Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Advice for Sarah Palin

By now, most people have seen clips from the various Sarah Palin/Katie Couric interviews, including this last one where Palin was joined by Senator McCain. Much has been said about Palin's underwhelming performance in these interviews; there's a growing return to pessimism and despair on the right, especially from the political punditry class which has a tendency to equate a good TV persona with leadership, however illogical that is.

I myself don't quite know what to make of Palin just now. I'd like very much to believe that she is ready, that she can get up to speed in time for Thursday's debate and be the polished and confident politician she was in Alaska. But it's been somewhat difficult to see that as time has gone on, and the Couric interviews, as well as the Gibson interviews, have caused many people to become quite gloomy over Palin's prospects.

The truth of the matter is that we still don't really know whether Palin is up to the challenge, because the same news media that ignores Obama's gaffes and fawns all over him, running puff piece after puff piece while letting him get away with glaring inaccuracies and downright untruths about his record, has been in "attack dog" mode re: Palin from day one. If the Republicans have made some mistakes in terms of grooming Palin to speak to the press, I think their biggest mistake was in thinking for one minute that either Gibson or Couric were going to be "friendly" interviewers, and were going to set aside their fierce pro-Democrat, pro-abortion partisanship long enough to give a pro-life Republican governor a fair hearing.

Long ago I took Rita Marker's Human Life Issues class. One of the things that struck me was the way she talked about pro-lifers and the media, and how, when, and whether we should agree to talk to the news media, whether at the local newspaper level or the national or even international level about issues pertaining to abortion, euthanasia, and other human life concerns.

While I can't quote Mrs. Marker from memory, I do remember enough to paraphrase her advice, which was roughly as follows: the media isn't friendly to us or to our views. They will go out of their way to photograph a frumpy elderly frowning woman with a rosary at a protest rally or in front of a clinic--even if there are dozens of young, attractive, trendily-dressed people there who are smiling and calm as they pray or speak out for life. They will interview five or six people and only run one clip from someone who said something stupid (or they will shorten the clip to make an otherwise intelligent statement sound stupid). They will quote you out of context to make your views sound extreme, and if they run a newspaper article which attributes to you things you didn't even say, the most you will get is a correction buried inside the section two weeks later when the damaging and inaccurate article has already run.

So, based on that, here's some completely unsolicited advice for Sarah Palin:
1. The mainstream media hates you. They hate you personally, they hate your family, and they hate everything you stand for. While there might be one or two sympathetic people out there who actually do like you, none of them work for the major networks, and none of them will be interviewing you or asking you questions or otherwise helping you along. When you are in front of a camera you are surrounded by enemies.

2. Since this is the case, you must remember that it is not your job to make these people like you. They will never like you. Most of them are so committed to the abortion agenda that they would be hostile to the Pope, if he graciously deigned to allow any of them to talk to him. They will be hostile to you, and the only way for you to handle them is not to waste time being friendly.

3. Though they are hostile and unfriendly, television "talents" are also two things that you should remember because you can turn these to your advantage: self-interested and cowardly. Don't bother cramming all the details of every major piece of legislation passed in the last fifty years into your head so that the next time a Couric or a Gibson calls you out on some obsure fact you'll be ready; instead, learn everything you can about Couric or Gibson (or anybody else who might interview you). Intersperse bits of that knowledge into your answers (e.g. "You know, Katie, John McCain does think we need to fix health care, and as someone who has so tragically lost family members to cancer I know you agree. We may need to work out the details and differences and John McCain can do that in a bipartisan way, but we all know that health care needs fixing" etc.) Some references will flatter them, and others may alarm them, but on the whole knowing that you know about them will impress them more than knowing that you know the history of Smoot-Hawley and its connection to our current global finance issues and solutions proposals or some such thing.

4. When they get aggressive, asking you the same question over and over, don't think this is a good-faith request for clarification; it isn't. I know you already know this ('gotcha' journalism) but don't fall for it on the one hand, or identify it too often on the other. Instead, play the interviewee's favorite trump card, and answer questions like these with questions of your own. (e.g., to Couric's insulting "Are you sorry you said it, Governor?" you might say, "Why do you think I should be sorry, Katie? We've already explained that we're on the same page here, so why do you think I should be sorry?" etc.). Frankly, I'd like to see a lot more Republicans use this method: when silly, stupid, or insulting questions get asked the best response is, "Well, now, why would you ask me that?" Your supporters will get it, you'll turn the tables on the interviewer, and they'll be the ones fumbling for an answer, because they can't say the truth, which is, "We hate you and want you to fail."

5. Go on the offensive in general. I know everybody's been telling you to do this, but do it. The MSM interviewers and reporters are like the meanest, stubbornest, most pig-headed PTA members you've ever encountered, the ones who got hung up on petty bureaucratic questions and were ready to start World War III over school snacks or a change in the recess schedule. I have a feeling you know perfectly well how to steamroll over people like that, so go for it!
Now, I'm perfectly aware that Sarah Palin will never see what I've written here, and I know that I'm probably not saying anything that plenty of other people aren't telling her. I'm just not ready to write off Sarah Palin--not when I feel as though the only time I've seen the real Sarah Palin was during her speech at the GOP convention. And that's frustrating--because I liked that Sarah quite a bit, and was excited about the influence she might eventually have on the party--but it would be maddening to see her lose that chance before she ever really had it.


Hilary Towers said...

I am glad to see a female, Catholic blogger finally raise this prickly issue. It has been troubling me, and I'm afraid my discomfort has little to do with the liberal media. As one of Palin's most vehement supporters, I must admit (with some distress!) I am quite troubled by what I've seen of her since her convention speech (which, I agree, was her moment of splendor thus far). The problem is, of course, that her convention speech was written by a speech writer: someone whose job it is to ensure the speaker appears knowledgeable and fluent on the issues at hand. Since that time, Palin has been virtually a "no-show." I watch the Sunday talk shows - I know they are run by lefties, for the most part. But as an educated woman and Catholic mom of 5 who has thrown her support behind this relative newcomer, I expect to see her in the boxing ring...right smack in the middle of the madness. Defending our conservative positions on all the issues, with intelligence and clarity and persuasiveness. Taking on the left-wing pundits with the confidence of one who rests assured in the possibility that she may, one day, be president of the United States. If she can't come out on top of an interrogation by Tom Brokaw (or Katie Couric), I have to wonder about her ability to carry out the duties of the vice presidency. Since when are these folks the arbiters of Truth, you ask? They are far from it, of course. But these shows are a forum for candidates to demonstrate - in front of millions of their current and would-be supporters - their ability to speak in a compelling and coherent fashion about matters both personal and political. They represent a bare minimum opportunity for newbies like Palin to show their stuff.

Based on what I've seen and read so far (every word of every transcript of every interview), I am afraid I must agree with Fareed Zakaria's recent observation in the Washington Post: "Palin has been given a set of talking points by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras that she repeats and repeats as long as she can. ("We mustn't blink.") But if forced off those rehearsed lines, what she has to say is often, quite frankly, gibberish." I could quote multiple embarrassing excerpts from her 3 prime-time interviews to date, but I will refrain for purposes of space and time. To blame the media for her performance thus far is, I believe, misguided. Either she knows the issues or she doesn't. Witness people like conservative Bill Bennett, who appears regularly as commentator on CNN (the "lion's den"), and does an excellent job of articulating and defending our positions on the issues. I will continue to pray for Sarah Palin (particularly with regard to this Thursday night's debate). And, certainly, my support for this ticket will remain firm. Sarah Palin's character and her positions on the issues (especially "life" issues) seem to be impeccable. Then again, I hope this characterization applies to me and to the vast majority of your readers. I think the question which remains may be: is sterling character enough when seeking the vice-presidency (and, quite conceivably in this case, the presidency) of the United States?

Anonymous said...

I will be praying for Sarah the next two days, and I urge everyone reading this to do the same. She needs our support.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see this issue raised here also. It's good to have a respectful, thoughtful look into this complicated situation. I'm coming to see that Sarah Palin isn't ready for the VP spot, particularly given that she'd be heartbeat away from the Presidency. She just doesn't have the breadth and depth of experience needed in these complicated times. And, the fact that we are now seeing so little of the real Sarah Palin, makes me worry that she is too easily influenced by "handlers."
I'd like to see her valuable strengths used in a way that brings out unique best qualities. I'm not sure what that would look like, though - perhaps a commission to study family and life issues? An in-depth honest look at abortion and the American culture? She'd come to such a position with a wealth of knowledge and personal experience and integrity, and would be a force to be reckoned with and respected.
In any case, many prayers for our world,
Mary Brigid

Rene'e said...

I feel the same uncertainty. If it were not for the fact that I am a Catholic and do not support Abortion or same sex marriages and the other anti-life issues, I would vote for Obama, for the mere fact that I do not like where the republicans have taken our country in the last 8 years, and the thought of 4 or 8 more makes me anxious.

I personally do not feel any of candidates are qualified on paper to run our country except Biden(and of course we all know about his abortion stance, which makes him unvotable for us as Catholics). McCain for the fact of his age, the thought that Palin could become President and Nancy Pelosi vice president if something were to happen to McCain, does not bring me much peace.

I am a Catholic and advocate of Life and Family, but I am also a realist, and realistically, I would not be qualified to run this Country, just for the fact of I have some scant political experience.

As far as media bias, I think most people can see through the mud slinging and make informed decisions. I am sure Palin is a very nice person and I share her stance on Pro-life and Family, but...do these attributes make one qualified to possibly have the most important job in the world?

This particuliar election is conflicting and very distressing for me as a Catholic.

Elise B. said...

"Now, I'm perfectly aware that Sarah Palin will never see what I've written here, and I know that I'm probably not saying anything that plenty of other people aren't telling her."
This is very sound advice. Why not try to get it to her as soon as possible?
I am not American, but I am supporting you with my prayers.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but this post is crazy. Blaming Sarah Palin's lack of knowledge and general ignorance of everythin outside the state of Alaska is ludicris.

Then blaming the "mainstream" media for attacking her because, she is pro life!! That is a microscopic issue to 98% of American Citizens. I'm sorry the general public is worried about the HUGE relevant issues looming over the US right now, issues that a presidential candidate actually has the chance of taking on. Regardless of someones stance of abortion, they aren't going to change it or overturn Roe V Wade..sorry its impossible. The bill would be shot down by congress immediatly. The "evil" media is not concerned with her Abortion stance.

Sarah Palin does not have the knowledge to lead our Country. Couric is the sweetest interviewer and showed no bias what so ever. And even if she did-Palin NEEDS to be able to perform under pressure. The job as Vice President isn't exactly low pressure...

Bottom Line is-You are more concerned with the abortion issue that 98% of Americans INCLUDING the media. Nobody is mistreating Palin due to that. Palin is inexperienced and ignorant..not ready to be the VP!

KC said...

I find it so perplexing that people are so concerned about Palin's inexperience (above commenter) but not at all concerned about Obama's. Palin will have opportunity as VP to get on the job experience as VP. Do we really want a president to get his experience on the job?

Anonymous said...

Please listen to what Sarah Palin says - which is really nothing at all. In every interview, every debate, all she can do it parrot carefully scripted lines prepared for her by her handlers.

"I'm not going to answer the questions the way you want me to.."

What the heck is THAT? It's called a debate, sweetie, and, god bless ya', you aren't ready. It has NOTHING to do with the media, or games of "GOTCHA", this woman is a SHAM, a RUSE, and a carefully crafted GIMMICK. THAT'S why the media hate her. She's a fraud.

There are plenty of other pro-life women in the Republican party who could do Palin's job with one hand tied behind their backs, but the boys in power chose to insult the intelligence of all of you by picking the cutest little cheerleader. It's unfortunate that she doesn't have the intellectual capacity to pull it off.

"Which newspapers or magazines do you read to stay abreast of current political activities."

Gee, I could name 5 right off the top of my head - and I'm not running for Vice President. "Ummmm...All of them?" she says in a tone that belies a question, not an answer. Once again, what kind of answer is that? I tell my children that lying takes time to think of an answer - the truth should come right out of your mouth. If you have to think that hard about what newspaper you are reading, then you ain't reading any.

Stop your slavish devotion to this empty-headed ninny. McCain really blew this one.

Springfield, MA