An inauspicious start

AN INAUSPICIOUS START…. I wasn’t able to tune into Sarah Palin’s debut as a Fox News pundit last night, but Michael Scherer seems to have the most detailed review of the former half-term governor’s first appearance.

There’s certainly not much point in going over every detail or, perish the thought, trying to fact-check Palin’s on-air comments, but there was one relatively important thing to note about the on-air chat with Bill O’Reilly.

In her debut as a contributor to Fox News, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin admitted Tuesday that leading up to her 2008 vice presidential debate she thought Iraq may have been behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Interviewed by Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly on his show “The O’Reilly Factor,” Palin trashed many of the critical accounts of her candidacy in the new book “Game Change.” But one story from the book that Palin did not say was “made up” or “a lie” was the description of her uncertainty as to whether Iraq had a hand in the planning of the September 11 attacks.

“I did talk a lot to [campaign strategist] Steve Schmidt about the history of the war and where the attackers could have come from,” Palin said of her debate prep during the fall of 2008…. “I do admit to asking questions about that,” she said.

That’s quite an admission. In fact, that Palin considers this a mild acknowledgement says something important about her.

Consider what Palin conceded on the air — by the late summer of 2008, Sarah Palin still thought Saddam Hussein may have been involved with the 9/11 attacks. That’s seven years after the attacks themselves, and more than five years after the invasion of Iraq began.

In October 2003, the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland conducted a thorough study of Americans’ knowledge about current events, particularly on issues related to national security and foreign policy. The notion of Iraq being responsible for 9/11 was used as a baseline for ignorance — those who still believed that six months after the war began were considered confused and ill-informed.

Five years later, the governor of a state and a major political party’s candidate for national office, still hadn’t quite grasped this simple, basic detail — a fact she’s willing to acknowledge on national television in 2010. Palin, in other words, isn’t just ignorant, she’s also comfortable with her ignorance.

John Heilemann explained the scene during her pre-debate prep in 2008: “Her foreign policy tutors are literally taking her through, ‘This is World War I, this is World War II, this is the Korean War. This is the — how the Cold War worked.’ Steve Schmidt had gone to them and said, ‘She knows nothing.'”

John McCain should never be forgiven for this.