Barnes’ novel Palin defense

BARNES’ NOVEL PALIN DEFENSE…. There’s always something entertaining about reading Fred Barnes’ columns in the Weekly Standard. He’s a bit like a caricature of a blind, loyal partisan, only he’s a real-live pundit who edits a major political magazine and appears regularly on Fox News.

In his new piece, Barnes lauds Sarah Palin’s debate performance last week — he described her as a “scintillating success” — and then blames the campaign for having stifled her since the Republican convention.

This thinking — that Palin might embarrass McCain — is what prompted the dubious decision to keep her tightly tethered for nearly a month following her rousing acceptance speech at the Republican convention. She gave a few interviews with carefully selected TV anchors, did poorly, and quickly became a burden for McCain, a running mate who failed the do-no-harm test for veep picks.

Her handlers were part of the problem. They gave her index cards on the issues she’d be allowed to discuss, instructed her to stay on message when dealing with the media, told her to echo McCain’s thoughts and say little more. When she choked in the television interviews, they blamed her. Even McCain was miffed to find she wasn’t reading newspapers and keeping up on daily events.

I had the same response as Jonathan Chait: “I’m not sure what’s funnier here: The fact that Palin still isn’t reading newspapers, even when her handlers are desperately trying to get her up to speed on current events, or the fact that Barnes implies that McCain is wrong to have been miffed about this.”

I also enjoyed the notion that Barnes is annoyed by campaign staffers who blamed Palin for failing miserably in her television interviews. Why, these aides expected Palin to answer basic questions. The nerve! Just because Palin has accepted the vice presidential nomination of a major political party, and might be one 72-year-old heartbeat from the presidency come January, is no reason for campaign staff to think she should be able to respond coherently to basic questions on national television.

Regardless, learning that Palin hasn’t been keeping up on current events is helpful information. It does, for example, help explain why Palin has seemed so painfully confused for so long. As the governor of Alaska, Palin could obviously get away with not keeping up on national current events and not reading a major national daily. But even after having joined the national ticket, she still isn’t reading up on current events?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.