Gov. Palin's Interview

Sunday, September 14, 2008

ALASKA GOV. Sarah Palin does not bring to the vice presidential campaign, to use her words, "a big fat résumé." Her scanty public record makes interviews such as the one she gave to ABC's Charles Gibson especially important. Having answered her first real questions since being selected, Ms. Palin must not now retreat into the campaign bubble or make herself available only to friendly interlocutors. Along with the vice presidential debate and campaign trail encounters with voters, such interviews are essential to giving the country a fuller picture of the least known vice presidential nominee in recent memory. What is the quality of Ms. Palin's mind? How deeply has she thought about fundamental issues of domestic or foreign policy? She has been briefed, but can she go beyond her talking points?

Ms. Palin's interview with Mr. Gibson was not disqualifying, but it was also far from comforting. For all the focus on her supposed befuddlement about the Bush doctrine, the question was imprecise and Ms. Palin's initial puzzlement understandable. Her eventual response -- that any president has the right to respond preemptively in the face of an imminent threat -- restated an undeniable proposition while reflecting little appreciation of real-world complexities, in Pakistan or elsewhere. Asked about the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, Ms. Palin said three times that the United States should not "second-guess" Israeli decisions on self-defense. But of course the United States should, and does, engage in that sort of second-guessing, from the location of settlements to sales of military equipment. If Israel wanted to attack Iran, would a President Palin permit Israeli forces to fly through U.S.-controlled airspace?

Even on the domestic issues about which she could have been expected to have more familiarity, Ms. Palin's responses were disappointingly shallow. Defending her state's -- and her own -- record on earmarks, Ms. Palin suggested that the problem was not shoveling money toward pet projects but the failure to make this shoveling transparent -- seemingly not recognizing that this is far different from the more fundamental complaint of her running mate, John McCain. The "Bridge to Nowhere," after all, was no secret. Ms. Palin came off as naive in assessing federal budget problems and entitlement spending as simply a matter of scrubbing "divisions" for waste.

Her efforts to explain some previous statements were lacking in candor. She claimed, implausibly, that she was merely channeling Abraham Lincoln when she described the war in Iraq as "a task from God," and she denied any turnabout on climate change despite having said, in 2007, "I'm not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity." She described abortion as "a very critical and very sensitive and a personal issue also for so many women" yet repeated her view that abortion should be illegal except when needed to save the life of the mother. How does Ms. Palin reconcile her understanding of abortion as a "personal issue" with her view that the choice should be taken away from the pregnant woman?

Overall, this was an unsettling interview, with a frustrating lack of follow-up questions. Voters deserve more opportunities for more searching questioning in the short time left before Election Day.

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