Stephanopoulos responds

STEPHANOPOULOS RESPONDS…. I raised some concerns earlier about one of George Stephanopoulos’ questions for President Obama about nuclear proliferation. To his credit, Stephanopoulos took the time to respond and offer a defense.

To quickly review, the president sat down with Stephanopoulos in Prague, on the heels of Obama signing in a new arms treaty with Russia. The two covered quite a bit of ground, but Stephanopoulos specifically asked the president to respond to a childish, vapid quote from former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) about arms control.

Obama rightly dismissed the comments as nonsense, and said he’d rather listen to his secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff on nuclear issues than Palin. I went a little further and argued that the question itself was a mistake. In effect, the “GMA” host was saying, “Some conspicuously unintelligent right-wing media personality said something stupid about a subject she knows nothing about. Mr. President, how do you respond?”

Sam Stein asked Stephanopoulos about the question’s merit.

“Whatever Steve thinks of Sarah Palin,” he wrote, “she’s a former VP candidate — and potential challenger to President Obama — with a strong following in the GOP. She made a pointed critique of a new Presidential policy. By asking the President for his response, I was doing my job.”

Greg Sargent found this persuasive, arguing that Palin’s “views do, in fact, matter.” Glenn Greenwald agreed.

It’s a fair point. Palin is a national embarrassment, but she’s been a candidate for national office and, regardless of merit, she’s likely to be a presidential contender in the next election.

For what it’s worth, though, I continue to think the question was a mistake. Whatever one thinks of Palin, the quote Stephanopoulos read to the president was, at best, inane. No matter how big Palin’s right-wing following, or how serious her ambitions, there’s simply no honest or intellectually serious way to suggest she knows anything about this subject.

Palin’s quote, in other words, was baseless nonsense. The president knew it was nonsense; Stephanopoulos knew it was nonsense; every reasonable observer watching knew it was nonsense.

Which leads me back to my original point. There’s obviously nothing wrong with Stephanopoulos pressing Obama on the merits of his nuclear strategy. That is, of course, Stephanopoulos’ job.

But there are legitimate, substantive critiques of the president’s policy, which have been made by those who know something about arms control and proliferation issues. Stephanopoulos didn’t raise their concerns, he instead went with Palin — probably, I suspect, because of the shock value and political notoriety of the controversial Fox News personality.

Bottom line: yesterday was a serious day about a serious issue. The debate has sweeping implications about global security. If the president is going to respond to concerns about nuclear weapons policy, those concerns should at least have some merit, not get thrown into the mix based on the size and strength of one’s “following.”