I think that Sarah Palin did fine in her interview with Charles Gibson. It was not the bravo performance that her convention speech was and I know that my intellectual liberal friends won't like it. She has that voice that brings to mind Frances McDormand in Fargo. She speaks in terms of moral aspiration and commitment to forging a better world - all things that Ronald Reagan was derided for. She doesn't go out of her way to evidence a wry sophistication.
But let's go to the tape.
Gibson's exchange with her on what she said about God's plan and the war in Iraq amounted to a shameless smear attempt on his part. This is what Palin said:
“Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God,” she exhorted the congregants. “That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”
Here is how Gibson repeated it, claiming that these were her "exact words." I place in bold the parts that Gibson pulled:
“Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God,” she exhorted the congregants. “That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan."
This is complete intellectual dishonesty. If any of my students tried this (and, Mr. Sarver, I know that you never would), I'd fail them. You don't take a request to pray that a certain course of action is right and, by pulling portions of a sentence without any indication that you have edited it, turn that statement into a declaration that God has decreed that course of action is right. Lawyers would get sanctioned for that kind of intellectual fraud, although I have to say that, in 27 years of practice, I can't recall encountering something quite that bad.
She handled it well by explaining precisely what she meant. The only thing that would have been better is for her to expressly tell Gibson that these were not all of her words; that he was taking them out of context and omitting parts that supplies that context. But I think they made a decision not to have her confront him. And, in any event, she is an executive and not a lawyer or lawprof. She hasn't been trained to deliver the intellectual coup'd grace.
The Democrat talking point is likely to be that she "didn't know what the Bush Doctrine" is as if this is a well defined thing with a meaning about which people do not disagree. It also assumes that it is a simple thing that one either agrees or disagrees with it in toto. Believe it or not, one of things that I try to do as a law professor is break down generalizations into their comprehensible parts. Palin's request that he do so was perfectly reasonable.
But he wouldn't do it because he wanted - just knew he could - show her up. So much for intellectual subtlety. So she restated the question in a way that was, given his refusal to tell her what he meant, perfectly accurate and perfectly favorable to her side of the debate. Politicians do this.
Having been owned, he then he asked the question that he should have asked in the first place and she answered it.
Perhaps another point may be that she wants to let Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Gibson wanted to push on that because "we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?" But, of course, it would not just be "we" but all of the NATO countries. Do the Democrats want to take the position that we ought to permit the reassembly of the Soviet Union? Bring that one on.
Another point might be her belief that a nuclear Iran is intolerable and that, if Israel needs to take them out, that's the way it is. This is a foreign policy position on which we can disagree, although I think she has it exactly right. I would only point out that the Israel has prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East before. We condemned them then, but I suspect that, today, we are all grateful.
Could she have done better? I'd say so. Does she need to work on a few things? I think so. The transcript, i.e., the substance of what she said, is very strong while the video leaves room for improvement. (Contra the Palin as lightweight narrative.)
I'd give the first round to Palin on points. Let's see what happens next.