As if to quash the emerging news narrative that John McCain is afraid of the press after going a full month without holding a press conference, the Republican nominee's campaign made the candidate available last night to a local television station in Maine.
If they thought McCain would come under less intensive fire than he would from the national press, however, the campaign was mistaken. Rob Caldwell, a dogged reporter for WCSH, pressed McCain repeatedly on Gov. Sarah Palin's qualifications for the vice presidency. And while answering, McCain made a number of factual misstatements.
First, the reporter asked McCain to explain Sarah Palin's foreign policy credentials:
Q: Let 's move on to what you say is the number one issue facing the United States in our time. And that is the challenge of addressing Islamist extremism. What credentials does Gov. Palin have -- in national security, diplomacy, foreign policy -- that qualify her to be your partner in that, on that issue: the fight against Islamic extremism?
McCain: Well, obviously the economy is also a major challenge facing America.
Q: No, I'm using your words, Senator McCain, you have said, this summer...
McCain: No, I said...
Q: That the number one challenge of our time is Islamic extremism...
McCain: No, I said the greatest challenge of our time is national security threats. I've also said that jobs and the economy are the number one issue facing America.
Leaving aside McCain's ability to define America's "greatest challenge" as somehow different from its "number one issue," it's just not true that he has never described "Islamic extremism" as the greatest challenge of our time.
From a March 28 speech posted on McCain's website: "It will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. This challenge is transcendent not because it is the only one we face. There are many dangers in today's world, and our foreign policy must be agile and effective at dealing with all of them. But the threat posed by the terrorists is unique."
And in June: "Well, I would think that the absolute gravest threat is the struggle that we're in against Islamic extremism, which can affect, if they prevail, our very existence."
Continuing, McCain brought up an Alaska natural gas pipeline backed by Palin:
McCain: So, ah, but the point is Governor Palin was right on the issues. She understands energy, which is one of the fundamental issues of our national security. She was responsible for a $40 billion pipeline that's gonna bring natural gas to the lower 48.
But as the New York Times reported yesterday, "the pipeline exists only on paper." And though Palin has thus far proved adept at "attracting developers to a project that has eluded Alaska governors for three decades ... Ms. Palin has overstated both the progress that has been made and the certainty of success."
In the interview, McCain continued by saying Palin was "right on Russia" and "right on Iraq" while Senator Obama was "wrong." McCain also falsely suggested that Obama had credited Palin with being "right on Iran," which has never happened. "He [Obama] said that she was right on Iran when he's been wrong on Iran."
Regardless of what one thinks of Barack Obama's positions on Russia, Iraq and Iran, it's hard to see how Palin had much of a track record at all -- on any of these matters.
As Andrew Sullivan has noted, she answered a question on Iraq in 2006 by saying: "I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq. I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place; I want assurances that we are doing all we can to keep our troops safe. Every life lost is such a tragedy. I am very, very proud of the troops we have in Alaska, those fighting overseas for our freedoms, and the families here who are making so many sacrifices."
When asked again by the interviewer for a specific example of Palin's foreign policy experience, McCain flubbed Palin's talking point on energy.
McCain: She knows more about energy than probably anybody else in the Unites States. She is governor of a state [pause] that 20 percent of America's energy supply comes from there.
Leave aside the wildly overstated assertion that Palin is America's top expert on energy. McCain also claimed that the state produces "20 percent of America's energy supply," which is just wrong.
In 2005, Alaska produced 3.5 percent of America's energy supply. Presumably McCain meant to say that Alaska is responsible for 20 percent of America's domestic oil production (which is true).
Individually, these were perhaps all minor flubs. But taken in total, they suggested McCain may be a bit rocky now that his campaign has mostly closed him off to reporters.