NOTE: I updated this today, Oct. 14, here.
A week ago there was a lot of chatter about whether Sarah Palin should step aside as John McCain's running mate. It's a little late for that, but now I wonder if the conservative who should stand down for the next few weeks is not Palin but New York Times columnist David Brooks. At least Palin tells us what she really feels. Brooks' dishonesty is frightening.
Last Friday for the Times, following the vice-presidential debate, Brooks wrote of Palin,
"She established debating parity with Joe Biden....By the end of the debate, most Republicans were not crouching behind the couch, but standing on it. The race has not been transformed, but few could have expected as vibrant and tactically clever a performance as the one Sarah Palin turned in Thursday night."
Forget, for the moment, this epic lapse of judgment -- every poll showed that viewers actually gave Biden an easy win. Flash forward three days later. Interviewed at a New York City event unveiling the new design for The Atlantic, Brooks suddenly admitted, speaking of Palin, that she was not "not even close" to being ready to be vice president. He also declared her a "fatal cancer" on the same party whose members, he'd declared, were standing on that couch after the debate. Shouldn't he have warned them?
It may or may not surprise you to learn that Brooks has not written a word about why the selection of someone "not even close" to be being qualified for vice president by a 72-year-old cancer survivor might disqualify John McCain from Brooks' consideration for his support.
Perhaps Brooks didn't think anyone was taking notes on Monday -- let alone shooting video of his damaging assessment (thank you, Huff Post's Rachel Sklar). But his blast at Palin had been buzzed about since Monday.
Now, it's true that Brooks in his Friday post-debate column did paint Palin as a bit of a rube who owed her success in the debate not to intellect (he has praised Obama on this count) but for appealing to all the "folks" out there -- and running not only against Washington but the entire East Coast. But nowhere in that column , or anywhere in print, has he shared with readers what appear to be his true feelings: that she is simply not qualified for the office, let alone the one above it.
He hinted at this in a September 16 column, which lamented her lack of "experience," but it closed with a knock on the "smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place."
Even worse, what does it betray about his honesty and credibility - and those of other conservative pundits who have mocked Palin but refused to rule out McCain for president because of his monumental lack of wisdom and integrity in picking her (the most important political decision he has ever made)?
Brooks in his Monday talk underlined this when he commented, "The more I follow politicians, the more I think experience matters, the ability to have a template of things in your mind that you can refer to on the spot, because believe me, once in office there's no time to think or make decisions."
On September 25, Brooks wrote in his column that he was disappointed in the McCain campaign so far - but did not mention the Palin pick once. His complaint: McCain "has no central argument." Still he hailed the candidate as a "good judge of character," adding, "He is, above all -- and this is completely impossible to convey in the midst of a campaign -- a serious man prone to serious things."
Andrew Sullivan had it right when he commented that Brooks "does not apparently draw the obvious conclusion from this. The only non-negotiable criterion for the vice-presidency is an ability at a moment's notice to become the president, if the worst happens. Palin fails by that criterion. Fails....
"So McCain's first presidential level decision was not just a poor one. It was a disqualifying one. This was pass/fail. McCain failed. If you do not believe that Palin is qualified for the job McCain selected her for, then there are only two conclusions: either you cannot support McCain or you do not believe the presidency of the United States is a serious job. So which one is it, David? You have four weeks to let us know."
Actually, now, a little less than that.
Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. His ninth book, on Iraq and the media, is "So Wrong for So Long."