Election 2008: Conservative Concerns About Palin
Monday, October 6, 2008; 10:00 AM
Washington Post Writers Group columnist Kathleen Parker was online Monday, Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. ET to discuss her recent columns and Post Partisan blog posts regarding Sarah Palin, and the concerns that led some conservatives to call for her replacement on the 2008 presidential ticket.
The transcript follows.
Kathleen Parker: Good morning, all -- thanks for your questions. I'll get to as many as possible, but I'm new to this so please bear with me. I know you'll understand if I choose to ignore your question and talk about something completely unrelated. (Wink.)
San Diego: Prior to the debate you asked Gov. Palin to step down "for the good of the country." After the debate you seemed to disavow this request. Am I reading that correctly or do you still believe she is not competent to be vice president?
Kathleen Parker: The simple answer is, no, I haven't disavowed the request. However, it's pretty clear she isn't taking my advice. My column about the debate recognized that she did what she needed to do to reanimate the base, but the question that remains unanswered satisfactorily is whether she is prepared to serve as president should that become necessary. I think the answer is still no.
Reno, Nev.: Why doesn't the McCain campaign just let Sarah Palin go on the news shows, and submit herself to the kind of questioning other officials face? That way we could be able to assess her on an even playing field.
Kathleen Parker: I think the answer is obvious -- we've witnessed how Gov. Palin does in a one-on-one interviews. That's far too risky. In the debate, she was able to ignore questions and riff about what she wanted to. An interviewer never would let her do that. A debate moderator could have reeled her back in, but Gwen Ifill let her go in part, I suspect, because she didn't want to seem to be partisan given the controversy around her book. For that reason, Ifill should have excused herself.
New Haven, Conn.: Were you surprised by the level of vitriol in the comments you got from fellow conservatives? If so, did it make you think about how this has changed (hamstrung?) our ability as a nation to discuss topics in a reasonable manner?
washingtonpost.com: The Omen in My Mail (Post, Oct. 1)
Kathleen Parker: The reaction was bracing to say the least. I'm not whining, by the way -- I've been through bundles of hate mail before, though previously from the left. I think this was worse, though, because of the personal investment conservatives have in Palin as "one of us." Also, they felt especially betrayed by me as one of their own.
I'm not sure where we go from here. Debased discourse is facilitated by the instaneity (new word for the times) of e-mail; if people had to take the time to address and stamp an envelope, we'd all be better off. At a minimum, we probably should post a sign on our computers: "Do not drink and send."
St. Paul, Minn.: You have been clear recently that you don't see Gov. Palin as ready to be vice president or ready to assume the presidential role should that become a tragic necessity, but I haven't heard your read on the her selection and what it indicates about McCain's judgment.
Kathleen Parker: McCain's judgment is a fair target. He did not vet Gov. Palin. The two met in February in Washington at a governor's meeting. They did not have another face-to-face until August 26. In the interim, vetting consisted of a questionnaire that all potential candidates fill out, a public records check and a few telephone calls. At no time did the McCain campaign put people on the ground to ask around about Gov. Palin. He made a political call and he yet may be vindicated.
If you caught Palin's speech this morning in Clearwater, Fla., you can see where this is going. She may not know which Supreme Court cases she disagrees with, but she knows what "Ordinary Americans" want to hear -- and she delivers. "They" are elite terrorist pals and "we" are patriotic Americans who want to win. She's now laughing off that silly interview with Katie Couric and making a joke that she was just working for Tina Fey's job security. Defuse, baby, defuse.
New Britain, Conn.: There is so much more to America than Beacon Hill, Georgetown, The Upper West Side and Hyde Park. In fact, most of America -- even here in the Northeast -- looks more like Wasilla, Alaska. Plain-spoken has no relevance to leadership, which is what the presidency is all about! My question is, why do you get so (squishy) liberal on Chris Matthews's Sunday show? To fit in?
Kathleen Parker: Did I get squishy liberal? I'm also a neoconservative whacko, I hear. I'm with Walker Percy -- I think we should repent of labels. Here's the deal: I call it as I see it. I think Sarah Palin is a formidable politician who was/is a rising star in her party. I think she was plucked too soon, given her lack of fluency on national and international issues. What McCain is selling -- and what I think you and others identify with -- is that she has her principles in order. The foundation is in place, they figure, and they have time to build the rest of the house. We'll see.
I know all about places that more closely resemble Wasilla than Georgetown. I live in a town of 7,500 in South Carolina, and usually describe myself as "a spy for Bubba." But even Bubba wants a president and vice president who understand the basic issues facing the nation.
Amsterdam: Kathleen, do you believe attacks such as Obama being associated with "terrorists" really will help McCain close in on Obama's lead in the polls? Most sources indicated that both parties new each other casually at best.
Kathleen Parker: Team McCain's effort to pair Obama with Ayers will work in the Heartland; It will disgust those who already are disgusted. Obama still is viewed as fairly exotic by chunks of the voting population, and McCain will continue working to burnish this impression. Rev. Wright hurt Obama. Ayers -- a terrorist of our very own -- again will cast doubt on whether Obama is truly on America's team. The truth is, Obama should have declined the support of Ayers. No one running for public office needs that kind of association. It seems obvious that Obama was naive starting out and accepted help in building a political base where he could find it.
Ashburn, Va.: How do you think conservatives who are seriously concerned Palin being vice president or president will vote? If they decide they can't support the McCain ticket, do they vote for Obama-Biden, for a third party, or just stay home?
Kathleen Parker: My overall sense of disillusioned conservatives is that they will vote for McCain with clenched teeth and crossed fingers. Moderates will go with Obama.
Los Angeles: I had no problem with your "controversial" column about Palin -- apart from calling her to withdraw. Did you really believe her withdrawal would've helped McCain win this election?
Kathleen Parker: Conventional wisdom is/was that a Palin departure this close to the election would have been suicidal. All cite McGovern's "firing" of Eagleton after finding out that Eagleton had been under psychiatric care. Since I'm not writing as a political operative, I wrote what I would like to have seen - Palin leaving, Mitt Romney replacing her. Time obviously was of the essence. Could McCain have recovered? Who knows? But I do think that given current circumstances -- and in light of Romney's track record in turning around broken economies -- there was a chance enough voters would have forgiven McCain his earlier bad judgment.
Reston, Va.: Now that the vice presidential debate has come and gone, do you think we'll see Palin speak in any forum other than at a political rally?
Kathleen Parker: I doubt it. She has said she will be meeting more with the media, but I imagine she'll be very selective.
Towson, Md.: Is Palin doing more to hurt the campaign than help it? She certainly may have revitalized the base, but I also feels she turns off independents and undecideds. Your thoughts?
Kathleen Parker: Judging from my mailbag, McCain has lost a lot of support among moderate voters. Hundreds have written to say that they were on the fence until the Palin pick. They will vote for Obama. Whether these self-selecting e-mailers represent a statistically significant voting bloc I can't say, but generally it seems that Palin has strengthened the base and weakened the middle that McCain needed to grab. Also, all those women voters who initially left Obama for McCain in the immediate aftermath of the GOP convention have returned to Obama in even greater numbers.
Washington: I am still waiting for Gov. Palin to prove she is more than an inch deep. The ability to deflect (or more correctly, ignore) questions is a useful skill in politics, but governing requires insight and discernment. All that I have seen from Gov. Palin is no-speak and doublespeak. What kind of person cannot answer a question on what newspapers they read? Either you are stupid and don't read any, or you are so deceptive that you can't be honest about what you do read. Both are unacceptable.
Kathleen Parker: I do not believe that Sarah Palin is stupid -- far from it -- but I do think she is disingenuous. When asked to name the papers she reads, she couldn't name any. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may have been hamstrung by her coaching. This wasn't a question she had been prepped on. How to answer? Does it matter? Is there a right/wrong answer? But her failure to shoot straight and give a possibly "wrong" answer suggests a more serious question about her ability to think and make her own judgments. Now she says she was just annoyed at Katie Couric and didn't feel like answering. I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. I also don't buy that her annoyance kept her from telling Couric which Supreme Court cases she disagrees with. In fairness, again, most people couldn't answer that question. I would have preferred an honest answer: "Katie, I have no idea. I'm not a lawyer and can't name cases. But I can tell you what principles I care about that the court has undermined. I care about personal property rights; I care about protecting children from pornography, etc."
Now that she's over her annoyance, she can drop names such as "Kelo vs. New London." Please. Now I'm annoyed.
Boston: As a professional woman, didn't Palin's behavior at the debate disturb you? It's one thing to be that relaxed (contrived or not) at rallies, but can't we agree that debates are a serious professional setting? I wouldn't wink in a boardroom.
Kathleen Parker: The winking was beyond annoying. I haven't talked to any women who weren't deeply offended by her flirting for votes. But she clearly was told to do it. Her coaches said "go for it, honey -- flyover America will love it." We'll see if they were right.
No, it was girly, silly, unserious and obnoxious. One of the great lessons of the Bible, with which surely Gov. Palin is familiar, is that there is a time and place for all things. For serious people, winking gotchas during a vice presidential debate is absurd and insulting.
Washington: Boy, do I disagree with your views! Boy, am I glad I have that opportunity! I know on a personal level you'll weather this just fine, but I do wonder where this country's national dialogue is going. Keep up the great columns (that I don't agree with -- ha!).
Kathleen Parker: Sweetie, as Obama would say, take a number. We'll all weather this just fine.
The glass is always half-full en mi casa.
Rockville, Md.: I want to know why you hate Sarah Palin so much. Is it because she is not an elite like you? Is it because she is not polished like you and don't get invited to fancy dinner parties? We Republicans should band together and save Sarah Palin from the mainstream media onslaught. I'm ashamed that you even consider yourself a conservative. You're no conservative -- Sarah Palin is. There's a lot you need to learn from her.
Kathleen Parker: I saved this one for last. I do not hate Sarah Palin. It isn't personal. I don't think anyone at the Hay and Feed where I shop for compost would consider me an elitist. But let me just say: I'm in favor of elite leadership; I despise elitism. So let's drop the labels and stop playing the class-warfare game. We're in this together, and both sides could learn much from the other.
Kathleen Parker: Time's up. I'm so glad we had this time together, just to share a laugh or sing a song ... that's Carol Burnett, for those more recently arrived to our planet.
Thanks for stopping by -- I enjoyed it. Civil discourse is fun after all.
Ciao. I mean, bye-bye.
washingtonpost.com: Discussion: Washington Post Chief Political Reporter Dan Balz (washingtonpost.com)
washingtonpost.com: Discussion: Congress's New Conservatives (washingtonpost.com)
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