Making a mockery of 9/11

Sarah Palin's ignorance about foreign policy Thursday night will shadow John McCain's legacy, no matter who wins the election.

Published September 13, 2008 2:13AM (EDT)

Republicans have tried to make 9/11 their own personal day of mourning and political commemoration. But 9/11/2008 could well be remembered as a low point in GOP history. It's the day we learned beyond any doubt that John McCain put his manhood in a blind trust to win the presidency. By most reports he wanted to pick Joe Lieberman as his running mate, but Karl Rove and James Dobson told him he couldn't. So he chose someone who is unprepared to be president, who could well put the country at risk were she ever called to assume the presidency.

The fact that Sarah Palin sat for her humiliating interview with ABC's Charles Gibson on 9/11 is one of those strange serendipitous events that makes one believe there's order in the universe. Remember how 9/11 changed everything, especially our new seriousness about the larger world and foreign policy? Never again would we risk a president, maybe not even a Senate candidate, without global experience and sophistication.

What a mockery Palin made of all that. I'll get criticized as sexist for saying this, but I would say the same thing about a man who sounded this ignorant: Talking to Charles Gibson tonight, Palin sometimes reminded me of poor Miss South Carolina, who, asked why many Americans can't find the U.S. on a map, famously said: "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps. And I believe that our education, like, such as in South Africa and the Iraq, everywhere, like such as, and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for our children."

This statement from Palin about Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is better, but not hugely: "I believe that under the leadership of Ahmadinejad, nucular weapons in the hands of his government are extremely dangerous to everyone on this globe, yes. We have got to make sure these weapons of mass destruction, that nucular weapons are not given to those hands of Ahmadinejad, not that he would use them, but that he would allow terrorists to be able to use them. So we have got to put the pressure on Iran."

Alex Koppelman immediately caught the biggest gaffe of the interview: Palin's deer-in-the-headlights ignorance about the "Bush doctrine" that claims for the U.S. the right to unilateral, "preventive" war against nations perceived as fomenting threats against us. Her answer committing us to defend Georgia or the Ukraine against Russia was almost as bad, and the way she spelled out what NATO membership means, by rote, you could see the quickly crammed index cards in the back of her brain. She put Israel in charge of our Iran policy. John McCain should be ashamed of himself. Ashamed, on 9/11, to have picked someone as ignorant and unready to be president as Sarah Palin.

People who like that sort of thing are going to like Palin's interview, a lot. Apparently, there is a constituency of people who want their president to be just like them, who want him or her to be someone they can have a beer with, to be just as clueless and uninformed as they are. But I believe that's a small constituency. I believe that most Americans, most independents, and serious, patriotic conservatives, are going to see this interview and be very, very afraid. Her combative act didn't really work on Gibson; neither did familiarly peppering her sentences with "Charlie." Charlie did not seem charmed.

I think some liberals owe Charles Gibson an apology; he asked decent questions and followed up well; he really couldn't hide some natural human surprise at how poorly prepared -- though well-coached -- Palin seemed to be. But in fact, it's good luck that liberals savaged Gibson for his treatment of Obama in the Democratic debate last February. It will insulate him a bit from GOP attempts to shoot the messenger, which are inevitable.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections