Governor Palin – and by extension the McCain/Palin campaign – is taking us to a whole new place in politics. Their approach to the much-anticipated interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson and to political discourse in general can be summed up very simply:
Lie when you can, bury the question with meaningless soundbites if you can’t.
Charles Gibson did a credible job of pushing the Governor on the range of hot-button issues and didn’t – on several occasions – let her get away with the first or the second or even the third bullshit answer (that’s a technical term used by us PR types meaning an answer that is bad in concept, specifics and execution). As a result, on any number of questions, it was clear that Governor Palin was ill-prepared and ill-informed on issues such as the Bush Doctrine, the differences between the McCain economic plan and the current administration, etc. In those instances, she simply spouted generalities such as:
GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, “Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.” Are we fighting a holy war?
PALIN: You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.
GIBSON: Exact words.
PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words when he said — first, he suggested never presume to know what God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak God’s words.
But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that’s a repeat in my comments, was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God’s side.
That’s what that comment was all about, Charlie. And I do believe, though, that this war against extreme Islamic terrorists is the right thing. It’s an unfortunate thing, because war is hell and I hate war, and, Charlie, today is the day that I send my first born, my son, my teenage son overseas with his Stryker brigade, 4,000 other wonderful American men and women, to fight for our country, for democracy, for our freedoms.
Charlie, those are freedoms that too many of us just take for granted. I hate war and I want to see war ended. We end war when we see victory, and we do see victory in sight in Iraq.
GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln’s words, but you went on and said, “There is a plan and it is God’s plan.”
PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That, in my world view, is a grand — the grand plan.
GIBSON: But then are you sending your son on a task that is from God?
PALIN: I don’t know if the task is from God, Charlie. What I know is that my son has made a decision. I am so proud of his independent and strong decision he has made, what he decided to do and serving for the right reasons and serving something greater than himself and not choosing a real easy path where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer.
More egregious, though, were the questions in which Ms. Palin just reared back and denied everything in the face of overwhelming facts to the contrary:
GIBSON: You have said continually, since he chose you as his vice presidential nominee, that I said to Congress, thanks but not thanks. If we’re going to build that bridge, we’ll build it ourselves.
GIBSON: But it’s now pretty clearly documented. You supported that bridge before you opposed it. You were wearing a T-shirt in the 2006 campaign, showed your support for the bridge to nowhere.
PALIN: I was wearing a T-shirt with the Zip code of the community that was asking for that bridge. Not all the people in that community even were asking for a $400 million or $300 million bridge.
GIBSON: But you turned against it after Congress had basically pulled the plug on it; after it became apparent that the state was going to have to pay for it, not the Congress; and after it became a national embarrassment to the state of Alaska. So do you want to revise and extend your remarks.
PALIN: It has always been an embarrassment that abuse of the ear form — earmark process has been accepted in Congress. And that’s what John McCain has fought. And that’s what I joined him in fighting. It’s been an embarrassment, not just Alaska’s projects. But McCain gives example after example after example. I mean, every state has their embarrassment.
GIBSON: But you were for it before you were against it. You were solidly for it for quite some period of time…
PALIN: I was …
GIBSON: … until Congress pulled the plug.
PALIN: I was for infrastructure being built in the state. And it’s not inappropriate for a mayor or for a governor to request and to work with their Congress and their congressmen, their congresswomen, to plug into the federal budget along with every other state a share of the federal budget for infrastructure.
PALIN: What I supported was the link between a community and its airport. And we have found that link now.
GIBSON: But you didn’t say no to Congress, well build it ourselves until after they pulled the plug. Correct?
PALIN: No, because Congress still allowed those dollars to come into Alaska. They did.
GIBSON: Well, but …
PALIN: Transportation fund dollars still came into Alaska. It was our choice, Charlie, whether we were going to spend it on a bridge or not. And I said, thanks, but no thanks. We’re not going to spend it on the bridge.
GIBSON: They appropriated $223 million dollars, I think, for the bridge. Then they — when the project died, that money was still there. And you kept — the state of Alaska kept that money. Is that consistent with the image of a reformer?
GIBSON: One of John McCain’s central campaign arguments, tenets of his campaign, is eliminating earmarks, getting rid of them. Are you with John McCain on that?
PALIN: I certainly am. And of course the poster child for the earmarks was Alaska’s, what people in the lower 48 refer to as the bridge to nowhere. First it was a bridge to community with an airport in southeast Alaska. But that was excessive. And an earmark — an earmark like that, not even supported necessarily by the majority of Alaskans. We killed that earmark. We killed that project.
GIBSON: But it’s now pretty clearly documented you supported that bridge before you opposed it. You turned against it after Congress had basically pulled the plug on it; So do you want to revise and extend your remarks?
PALIN: It has always been an embarrassment that abuse of the ear form — earmark process has been accepted in Congress. And that’s what John McCain has fought. And that’s what I joined him in fighting. It’s been an embarrassment, not just Alaska’s projects. But McCain gives example after example after example. And, as I’ve said over and over, if Alaska wants that bridge, $300 million, $400 million dollars, over to that island with an airport, we’ll find a way to build it ourselves. The rest of the country doesn’t have to build that for us.
… And now obviously, Charlie, with the federal government saying, no, the rest of the nation does not want to fund that project. You have a choice. You either read the writing on the wall and understand okay, yes, that, that project’s going nowhere. And the state isn’t willing to fund that project. So what good does it do to continue to support something that circumstances have so drastically changed? You call an audible, and you deal in reality, and you move on. And, Charlie, we killed the bridge to nowhere and that’s the bottom line.
GIBSON: The state of Alaska, under OMB figures in 2008, got $155 million in earmarks for a population of 670,000. That’s $231 per person in Alaska. The state of Illinois, Obama’s state, got $22 per person. You got 10 times per person as much. How does that square with your reforms?
PALIN: We have drastically, drastically reduced our earmark request since I came into office.
GIBSON: But you still have multiple of any other state.
PALIN: We sure are — and this is what — you go out and you ask any Alaskan this. This is what I’ve been telling Alaskans for these years that I’ve been in office, is no more.
GIBSON: Governor, this year, requested $3.2 million for researching the genetics of harbor seals, money to study the mating habits of crabs. Isn’t that exactly the kind of thing that John McCain is objecting to?
PALIN: Those requests, through our research divisions and fish and game and our wildlife departments and our universities, those research requests did come through that system, but wanting it to be in the light of day, not behind closed doors, with lobbyists making deals with Congress to stick things in there under the public radar. That’s the abuse that we’re going to stop. That’s what John McCain has promised over and over for these years and that’s what I’m joining him, also, saying, you’re right, the abuse of earmarks, it’s un-American, it’s undemocratic, and it’s not going to be accepted in a McCain-Palin administration. Earmark abuse will stop.
We can expect these tactics to continue when Ms. Palin returns to the campaign trail; look for very limited accesss from the media (I can hear it now: “We’ve done the big ‘gotcha’ interview; Charles Gibson was as rough on her as any liberal critic could ask and she came through it great.”) and for the campaign to simply continue to repeat the soundbites that are clearly polling well with the base and maybe others if the polling is right.
Why is this new ground? Because, for the first time that I’ve observed (though I’m far from the first to observe this), a presidential campaign is acting as if the truth is irrelevant. Regardless of what the facts are, just keep repeating your spin. Never admit, never give ground.
This strategy is about as sophisticated the lyrics to Shaggy’s “Wasn’t Me” but maybe that’s what political discourse has been reduced to. And, as Andrew Sullivan wrote more eloquently than me, it’s also a sad commentary on how John McCain has sold his claim to a higher standard of ethic for a shot at the White House. (“John,” said one of the many senior advisers/lobbyists on the campaign, “first we have to do what it takes to win; then we’ll do the right thing. Promise.”)
Oh, and by the way, turns out I wasn’t far off from my prediction about the campaign’s interview schedule: next up on the Palin BS Express: Sean Hannity.
PS – The one question on which I found Governor Palin remotely credible:
GIBSON: Governor, let me start by asking you a question that I asked John McCain about you. And it is really the central question. Can you look the country in the eye and say, I have the experience, and I have the ability to be not just vice president, but perhaps president of the United States of America?
PALIN: I do, Charlie, and on January 20th, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, we’ll be ready. I’m ready.
I absolutely believe she absolutely believes she’s ready.