Palin's interview with Charles Gibson

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I thought she did all right--a good, adequate performance, but no more. I doubt that it will have changed many minds. People inclined to like her saw nothing much to alarm them; people inclined to dislike her saw nothing that will have impressed. I think that many viewers, like me, will have regarded Gibson's tetchy, unfriendly, weary, inquisitorial demeanour--that constant frown, as if to say, "remind me why I am talking to YOU?"--as off-putting, and therefore helpful to the accused. She is under intense pressure, obviously. I think she deserves high marks for unflappability--and that, heaven knows, is a good thing in a vice president (or president).

I agree with Jim Fallows, though, that the combination of little knowledge, incuriosity, and an unduly decisive temperament is very dangerous. Bush underlines that danger, to be sure. What one wants is self-assurance that understands its limits, and some appreciation of the need to balance ends and means. I still don't know what to make of Palin in that regard. There are some worrying signs.

I don't go along with the view that her answers on the "Bush doctrine" were a serious misstep, however. True, she did not know what that term meant. The fact is, it means different things to different people. If Gibson had put that question to me, my answer would have been: "It depends what you mean by the Bush doctrine." In effect, that was what she said. And it deserves to be noted (as Jim points out, but with a kindly lack of emphasis, calling it a minor error) that Gibson himself apparently does not know what it means.

GIBSON [impatiently]: The Bush doctrine as I understand it is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree...?

No, Charles. That is not what the Bush doctrine means. The right of anticipatory self-defence is already enshrined in international law. Countries do not have to wait until they are attacked to legitimately defend themselves. The Bush doctrine advances the notion of preventive war: the right to attack not in order to defend yourself against an imminent assault, but to deal with less certain, more distant but still possibly mortal threats.

Whatever you think about the Bush doctrine, people who laugh at Palin for failing to know what it is really ought to make sure they understand it themselves.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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