Sarah Palin set the bar very high during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention—maybe too high. About the best I can say for her much-anticipated interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson is that she survived.
There were no horrible gaffes, nothing she will have to explain over and over for the next seven weeks. But like a lapdog, she seemed too eager to please, too deferential, nervously trying to demonstrate her competence and experience. And in that eagerness, she portrayed an air of inexperience. (Plus, Palin apparently blanked out when asked about the Bush Doctrine.) The best I can give the governor of Alaska is a C-plus.
Sarah Palin should have taken control of the interview. Instead, she obsequiously tried to answer every question on its own terms, and in the process looked like a harried waitress cleaning up Gibson’s messes in hopes of getting a tip.
Here’s what I wish the Republican vice presidential nominee had said.
“Do I believe I have what it takes to be president if something should happen to John McCain? Of course, or I wouldn’t have said yes when he asked me to be his running mate. I have more executive experience than the Democratic ticket combined, and I know how to make tough decisions. But John McCain is in great health and comes from a family blessed with long life spans. I expect to serve as his vice president for eight full years. But the question you should be asking, Charlie, is whether Barack Obama has the experience and judgment to serve as our nation’s commander in chief. Have you asked him that question, Charlie?”
“Do I believe Israel has the right to defend itself from a nuclear-armed Iran, which has vowed its destruction? Let me ask you a question, Charlie: Do you remember back in the 1980s when Israeli jets took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor? Some in the international community complained, but privately everyone but Saddam was grateful.”
“Do I believe in NATO membership for states such as Georgia and Ukraine, even though this might spark a war with Russia? Actually, Vladimir Putin already started a war, in Georgia, which is a democratic ally of ours, and he’s taken the first steps at reconstituting the territory of the old Soviet Union. There likely will be more land grabs if the West does not have a strong and unified stand. This kind of aggression, which threatens the peace and prosperity of Europe, will be dealt with in a McCain administration. You know, Charlie, Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet Union without firing a shot. You know how he did it? By following a simple adage: Peace through strength. Like Reagan, John McCain has the experience and stature to rally free peoples to deter Russian aggression. John McCain knows all about the horrors of war, and he also knows how to keep the peace.”
“You ask about a prayer request I offered for the troops (including my son) at a church service? My goodness, Charlie! Whatever happened to the right to privacy? No, I don’t think the conflict in Iraq, which we are winning now thanks in no small measure to people like John McCain, is a holy war. But I believe that some of the things we’ve done there—bringing Saddam, who was guilty of torture, murder and genocide, to justice, opening schools, launching democracy for a people that had been under the heel of dictatorship for generations—are the Lord’s work. Don’t you? But I wouldn’t presume to know God’s ultimate plan in all this. No one does. We’re doing the best we can, humbly praying for God’s guidance. Abraham Lincoln said asking which side the Lord is on is the wrong question. Lincoln said, and I agree, that we need to be on God’s side. That’s what I meant by my prayer.”
“Do I believe that global warming is real and that it’s caused by human activity? I’m not a scientist, Charlie, and I don’t think you are one, either. But I am governor of a state that has a big stake in the answer, and I’m diligently searching for the best information, and new data are coming out every day. We Alaskans love the environment; we sure have a lot of it up here! I’ve done all I can to protect this beautiful legacy and pass it on to my children. I’d like to see all sides of the global warming issue come together to provide real solutions in a cost-effective way, balancing the need to protect the creation with the need to provide jobs and keep the economy growing.”
Seeking to demonstrate an encyclopedic grasp of the issues, Ronald Reagan had a shaky first debate with Walter Mondale. The president appeared nervous, prepackaged, even a bit confused. His supporters, realizing their error, came up with a new approach, captured in the mantra, “Let Reagan be Reagan.” In the second debate, Reagan looked much more relaxed and in command. Quipping, “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” Reagan coasted to a landslide victory.
Perhaps Sarah Palin, like Reagan, was over-prepared for this first big interview by handlers seeking to prove her experience for the job. I have a suggestion: Don’t bother trying to cram all the details of governance into her head. She’s a smart woman and will pick all that up in time. She knows enough to lead. That’s what she’s done, and that’s why John McCain chose her.
Let Palin be Palin.