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Sunday Watch: In Which Skepticism Revives (But Not for Everyone)

In terms of attention seized, McCain-Palin "won the weekend." Whether they won supporters is more doubtful. Judging from the top two Sunday shows, they didn't impress.
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The week served up an embarrassment of riches for the Sunday shows. There were, of course, Denver developments: the Clintons' make-good speeches along with a stem-winder by Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, and, of course, Obama in the stadium, outlining his ideas as frozen Hillary supporters say he never does. But in terms of attention seized, McCain-Palin “won the weekend.” Whether they won supporters is more doubtful. Judging from the top two Sunday shows, they didn’t impress.

The highlights would be hilarious if they were not staggering. Cindy McCain told George Stephanopoulos that Gov. Sarah Palin is qualified for the vice-presidency because “Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia, so it's not as if she doesn't understand what's at stake here.” Presumably she has stood close enough to Vladimir Putin to have gazed into his eyes and seen through his transparent soul to his inner barbarian.

Cindy McCain, not used to this sort of thing, dodged a bullet when Stephanopoulos asked her about her recent trip to Georgia, saying, “I love doing this kind of work. It's part of my fiber.” I would like to have known how many humanitarian missions she has undertaken. Has she been to Darfur, for instance, where no Cold War points are to be scored?

Next, Sen. Lindsay Graham, on message, touted Gov. Palin as a corruption-fighter and Fed-buster, declaring that she had opposed the notorious Alaska Bridge to Nowhere when Congress wanted to spent $400 million for it last year, only to face Stephanopoulos pointing out, accurately, that “she campaigned for it in her 2006 race, and turned against it in 2007 only after it became a national joke.” When Graham insisted that she had national security experience in that “she's been in charge of the National Guard,” Stephanopoulos noted that no less an authority than George H. W. Bush had said that running the National Guard was irrelevant when the governor in question was Bill Clinton, running against him in 1992.

Stephanopoulos bounced back: “What do you say to this Republican delegate from Mobile, Alabama, Todd Burkhalter? He says this, ‘We're in a global war, we're in a global economy, so it's less than honest if someone says that this woman is qualified to lead America right now.’" As Stephanopoulos went tough, Graham went extravagant: “I would say that compared to Senator Obama, she is qualified beyond belief to change the culture in Washington.” (My italics: “beyond belief.” Might I speculate that, consciously, he wanted to say “beyond doubt,” but what erupted was a defensible, subterranean view that the choice of Palin is “beyond belief”?)

Protesting way too much, Graham swiveled, pirouetted, and otherwise took evasive action: “Governor Palin has the characteristics of a leader that can take over on a moment's notice.” Stephanopoulos kept going: “So Senator McCain wins and, God forbid, tragedy strikes. You'd feel confident, safe and secure a year from now if Governor Palin were president?” Graham tried to catapult out of the corner: “I would dread the day that Senator Obama took the oath and become commander-in-chief...” Stephanopoulos was having none of it: “That's not what I asked.” Graham attacked Obama’s foreign policy judgment as “terrible” and declared: “Compared to Barack Obama, I think she'd make one hell of a commander-in-chief.”

As in Denver, John Kerry was scathing as he insisted that the Palin pick was further indicative of McCain’s erratic nature.

John McCain has been wrong about Iraq. He bought in to the neoconservative theory that, by military invasion of Iraq, you could transform the Middle East. That has been proven incorrect. The Middle East is in shambles. America has lost credibility. In fact, Iran is stronger today. Hamas is stronger today. Hezbollah is stronger today. And the United States of America that the president is supposed to protect is weaker today in the region and in the world. Al Qaida is reconstituted and is now in 60 countries, not in the four countries that it was at the time of Afghanistan, when the war began. So the bottom line is that the Republicans are trying to hide the fact that they have failed on their watch to make America safer….John McCain has proven that he's not a maverick, he's erratic.

Unimpressed by Alaska’s proximity to Siberia, Kerry jumped on Gov. Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience. Kerry said, accurately, “she doesn’t even support the notion that climate change is manmade. She’s back there with the flat earth caucus.” To the suggestion that she would collect embittered Hillary Clinton supporters, Kerry scoffed again: “I think it's almost insulting to the Hillary supporters that they believe they would support somebody who is against almost everything that they believe in.”

Stephanopoulos stayed in skeptic mode through his roundtable, as did Sam Donaldson, who stepped off the Straight Talk Express for the occasion. I’d like to have seen Donaldson’s and Stephanopoulos’s faces when George Will declared that Gov. Palin’s qualification was that “she understands the principle of limited government.”

On the predictable speculation about Palin’s appeal to disaffected Hillary voters, former Republican counselor Matthew Dowd, who seems to be in recovery from his years working for George W. Bush, wondered aloud how she would perform “when a big torpedo comes in”—he sounded as though he had some particular torpedo in mind, but didn’t specify.

Skepticism about the Palin decision was also palpable over at “Meet the Press,” where Tom Brokaw chatted with an uncomfortable-looking Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor passed over in favor of the barely vetted Sarah Palin. Brokaw quoted the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, which called her a “neophyte.” Her own mother-in-law isn’t sure who to vote for on November 4. Pawlenty struggled. Brokaw was as thorough and common-sensical as I’ve seen him, pointing out that, unlike Palin, Obama has been out before America for twenty months, debating, submitting to interviews; that Palin supports teaching “creationism” side-by-side with evolution. Even the Republican consultant Mike Murphy sounded unconvinced that Palin was a reasonable choice.

It took the reckless absurdity of the Palin nomination to infuse the Sunday commentators with a jolt of reason. Almost all of them, that is. Maria Bartiromo of CNBC, though skeptical of how much Gov. Palin knows about the liquidity crisis, lauded her “expertise in energy.” In a recent BusinessWeek interview, Bartiromo accepted Palin’s number-intensive claim about the wonders of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bartiromo didn’t mention any skeptics, like this 2004 AP report I located after a few seconds of Googling:

Opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil development would only slightly reduce America’s dependence on imports and would lower oil prices by less than 50 cents a barrel, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the Energy Department.

“The report, issued by the Energy Information Administration, or EIA, said that if Congress gave the go-ahead to pump oil from Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the crude could begin flowing by 2013 and reach a peak of 876,000 barrels a day by 2025.

“But even at peak production, the EIA analysis said, the United States would still have to import two-thirds of its oil, as opposed to an expected 70 percent if the refuge’s oil remained off the market.

This report came out in 2004. Start drilling next year and the oil starts flowing in 2018. At the 2034 peak, estimates economist Dean Baker, ANWR oil would cut the price of a gallon of gas by twelve to eighteen cents.

It’s heartening that Gov. Palin wants to create drilling jobs in her home state, but even if her numbers are right, ANWR oil is a drop in the barrel—and Gov. Palin’s “expertise” is as well.