The Sunday chat shows had quite a lineup of heavyweights yesterday. We had Barack Obama on ABC, Joe Biden on NBC, John McCain on CBS, and Sarah Palin – wait a second, Sarah Palin was on…what? Surely she was somewhere on the air, let's see…I must have missed that listing…still looking…On Fox? Nope….CNN? Nope…MSNBC? Nope….I mean, after all, this is somebody who has already been judged by McCain as ready to assume the presidency on a moment's notice, so clearly she must be ready to step into the journalistic firing line and showcase her breadth of knowledge. Right?
Wrong. Palin is still America's mystery guest. The McCain people said a few days ago that she would remain on the sidelines, where presumably the briefers are working overtime to pour talking points into her head, until such time that she feels "comfortable." But since their statement was a virtual admission that she's indeed not ready to hit big-league pitching, the McCain people clearly needed to erase it, pronto. And so they have. They announced yesterday that Palin will take questions later this week during a sitdown with Charlie Gibson of ABC News.
I wouldn't presume to know what Gibson plans to ask her, but, in the interests of a venerable American journalistic tradition known as holding candidates accountable, I'd love to see these questions on the table. They ain't all pretty – the byplay between candidates and journalists is often akin to watching sausage get made – but still:
1. Gov. Palin, news reports indicate that you are undergoing intensive foreign policy tutelage from Senator Joe Lieberman and senior members of the McCain team, including Randy Scheunemann and Stephen Biegun. Lieberman and Scheunemann are known for their ties to the neoconservatives who promoted the invasion of Iraq. Biegun last worked on George W. Bush's National Security Council. Given your lack of foreign policy expertise, how confident can we be – and how confident are you – that you are being briefed by a sufficiently broad range of people? Is the McCain campaign reaching out to include, as briefers, prominent Republicans who disagree with the neoconservatives and the Bush White House? People like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell, for example? Are you insisting on a broad range of briefers? If the range of advice that you are getting is narrow, how would you know?
2. You recently stated in a church appearance that the war in Iraq is "a task from God." Imagine that you have been thrust into the presidency, and that you have to decide whether to launch a new military action. If you were to determine, in your prayers, that this new military action also qualified as "a task from God," how much confidence should the American people have that you would carefully consider all earthly counter-arguments – including any warnings by U.S. intelligence that war was the least defensible option?
3. One follow-up on Iraq. In Bob Woodward's new book, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says about Iraq, "There are a lot of things if I could go back and do them differently, I would." Do you agree with Secretary Rice? If so, since you have been vetted by Senator McCain as being ready to assume the presidency, will you share with us three or four specific things that you wish had been done differently in Iraq? For instance, in terms of execution, what would you have done differently with respect to the Sunnis and the Shiites? Can you explain to us the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites?
4. Following up on the simple question that Campbell Brown of CNN tried to ask last week – she posed this question to a McCain aide, who ruled it out of bounds – can you give us an example of a command that you have given to the Alaska National Guard? Something specific that sheds light on your readiness to be commander-in-chief of the United States? And could you please comment on last week's press reports that the Alaska National Guard, during your tenure as governor, has been plagued by personnel shortages that make its aviation units the most poorly staffed in America? How do you respond to the fact that the Alaska Guard's top officer warned in a memo, earlier this year, that the lack of qualified airmen "has reached a crisis level"? How do these developments square with Senator McCain's claim that your command of the Guard constitutes national security experience?
5. Governor, you are currently the target of an ethics probe in Alaska. It was authorized by a bipartisan decision of the legislature. You are accused in some quarters of abusing your power, that you fired the state police commissioner because he allegedly dragged his feet on dumping one of his troopers, your ex-brother-in-law. The details may be too murky for many voters, but what's most interesting is that at first you promised to cooperate fully with the investigation – only to renege on that promise. Now you're saying that you will only provide testimony if the legislature stops its own probe and transfers jurisdiction to the state Personnel Board – whose three members are appointed by the governor. If you have nothing to hide, why are you trying to game the process? And isn't there a risk that your stance in Alaska might remind some voters of the Bush administration's general refusal to cooperate fully with congressional oversight investigators?
6. Governor, you will soon become a grandmother, congratulations. You have praised your daughter for her decision to have the baby and keep the baby. You emphasize that this was her choice. But there are tens of millions of voters who would like to have a far broader range of choices. How do you intend to persuade Hillary Clinton's voters that all women should be denied the choice of abortion, even in cases of rape or incest? Isn't your position antithetical to what Hillary Clinton has fought for since the ruling of Roe v. Wade?
7. Governor, you keep telling audiences that you told Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks" on the boondoggle Bridge to Nowhere – whereas in reality, of course, you campaigned for that bridge project in 2006 and abandoned it only when it became a national embarrassment. How do you square your current remarks with your previous remarks praising the work of Alaska's Republican delegation in obtaining the federally-earmarked funds? And how do you square Senator McCain's promise to veto all earmarked projects with the fact that Alaska depends heavily on federal earmarks, and that Alaska is currently seeking projects totaling well in excess of $100 million? And how can you present yourself as an anti-earmark "maverick," when your own representative in Washington, John Katz, recently defended earmarks in an op-ed piece, calling them "a legitimate exercise of Congress' constitutional power to amend the budget"?
8. Governor, you and your husband in the past have attended conventions of the Alaska Independence Party. This year, you videotaped a message of greeting for the AIP's 2008 convention, urging members to "keep up the good work." Yet the AIP for decades has endorsed the idea of giving Alaskans the option to secede from the United States. Why have you failed to denounce a group whose message contradicts Senator McCain's slogan "Country First"? And why do you continue to associate with a group whose founder, Joe Vogler, declared that "the fires of hell are glaciers compared to my hate for the American government" and declared that "I've got no use for America or her damned institutions"? Governor, why haven't you renounced this man, the way that Senator Obama has renounced Jeremiah Wright?
9. And forgive me, governor, but I can't resist this one. The entire state of Alaska has 670,000 people. Montgomery County, a suburban county outside Philadelphia, has 775,000 people. The Montgomery County commissioners deal with issues of sprawl and land use and environment versus economic development, just as you do, except they don't run huge budget surpluses every year, like you do – with 86 percent of your tax revenue coming from the oil industry. Therefore, given the fact that the Montgomery commissioners have more constituents than you do, tougher budget tradeoffs than you have, and given the fact that they have roughly the same national security expertise as you do, aren't they just as qualified as you to be vice president of the United States?