Palin faces the press -- and both survive

Sarah Palin held a spontaneous press availability today while touring Ground Zero, and the world did not come screeching to oblivion.  Hotline has the transcript available, courtesy of Peter Hamby at CNN, and it’s remarkable for its ordinariness.  After Palin gave a version of the “never again” mantra spoken by politicians of all stripes, she took a few questions from the press:

CNN: On the topic of never letting this happen again, do you agree with the way the Bush administration has handled the war on terrorism, is there anything you would do differently?

A: I agree with the Bush administration that we take the fight to them. We never again let them come onto our soil and try to destroy not only our democracy, but communities like the community of New York. Never again. So yes, I do agree with taking the fight to the terrorists and stopping them over there.

POLITICO: Do you think our presence in iraq and afghan and our continued presence there is inflaming islamic extremists?

A: I think our presence in iraq and afghanistan will lead to further security of our nation, again, because the mission is to take the fight over there. do not let them come over here and attempt again what they accomplished here, and that was some destruction. terrible destruction on that day. but since september 11, americans uniting and rebuilding and committing to never letting that happen again.

She also fielded questions about Ted Stevens (on which she demurred while the trial awaits) and on the bailout package, which she opposes without McCain’s changes being added.  No stumbles, no rhetorical gaffes, and no contradictions of her running mate’s policies, all of which Joe Biden produced this week alone.

We can take a couple of lessons from this interaction.  First, Palin doesn’t need protection from the media, and it’s a mistake to leave that impression.  Like it or not, politicians have to account for themselves to the media in our culture, and that’s not a bad thing — although it would be helpful for both the electorate and the media if the latter practiced that in an even-handed manner.  If Palin wants to play on the world-class stage, she has to show herself as a world-class player, and the McCain strategy of keeping her sidelined does not bolster confidence in her status.

People rightly talk about the double standard applied to Palin, and it’s there, as the media reaction to the series of stupidities coming from Biden’s mouth this week shows.  However, that misses the point.  Biden’s been around Washington for four decades and is a known quantity.  Barack Obama has been campaigning nationally for the better part of two years, doing interviews and taking questions (unhappily at times), and is also a known quantity.  Palin is the first new thing in this election cycle in two years, and she’s never played on the national stage before now.  The nation needs to see her in action, not just on the stump but also in the contentious media relationship that she will have to manage for at least the next four years if McCain wins.  That’s part of the job, fortunately and unfortunately.

Some say that Reagan took a different approach in bypassing the media to talk to the American voters directly.  That’s true, but Reagan actually used the media to accomplish that.  He talked to everyone, tangled with reporters at pressers, and skillfully used those opportunities to lift his voice past the media.  He didn’t sequester himself from the media during any part of his remarkable political career, but mastered them instead.

Let Palin be Palin.  Since Biden insists on setting the bar ever lower, she can hardly fail, and she may turn into quite a good communicator herself.

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