publicly express our displeasure at the fact the Israelis used the intelligence we gave them for the purposes we expected them to, and invite everyone up to Camp David to hug it out?)

Stock answer on the motives of terrorists. I will criticize this one, not because it's a surprise or anything new, but because the idea that Islamic terrorists simply hate our ideals and lack hope is a bit ridiculous. They hate our infidelity and hope we'll all die choking on our own blood, and it has little to do with our democratic ideals and a good bit to do with their interpretation of what God wants and expects them to do about it. Finding some way to encourage secularization in the Middle East without pissing off too many people is, unfortunately, both necessary and far-fetched, but it has nothing to do with offering "hope." Islamic fundamentalists have that, they have it in excess: hope of eternal life and hope the godless and heretics die, and hope that their children don't grow up to be atheists or, worse yet, Christians. They hope to die good deaths and hope they can take out as many of the enemies of God as they can in the process. They don't need hope nearly so much as they need an ecumenical spirit and common sense and a vested interest in something more material and now than Paradise. Barring that, they need to be defanged and isolated and left alone, quarantined until they're willing to be of this world and satisfied to take the next one, if it's there, in its own due time.

The next portion released by ABC is the other one that's caused a stir: Governor Palin clearly had no idea what the Bush Doctrine was when Gibson asked her whether she agreed with it. It's not really a defense, I think, that the Bush Doctrine has evolved and morphed. (Jacob Weisberg, in The Bush Tragedy, suggests there have been five Bush Doctrines, which "have overlapped in varying degrees, with the sprouts of the new one appearing before the previous has been cleared away... Bush's foreign policy doctrine has rarely been static, because none of his ideas have been workable enough to last through his presidency, let alone beyond it.") That is, if the Governor had responded to the question by acknowledging that the Bush Doctrine was an evolving and possibly chimerical creature ("Well, Charlie, the President's policy has evolved with the times, but I assume you mean the Administration's current view, which is..."), then she wouldn't have looked like a deer caught by the headlights of a semi. She also, had she been prepared, might have engaged in a bit of judo, turning the Bush Administration's wriggling on the hook into a virtue by describing the Bush Doctrine as a concept applied by pundits to a mesh of policies (see, e.g., the entry in Wikipedia). Governor Palin does neither, asking Gibson if she means Bush's "worldview" with the stricken look of a college freshman called upon in class who blew off last night's reading assignment in favor of watching an episode of America's Top Model in the dorm commons because she erroneously thought she'd sussed out the professor's system of picking on students.

The rest of the interview clip is a larf: Governor Palin blathers, Gibson actually (and to my surprise) calls her on it ("I got lost in a blizzard of words there... is that a 'yes'...?"). "Not blinking" seems to be a recurring theme for the Governor, which maybe gives us an additional insight into her ability to see Russia. (What about squinting?) "What the fuck?" continues to be our theme here today at Giant Midgets, because while her answers from this point to the end of the clip are mostly what I expected, and are the reason I didn't plan on watching the clip at all, she's already bewildered me. There will be people who think this was a good interview, possibly because they want to, or possibly because they're dumb. Wanting to think the best of people, I prefer delusional to stupid, but I cannot exclude the latter possibility. Or, for that matter, the possibility they're insane.

There is every chance Governor Palin will be the next Vice-President of the United States, thereby achieving a remarkable historic first in American politics: evoking nostalgia for Dick Cheney. If she is, she may achieve a personal goal of bringing a sinner to Christ, since I may have to abandon my religious skepticism for the soothing balm of prayer. And one begins to hope (if one doesn't believe it already; I'm speaking largely for myself, of course) that Governor Palin is right about the Divine Hand Of Providence guiding this great nation: if this woman becomes Vice-President, we'll be needing the Lord's help in keeping John McCain fit and mentally acute, else (if the Gibson interview is any indication) we're right fucked.

9 comments:

Anonymous,  Friday, September 12, 2008 at 3:48:00 PM EDT  

Perhaps she should have the integrity of Joe Biden, and just come out and admit that maybe the top of the ticket made the wrong choice?

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/09/11/america/biden.php

McCain/Palin 2008!!

Leanright,  Friday, September 12, 2008 at 3:48:00 PM EDT  

Sorry...that was me posting that!

Eric Friday, September 12, 2008 at 4:22:00 PM EDT  

I'd have never guessed it was you.

By the way, here's the actual quote:

"Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America," Biden said Wednesday in Nashua, New Hampshire. "Quite frankly it might have been a better pick than me."

Leanright, I have no doubt you'll think this is a partisan response from me, but I have no problem with a Vice-Presidential nominee showing a certain amount of modesty and self-awareness about his limitations. As a matter of fact, your response--although it was surely meant to be sarcastic--points to exactly the issue I had with Governor Palin's arrogant and ridiculous response in my third paragraph. Had Governor Palin said something like, "You know, Charlie, Senator McCain looked at a lot of qualified people, and I had to ask him, 'Why me? Why not Governor Romney or Senator Lieberman?" And the Senator looked me in the eye and he told me that it was the kind of experience and perspective this nation needs right now...," had Governor Palin said something like that I would have considered it a Home Run hit. Some idiots at Kos or wherever might have run with a "Palin Asks 'Why Me?'" line, but not me. Not a lot of people, I suspect. False humility is one thing, but a genuine humility and sense of self--that would be a break from the past eight years of "I'm the decider" and "You report reality, we make it" and all the rest of it.

It's not saying the Presidential nominee made a bad choice to say what Senator Biden said and Governor Palin could (and maybe should) have said: that there are other qualified people and you know you have limitations. Hell, some people would call it wisdom--

Matter of fact, you might want to be careful Leanright, because that's not exactly something people routinely accuse Biden of having. Keep pointing out "gaffes" like the one you cite, and you may stoke all sorts of warm glowy feelings about the rough-edges of the man from Delaware.

Eric Friday, September 12, 2008 at 10:00:00 PM EDT  

Oh, look--more context:

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, the man Obama picked for his ticket, defended Clinton this week when a voter told him it was best that he was chosen over the New York senator. Biden said Clinton “might’ve been a better pick than me.”
-Palin defends earmark requests for Alaska

Nathan Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 11:55:00 AM EDT  

Eric,

I just read the article you linked in the comments. Toward the bottom, they go into the talk about Palin drawing away Clinton supporters.

I think that's one of the stupidest bits of analysis going on right now. Are there really a significant number of people who are going to vote for "the one without a penis"? I mean, hell, you'd be hard pressed to come up with two women with more diametrically opposed political and social viewpoints. I just don't see Clinton supporters voting in droves for Palin.

And this isn't a partisan view. If the roles were reversed; if Palin has lost a hard-fought Republican Primary and Hilary were the woman chosen for the Democratic VP slot, would you see throngs of Republicans putting aside their hatred for Hilary to "vote for a woman"? I really think not.

Nathan Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 12:02:00 PM EDT  

And Leanright,

What Eric said. As a soundbite, you can make Biden look bad with it. As an entire thought with context, I take it as a mark of Biden's grasp of reality.

(And even though I'm not going to vote Republican, I don't have a problem with Palin having supported earmarks as Governor. She was working for a different set of people and she'd have been stupid not to take advantage of a system if it benefited her constituency. It's for folks at the federal level to change the rules of that game.)

Eric Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 12:22:00 PM EDT  

Nathan: I think you're probably right about the "drawing away Clinton" voters analysis. There's some indication, I believe, that Governor Palin is energizing female voters: energizing conservative women for the Republicans and energizing more liberal women (and presumably the bulk of Clinton supporters) for Obama. The problem (see my next post!) is that it's hard to tell whether that actually has any effect: energizing New York women for Obama and Alabama women for McCain might affect fundraising but not the likely outcome of the vote in November. For the Palin effect to have an impact, it has to have an impact in places like Ohio. (Bad news, brother: it looks like it is having a positive net effect for McCain in Ohio. I can only hope that fence straddlers--women and men alike--watch this interview and vote with their brains, not their procreant organs.

Eric Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 12:33:00 PM EDT  

Oh, and let me add: I really don't have a huge problem with earmarks so much as I do with the way the process is handled. I.e. burying them in riders on unrelated bills and having no transparency is the problem, not the fact that somebody wanted to spend some money looking at Alaskan clams or crabs or whatever.

Nor do I have a problem with changing your mind. I think changing your mind can be a good sign you have one. If you said, "Yes, I supported earmarks as Governor, but upon further reflection I've realized they're an abuse of taxpayer money--my former perspective was as a state governor and my new perspective is as someone who might be assuming national responsibilities," or something like that, I have no problem with that.

I do have a problem with changing your mind solely, it appears, for political advantage. And I have a problem with someone lying about it: saying you were always against something when it's pretty obvious you favored it until it was already a dead issue. And I have a major problem with continuing to lie about it after you've been caught out in the lie. It's a funny coincidence (well, not entirely) that I recently re-read Orwell's 1984: what's funny is that the McCain camp's insistence that Governor Palin always opposed the Bridge To Nowhere in the face of documentation that she did and then didn't is uncannily reminiscent of the attitudes of party officials insisting that Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford were traitors--if only Senator McCain and the Governor could keep a portable Memory Hole handy on stage with them at all times! (Not that it matters--it doesn't really look like anyone is listening anyway.)

Leanright,  Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 12:22:00 PM EDT  

Both of you are correct in that Clinton and Palin are opposed in their views in most areas, but as with any election in a nation of about 310 million people, there are a certain percentage of people who will vote for someone simply because they fit a demographic. A small percentage of blacks will probably vote for Obama because he is black, a small percentage of women will vote for Palin because she is a woman, and so on. We all know that a large percentage of people are going to vote on something other than issues, and will link onto someone that is "like them".

Based upon recent elections in certain states, elections are coming down to small percentages. Sometimes slight changes in a strategy can change the course of an election.
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