Free Sarah!


In an item last Thursday about Sarah Palin's increasingly incoherent interview performances, I suggested that John McCain had mishandled his vice-presidential nominee. My take:

Palin is an unknown quantity--and by sequestering her from the press and the public, the McCain campaign seems determined to keep her that way. The result of restricting her public remarks like this, however, is that it ratchets up the importance of the few unscripted things she does say. So relatively minor errors on Russia and regulation end up attracting an outsize amount of scrutiny--and possibly reinforcing the impression that Palin is "uninformed" or "unsteady." People interested in how she performs in the presidential pressure-cooker--without a script--have only these meager scraps to go on... [The public] want[s] to see Palin show her stuff--and I have no doubt she could. But by bottling her up, McCain and Co. risk letting her gaffes define her.

Now it seems some important pro-Palin people agree. Today on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney--usually a robotically on-message surrogate for McCain--veered off the talking points to second-guess the nominee's decision to keep Palin under lock and key. "Holding Sarah Palin to just three interviews and microscopically focusing on each interview I think has been a mistake," Romney said. "I think they'd be a lot wiser to let Sarah Palin be Sarah Palin. Let her talk to the media, let her talk to people." Over at the New York Times, influential conservative columnist William Kristol agrees. "McCain needs to liberate his running mate from the former Bush aides brought in to handle her — aides who seem to have succeeded in importing to the Palin campaign the trademark defensive crouch of the Bush White House," he writes this morning. "McCain picked Sarah Palin in part because she’s a talented politician and communicator. He needs to free her to use her political talents and to communicate in her own voice." Kristol reports that McCain himself "recently expressed unhappiness with his staff’s handling of Palin" and, as a result, has "dispatched his top aides Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis" to "liberate" her.

The Kristol storyline--that the valorous McCain is now freeing poor Palin from the evil Bushies--is transparently self-serving spin. It was the campaign's brain trust of Schmidt and Davis that made the strategic decision to shelter Palin from the press and the public; their underlings--including, yes, some former Bush staffers--were merely carrying out orders by keeping her sequestered. Bush may deserve the blame for a lot of things, but Palin isn't one of them. That said, the mere fact that Kristol's sources in the campaign are suddenly pointing fingers proves that Team McCain considers its "Plan to Protect Palin" a mistake. Here's hoping, then, that the new, "liberated" nominee goes beyond casting herself as "a combative conservative" in Thursday's vice-presidential debate"--Kristol's prediction--and actually submits to the same sort of back-and-forth with the media and the masses that Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John McCain have had to endure. At this point, it's as much in her interest as it is in ours.