Rick Davis, the veteran lobbyist who runs the John McCain campaign, warned not long ago that members of the press generally will be barred from questioning Sarah Palin unless they agree to treat her with "deference" - a curious provision, suggesting that a freshman governor only 20 months removed from a small-town mayoralty somehow warrants the kind of obeisance that is typically reserved for the queen of England.
But Davis got his wish last night, when Palin summoned Sean Hannity to her side, and the Fox News host responded by virtually falling to bended knee. And so it went, in this interview, for the better part of 30 minutes. Granted, it's surely a waste of time to assail Fox News for being a propaganda arm of the GOP, just as it's wasteful to complain about urban traffic. Some things simply are as they are. Nevertheless, given the high stakes in the current campaign, it can be argued that the four candidates seeking our highest offices should at least be held to some minimal standard of scrutiny, with at least some passing interest in the craft of cross-examination.
Such was not the case last night, of course...although, for sheer entertainment value, this obsequious spectacle easily trumped the Palin sendup on Saturday Night Live.
For instance, Hannity gave her free reign to recite her handlers' latest lines, about how McCain is planning to clean up the mess on Wall Street and bring in the feds to police it. As she put it, "We've got to cure this...Through reform, absolutely. Look at the oversight that has been lax, I believe, here it's a 1930s type of regulatory regime overseeing some of these corporations. And we've got to get a more coordinated and a much more stringent oversight regime."
That would have been an opportune moment for Hannity to ask Palin, in a civil way, whether she knew what the heck she was talking about. What "1930s regulatory regime" is she criticizing? Is she referring to Republican Herbert Hoover's laissez-faire approach of the early '30s? Or is she referring to Democrat Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal federal policing of Wall Street in the late '30s? Is she sufficiently versed in history to differentiate between the two?
And, with respect to McCain, how can she square her candidate's current promise of "a much more stringent oversight regime" with the fact that he has repeatedly voted in the Senate to loosen regulation of the financial community, and that he has repeatedly told the press (the St. Petersburg Times in 2003, PBS and the Wall Street Journal in 2008) that he is opposed to federal regulation? And how about these McCain comments from 1996, when he articulated his anti-regulation philosophy: "There is very little doubt in my mind that world events, as well as national events, indicate very clearly and very strongly that the free enterprise system, unfettered by government interference and regulation, not only prospers best but provides the best services for the citizens of any nation, including this one. These regulatory shackles do little to benefit the public.”
If Hannity had brought up any of that, he could have determined for us whether Palin has been sufficiently programmed to reconcile old McCain with new McCain.
But he was too busy paying deference. He allowed Palin to stump for new McCain, with nary a question. Then he moved on, lobbing Palin a softball about the Democratic presidential candidate: "Is Senator Obama then using what happened on Wall Street this week? Is he using it for political gain? Is there a danger of a presidential candidate saying to the world that America's situation of economic crisis is the worst that we've seen in decades — which was words that he was using yesterday — is there a danger in terms of the world hearing that?" (Translation: Obama is again betraying his country for personal ambition, just as McCain routinely claims. I'd argue, however, that global creditors and investors hardly need to take their cues from Obama. They don't need him to tell them what's happening over here.)
Anyway, want to guess how Palin tackled that tough "danger" question? She said that Hannity was absolutely right about Obama.
In her inimitable words, "Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we're talking about today," whereas, by contrast, McCain "can surpass the partisanship that must be surpassed." (Just wondering. Did she take elocution lessons from George W. Bush?)
Not long after that exchange, Hannity indulged Palin's argument that Obama is really a stealth tax raiser. She offered this as evidence: "Barack Obama has had 94 opportunities to be on the side of the American taxpayer and 94 times he has chosen to be on the opposite. He could have either voted for tax cuts or at least not for tax increases. And 94 times he has chosen I believe the wrong position on those."
This "94 times" theme is an old lie that has been dusted off by the McCain ventriloquists and recycled via Palin. As nonpartisan fact-checkers reported in detail months ago, and as I have noted in this space, the number is meaningless. Fifty-three of the 94 "times" concerned votes on budget measures, not tax bills; by definition, budget measures don't raise or reduce anyone's taxes. Seven of the votes were for measures that would have lowered taxes for most Americans, while raising them for corporations and the affluent. Eleven of the votes were for measures that would have hiked taxes on people who earn more than $1 million, with the revenue targeted for Head Start, child nutrition, and veterans' care.
Hannity, naturally, did not mention such factual nuances, if indeed he knew of them. Instead, he waited until Palin finished reciting the lie, then signed off on it: "And that will be a key issue in the campaign."
But I'm saving the best for last. Anxious to burnish her executive credentials, he waxed lyrical about the miracles she has seemingly wrought in Alaska - a veritable fiscal paradise, as he described it: "The average citizen — if I was a resident of Alaska, you would write me a check every year for $2,069?...And then you also gave recently an extra check for $1,200?...I have to move to Alaska! New York taxes are calling me!"
The role of courtier apparently requires that no complicating information be presented. Hannity somehow omitted the fact that the residents of oil-rich Alaska enjoy a unique arrangement by which they collect dividends from the state's lavish oil royalties...and that Palin has been fortunate to reign at a time when record-high oil prices are yielding record-high oil dividend payments. The same record-high oil prices that are hurting average Americans almost everywhere else.
Hannity, in fact, was so remiss that Palin felt compelled to set him straight. She had to remind him that "the price of a barrel of oil is so high right now that state coffers are growing." Hannity was too busy geneflucting to acknowledge what she was saying. Even Palin apparently felt that she was being let off too easy, which says a lot about the servility overload at Fox News.
No doubt she'd again be greeted with deference inside the friendly confines; indeed, she said that she would love to talk "for hours" about all she hopes to accomplish as vice president. Hannity's eyes lit up at the prospect of lapsing at length into listening mode. After all, he said, "I have nothing to do."