When they sat down with Fox News' Sean Hannity for an interview broadcast Wednesday night, John McCain and Sarah Palin were on decidedly friendly ground. To watch the interview, then, and know that made for something of a surreal spectacle.
What was on-screen wasn't an interview. It was a play, one in which Hannity was a tough, objective interviewer and McCain and Palin were portrayed more like a married couple than as running mates. All the while, the actors played their parts, never breaking character or giving a hint that they knew this was all just a charade.
Oh, sure, there were the usual misleading statements and flat-out lies, the same ones that have been debunked again and again. The group told viewers that Barack Obama has voted to raise taxes 94 times, that Obama was lying when he said his tax plan would mean a tax cut for 95 percent of workers and their families. (McCain claimed that couldn't possibly be true because nearly half of Americans don't pay federal income taxes. But three-quarters of filers pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes.) And yeah, there was McCain's claim that Palin is "one of the foremost experts in this nation on energy issues." McCain then added, "She was responsible for -- make a long story short -- a pipeline, a $40 billion pipeline bringing natural gas from Alaska down to the lower 48." In fact, the pipeline still exists only on paper.
But it was the stagecraft that was the most stunning thing, exemplified by a comment Hannity made after McCain asked if he could interrupt. "You can do whatever you want," Hannity responded. That seemed to be the night's theme.
There was, for example, the way Hannity helped the two come off as, oddly enough, something like a pair of lovebirds. Toward the end of the interview, Hannity asked, "Tell us a little more about your relationship as it has grown." In a follow-up, when he started to ask Palin to give "your side of the story -- when did you begin to really realize that Sen. McCain was ...," you could be forgiven for thinking he planned to end the sentence with "the man you wanted to spend the rest of your life with."
Earlier, discussing the debates the two have participated in, McCain said their only advice to each other beforehand was to "have fun." Palin -- looking lovingly at her running mate -- added, "It was helpful, though, that you called me beforehand and you said those two words."
Then there was the discussion of whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, an issue Palin and McCain have disagreed on. "This may sound gratuitous," McCain said, "but at least because Gov. Palin -- Sarah Palin is so persuasive, I would like to come to Alaska. I haven't been there in many years anyway, maybe I'll agree to go visit that area and have a look." Big chuckles all around, and then Hannity asked, "Are you going to take him moose hunting?" Palin replied, "Sure, let's do that too while we're at it." And then McCain: "Moose hunting is fun." Ha ha ha! End scene.
Enter Alan Colmes, playing his usual role. Colmes teased the next segment, up after a commercial break, by saying, "Does John McCain think Barack Obama has the experience to lead this country? Sean pressed him on that." Pressed? McCain was practically begging to answer that question -- it's the crux of his campaign's message. But the charade that Hannity was conducting a real, hard-hitting interview apparently had to be maintained.
No sense, really, in bothering because on the very next question, Hannity tipped his hand once again. When McCain wrapped up his answer to that tough question by -- once again -- taking some of Obama's remarks about Afghanistan out of context to imply that the Democrat had slandered U.S. troops, Hannity turned to Palin for a follow-up. What he asked her was -- and I'm paraphrasing here, obviously, but this really was the essence of the question -- "Could you please repeat what Sen. McCain just said about Obama hating the troops?"
When it came to that question, Palin knew the answer.