Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Seeing Russia From Alaska

I have been fascinated by the various details that have been coming out of the McCain campaign about Sarah Palin's body of knowledge about the world outside of Alaska. Some people seem to think they can cover their own ass by attacking Palin while others think that self preservation dictates that they defend her. At this point, it is hard to find any of the stories particularly credible.

As much as I enjoy watching the Republicans tear each other apart, the story I am most eager to hear is how Palin came to the conclusion that it would be a good idea to sell Alaska's proximity to Russia as foreign policy experience. From what I can tell, the first person to float this idea publicly was Fox News' Steve Doocy on August 29th. The first I heard of it was when Cindy McCain brought it up in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on August 31st. At the time, I thought it was just silly and I could not imagine that anyone would take it seriously.

I was stunned when Palin trotted out this argument with Charles Gibson a week later:
GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of
weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?
PALIN: They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.
Was that really the best she could do? Wouldn't it have been better simply to say that as a governor, her attention had been focused on running her state, but that mastering new areas of knowledge and new challenges was part of her skill set?

A couple days after the Gibson interview, on September 13th, Tina Fey unleashed her Palin impression on Saturday Night Live with a wonderfully ditsy delivery of "I can see Russia from my house."

Despite a week and a half to come up with a better answer to the foreign policy question Palin went to the same well in her interview with Katie Couric:
It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia.
As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of
America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is
from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on
this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right
next to our state.
This led to the following line on the September 27th episode of Saturday Night Live:
COURIC(Amy Poehler): How do you do that exactly?
PALIN(Tina Fey): Every morning when Alaskans wake up, one of the
first things they do, is look outside to see if there are any Russians
hanging around. If there are, you have to go up to them and ask "What are
you doin' here?" And if they can give you a good reason, if they can't,
it's our responsibility to say, you know, "Shoo. Get back over

Not surprisingly, it was this interview that caused even conservatives to start questioning Palin's competence.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Palin stuck with this. Unlike her dubious claim about saying "No thanks" to the bridge to nowhere, claiming that proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience wasn't going to fire up the base. On the other hand, it made her look foolish to independents, moderates, and even some previously reliable culture warriors like Kathleen Parker. Moreover, Palin knew what the reaction to this claim was going to be before she ever uttered it because it had already been run up the flag pole by both Steve Doocy and Cindy McCain.

I couldn't begin to guess what Palin really knows about Africa or NAFTA, but I find it hard to believe that a reasonably bright person couldn't have answered a question about foreign policy experience with something better than Alaska's proximity to Russia. I also wonder what was going on with her advisers within the McCain that they decided to let her go ahead with that answer. Did they try to get her to give some other answer or was she simply so stubborn and unteachable that they figured that was as good as anything they could hope for?

I would love to hear the story behind this.


  1. You know those interviews are heavily edited, right? Thankfully the originals tend to get out. Unfortunately, they never make news.

    Though it still leaves a bit to be desired, her unedited answers involving Russia make far more sense than the edited ones.

  2. I have not see an unedited transcript of the Couric interview, but I didn't think that Palin was hurt by the editing of the Gibson interview. In the unedited transcript, she seemed like she was rambling more. By editing out repeated phrases, I thought that ABC made her look more focused.

  3. Honestly, I think that "they" were to either give her the answer or let he perpetuate it must've thought their base was so stupid that the answer would be eaten up.

    I know people who think it made COMPLETE sense.

    Those unreachable Republicans who had their minds made up before they even knew who was going to head the ticket.

    It was probably the same people who thought that a woman, ANY woman would gain prospective Hillary-lovers.

    I don't know, but it's fun as heck to watch!

  4. On the one hand, I'm curious to know the truth about Palin. On the other hand, I'm really tired of seeing her on TV every night. Is it just me, or has she actually made more TV appearances in the 10 since the election that she did in the 10 weeks leading up to it?

  5. Correction: in the 10 days...

  6. She obviously is making up for all the interviews that her handlers in the McCain campaign wouldn't allow.