Gov. Palin's comments about Russia seem to have drawn more attention than any other part of her interview with Katie Couric. I think this is mainly because .. well, they just sound funny. "As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space" and so on.
But, no joke, it is worth spending a little time on what, specifically, we have learned about Palin and her limitations via her attempted answers to Katie Couric. After the jump, three specimens -- one about Israel, one about financial markets, one about domestic spending -- that, as I mentioned after the Charlie Gibson interview, indicate that Palin is disqualifyingly ignorant of the fundamentals of public policy.
After thirty years of meeting and interviewing politicians, I can think of exactly three people who sounded as uninformed and vacant as this. All are now out of office. One was a chronic drunk.
George W. Bush is in a completely different and superior league to what we've seen from Palin. When people made fun of his inexpressiveness in the 2000 campaign (and onwards), it was because he mispronounced words or used cliches. It was nothing like the total inability to express any coherent thought on any issue outside "values politics" that Palin has revealed. (And to be fair: she can talk clearly and with nuance about those values issues, from abortion to prayer, and about some Alaskan questions.)
Details after the jump. The crucial point, of course, is that Palin did not put herself in this position. Her running mate did.
1) Sarah Palin on "second guessing" Israel
Couric: You recently said three times that you would never, quote, "second guess" Israel if that country decided to attack Iran. Why not?
Palin: We shouldn't second guess Israel's security efforts because we cannot ever afford to send a message that we would allow a second Holocaust, for one. Israel has got to have the opportunity and the ability to protect itself. They are our closest ally in the Mideast. We need them. They need us. And we shouldn't second guess their efforts.
Couric: You don't think the United States is within its rights to express its position to Israel? And if that means second-guessing or discussing an option?
Palin: No, abso ... we need to express our rights and our concerns and ...
Couric: But you said never second guess them.
Palin: We don't have to second-guess what their efforts would be if they believe ... that it is in their country and their allies, including us, all of our best interests to fight against a regime, especially Iran, who would seek to wipe them off the face of the earth. It is obvious to me who the good guys are in this one and who the bad guys are. The bad guys are the ones who say Israel is a stinking corpse and should be wiped off the face of the earth. That's not a good guy who is saying that. Now, one who would seek to protect the good guys in this, the leaders of Israel and her friends, her allies, including the United States, in my world, those are the good guys.
What's the problem here? Two extremely glaring ones. The first is that Palin has obviously been given the slogan "don't second-guess Israel's security efforts" and is clinging to it all the way down, even when she can't amplify or explain it under questioning.
The far more profound worry is that knowing who "the good guys" are is the first, rather than the last, step in making foreign policy decisions -- especially those with the snarls that involve Israel, Iran, nuclear proliferation, preemptive strikes, and so on. The United States should know what it stands for -- and the physical security of Israel is obviously one of those things. The chilling fact is that in the interview itself, Palin betrayed no awareness that there could be an analytical step beyond identifying "the good guys."
2) Sarah Palin on the financial crisis:
Couric: If this [bailout bill] doesn't pass, do you think there's a risk of another Great Depression?Palin: Unfortunately, that is the road that America may find itself on. Not necessarily this, as it's been proposed, has to pass or we're going to find ourselves in another Great Depression. But, there has got to be action - bipartisan effort - Congress not pointing fingers at one another but finding the solution to this, taking action, and being serious about the reforms on Wall Street that are needed.
Of course, talking about "another Great Depression" is like talking about "another Holocaust." So many fundamentals have changed in each circumstances that an exact repetition is inconceivable.
On the Holocaust front: the rise of Israel, the transformation of Germany, the fact that one Holocaust already occurred, etc. On the Great Depression: the acceptance of Keynes, the rise of institutions specifically designed to avoid cascading worldwide deflation, the fact that one Great Depression has already occurred, etc.
There is no sign, listening to Palin, that she has any idea of what another world depression might mean, how loaded a term "another Great Depression" is, how this relates to what John McCain or her Republican party is saying and doing, or anything else involving public finance.
I submit: no one could have read a novel (Grapes of Wrath), seen a movie (Cinderella Man, to choose an easy one; or Annie, or Of Mice and Men or Bonnie and Clyde or All the Kings Men or They Shoot Horses Don't They), or read any history book about the Great Depression and have said these things. Implication: Sarah Palin has never seen or read, or never absorbed, any such material.
3) Sarah Palin on America's budget choices (this is a passage that Andrew Sullivan and many others have identified):
Couric: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? Allow them to spend more, and put more money into the economy, instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?
Palin: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it's got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade -- we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.
At face value, this is incomprehensible. More than that, it suggests a person whose previous two decades of adult life have not equipped her to absorb the briefings she is no doubt receiving about the big, obvious issues in the campaign: the market crash, health care proposals, tax plans.
Two natural reactions are: to laugh at the "Putin rears his head" part, and simply to avoid concentrating on the rest. But given her candidacy for national office, neither of those is enough.
I am not aware of any other current figure in national politics -- by which I mean any member of the Senate or House -- who would do a worse job under questioning. There could be some I don't know about. But they're not on a national ticket.