Strong opinions, weakly held

James Fallows on Sarah Palin

Back on August 29, James Fallows made an observation about Sarah Palin and about running for President (or Vice President). Here’s how he described the stakes:

If someone is campaigning for the presidency or vice presidency, there’s an extra twist. That person has to have a line of argument to offer on any conceivable issue. Quick, without pausing in the next ninety seconds, tell me what you think about: the balance of relations between Taiwan and mainland China, and exactly what signals we’re sending to Hamas, and what we think about Russia’s role in the G-8 and potentially in NATO, and where North Korea stands on its nuclear pledges — plus Iran while we’re at it, plus the EU after the Irish vote, plus cap-and-trade as applied to India and China, and what’s the right future for South Ossetia; and let’s not even start on domestic issues.

And here’s how he described the inevitable outcome:

Let’s assume that Sarah Palin is exactly as smart and disciplined as Barack Obama. But instead of the year and a half of nonstop campaigning he has behind him, and Joe Biden’s even longer toughening-up process, she comes into the most intense period of the highest stakes campaign with absolutely zero warmup or preparation. If she has ever addressed an international issue, there’s no evidence of it in internet-land.

The smartest person in the world could not prepare quickly enough to know the pitfalls, and to sound confident while doing so, on all the issues she will be forced to address. This is long before she gets to a debate with Biden; it’s what the press is going to start out looking for.

This is the spectacle that began today.

Update: Here’s Fallows on her interview with Charlie Gibson.


  1. In the recent Charlie Gibson interview with Palin, she admitted that she had only been to Canada and Mexico before 2007.


    GIBSON: Did you ever travel outside the country prior to your trip to Kuwait and Germany last year?

    PALIN: Canada, Mexico, and then, yes, that trip, that was the trip of a lifetime to visit our troops in Kuwait and stop and visit our injured soldiers in Germany. That was the trip of a lifetime and it changed my life.

  2. In other words, she is the typical American who has no idea what the rest of the world outside the U.S. is like. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not defending her. I strongly believe that every American should travel to a third-world country for 2 weeks at least once in their life. She is a terrible choice for V.P.

  3. I don’t hold it against her that she doesn’t know these things. I hold it against the person who decided she was the best person to step in as President if necessary in what is literally the most important election of my lifetime.

  4. Alas, she’ll be judged on her debate performance, and debates have been the low point of the election season since 2000, IHMO.

    All Mr Bush had to do was show up and put two words together to ‘win.’ Mrs Palin will far exceed Mr Bush, and seem impressive as a result.

    It is a colossal waste of time to focus on Mrs Palin; McCain’s going to be touring with her, using her as a decoy to dodge his age, Iraq, the economy, energy, and the Republican behavior of the last eight years.

    The media’s fascinated by her sudden ‘celebrity.’ Yet the fascination with Obama hasn’t gone away … he needs to re-leverage it.

    The Obama campaign needs to change things up; it’s time to get creative, and drop the ‘stump speech’ routine. For instance, do live remotes from economically challenged areas, be seen helping real people, getting those real opinions out on the airwaves in unscripted manner … that sort of thing.

    The Republican ticket could never deal with an unscripted interaction with an unvetted populace.

    Leverage that weakness.

  5. It doesn’t matter that she isn’t knowledgeable– like Bush she thinks that believing she is right is more important than actually being right. She thinks that confidence is all that it takes, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

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