Monday, September 29, 2008

The pitfalls of common sense

It must be hard to stay on script, especially when you can't let common sense be your guide. Take for example the McCain/Palin campaign as it tries to make sense of its position on the the Taliban and al Qaeda and their activities in the Afghan and Pakistani border regions. To stay on message at the debate the other night Senator McCain had to keep rebuking Obama for his naive and unschooled approach to the problem.

About a year ago now, Obama was presented with a hypothetical question: If you had clear and actionable intelligence about the location of bin Laden or some other senior al Qaeda operative within Pakistan and Pakistan either couldn't or wouldn't act to take them out, or cooperate in doing so, would you act unilaterally?

His answer was —yes.

At the time, during the primary campaign, there was every effort to paint his answer as a gaffe, something only a dangerous neophyte would say. He was given opportunity to qualify, clarify, or rework his response.

No thanks, he said, I meant what I said.

Fast forward to the debate the other night and John McCain is still gnawing at the bone. Obama was irresponsible, naive and dangerous for saying such a thing.

It would appear the Arizona Senator is OK with the actual strikes. There have been repeated airstrikes, drone guided missile attacks, and even ground force incursions into Pakistani territory, in recent months, by U.S., NATO and Afghan forces, under the current leadership —in efforts to strike at Taliban and al Qaeda havens in the mountainous border regions —and without any complaint or protest from McCain. So it's not what you do that matters, but...

"You just don't say it!," a clench-jawed McCain chided Obama last Friday night.

And by Sunday it seemed he had someone else he needed to badger about saying such things, Sarah Palin. It seems she was presented with the same hypothetical question. And her response?

"If that's what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should," Palin said in a conversation, which just happened to be captured on video and reported by CBS News.


McCain himself leapt into the breach Sunday, seeking to clarify the distinction between what you say and do and what you say you do.

"I don't think most Americans think that that's a definitive policy statement made by Governor Palin," McCain said on ABC's "This Week." Palin was merely "in a conversation with some young man, " he explained (you know —some citizen who thought they had some right to know how their potential commander-in-chief might react —some guy —and young to boot!). "She understands and has stated repeatedly that we're not going to do anything except in America's national security interest and we are not going to, quote, announce it ahead of time," McCain continued.

Thank goodness, John is on hand to explain what Sarah understands.

But then there's Charlie.

You see, it might be debatable, just what Sarah "understands," in John McCain terms. In her interview with Charlie —Charlie Gibson (aged 65 —not "just some young man"), she was asked fairly specifically about a hypothetical attack "with or without" the approval of the Pakistani government. "I believe America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell-bent on America and our allies," she said.

Hmmmmm —drat!

Of course, for Senator McCain, this isn't the first time, or on the only issue, his running-mate, Governor Palin, has talked out of turn, or had the misfortune of appearing to agree with "the enemy" (by "the enemy" we mean the Democratic candidate for president, by the way). I pointed out in an earlier post on Holmes & Co., The Metrowest Daily News opinion blog, that Palin actually applauded certain aspects of Obama's energy plan when it was first announced. That was before she was chosen for the ticket. Before the script. (Yes, even silent films have scripts!) Palin did what she could to erase all evidence of that prior indisgression. She struck a certain problematic press release from the Governor's website archive and turned her focus towards more appropriate dismissal and invective for the enemy. She now realizes that, where the policy is the same, it's the attitude that counts —and something about blinking.

Careful handling by the campaign is sure to protect her from other such lapses —into common sense —most of the time anyway. And when all else fails, we'll always have John McCain to explain what she really understands.

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