The Note: The Palin Comparisons

So Gov. Sarah Palin is a God-invoking, line-memorizing, superpower-provoking, nuke-u-lar pronouncing, dangerously unprepared Bush-Cheney clone (if she even knew what the Bush Doctrine was) . . .

Or she is a Lincoln-quoting, homework-doing, Russian-scaring, regular-acting, ready-to-lead energy expert of a hockey mom (and who cares who knows what the Bush Doctrine is, anyway?).

The Palin who sat down with ABC's Charles Gibson Thursday (with more to come Friday, on "World News" and "20/20") was -- in keeping with the phenomenon that has flashed across the political landscape these past two weeks -- pretty much whatever you wanted her to be.

(Similarly, Sen. Barack Obama's planned pushback -- not the first or second or third time his campaign has signaled a new aggressiveness -- is pretty much whatever you want it to be, too.)

(And the 9/11 pause didn't spread into 9/12: New ads, with a new tone -- Obama goes both positive and negative -- with the sharper one featuring Obama saying McCain has become an out-of-touch Washington insider. John McCain pushes back hard, saying Obama folks have been "disrespectful" to Palin, even as the media declares en masse that Team McCain is not playing fair.)

On the key question, Palin, R-Alaska, didn't hesitate: "I'm ready," she said. "I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink."

Yet the first day of this next stage of Palin's public definition again showed how much we still don't know about the would-be No. 2 (and, perhaps, what the would-be No. 2 still doesn't know about the job) -- and how much is at stake in this phase of her public rollout.

On the question of the Bush Doctrine, no real answer: "She stopped short of saying whether she supports 'anticipatory self-defense,' leaving open the question of whether she subscribes to the Bush Doctrine," per ABC's Teddy Davis and Rigel Anderson. "Asked if Palin's bar for the use of force is higher than the one contained in the Bush Doctrine, the McCain-Palin campaign said that it was a highly conceptual question that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself may have never answered."

On Pakistan, maybe a shade toward Barack Obama. "Gibson also pressed Palin three times to give a yes or no answer to the question of whether she believed that the United States has the right to launch crossborder attacks on Taliban and Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, a close ally of the United States, without the Pakistani government's permission," Michael Kranish and Farah Stockman write in The Boston Globe. "Earlier in the campaign McCain had ridiculed rival Barack Obama for saying that he would authorize such unilateral crossborder actions, emphasizing that cooperation with Pakistan is essential."

On the Russian-Georgian conflict, she went maybe a smidge further than McCain. (And she knows NATO's Article 5.) "If John McCain were asked, 'would we act to defend another NATO member that was invaded?' the answer would be yes," she said.

She said she would "agree to disagree" with John McCain (while trying to change his mind) on drilling in ANWR, but left herself more open to the possibility that global warming is man-made.

"I believe that man's activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change," she told Gibson (choosing her words extremely carefully). "Regardless though of the reason for climate change, whether it's entirely, wholly caused by man's activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet -- the warming and the cooling trends -- regardless of that, John McCain and I agree that we gotta do something about it and we have to make sure that we're doing all we can to cut down on pollution."

And in her first solo appearance since her convention speech, a new round of questions is inspired:

"Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would 'defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans,' " Anne Kornblut writes in The Washington Post. "The idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a view once promoted by Bush administration officials, has since been rejected even by the president himself."

(A blast back, from Bill Kristol, in The Weekly Standard: "Kornblut's interpretation of what Palin said is either stupid or malicious. Palin is evidently saying that American soldiers are going to Iraq to defend innocent Iraqis from al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that is related to al Qaeda, which did plan and carry out the Sept. 11 attacks."

In the first round of interviews, no huge gaffes, maybe no huge scores either: "At times visibly nervous, at others appearing to hew so closely to prepared answers that she used the exact same phrases repeatedly, Ms. Palin most visibly stumbled when she was asked by Mr. Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine," Jim Rutenberg writes in The New York Times.

"By turns tense and combative, Palin, 44, used two interviews with ABC anchor Charles Gibson to display her grasp of issues central to the vice presidency," Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times.

New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley found the interviews "strained and illuminating": "Ms. Palin didn't look rattled or lose her cool in her first interview with Mr. Gibson, the network anchor, on Thursday night, but she skittered through with general answers, sticking to talking points that flowed out quickly and spiritedly, a little too much by rote to satisfy her interviewer that she was giving his questions serious consideration."

"Sarah Palin showed herself as steely and supremely confident -- even when she stumbled over a question about the Bush Doctrine -- and brushed off whether it mattered that she had never met a foreign head of state in her much anticipated first network interview as John McCain's running mate," the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet writes.

Per the AP write-up: "John McCain running mate Sarah Palin sought Thursday to defend her qualifications but struggled with foreign policy, unable to describe President Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against threatening nations and acknowledging she's never met a foreign head of state."

Howard Wolfson, at his New Republic blog: "Her answers to a fairly basic set of foreign policy questions were formulaic and unimpressive. She didn't say anything disqualifying, but it is unlikely that anyone watching would have come away sanguine about her ability to step in as President on Day One if necessary."

James Carville, a self-described "notoriously easy grader," gave Palin a C- on "Good Morning America" Friday. "For somebody who got a passport last year, I'm just being honest, I'm not surprised" she didn't know what the Bush Doctrine is, Carville said.

Torie Clarke: "Where you stand depends on where you sit."

On her assertion that it's not unusual for a vice president to have not met world leaders: "Palin was mistaken, at least where recent history is concerned," per ABC's Lisa Chinn.

"If you were to ask every living vice president -- they would say she's wrong," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "GMA" Friday. "Palin would be the first vice president in 32 years who had never met a foreign head of state."

Now for the latest Obama pushback: "Senator Barack Obama will intensify his assault against Senator John McCain, with new television advertisements and more forceful attacks by the candidate and surrogates beginning Friday morning, as he confronts an invigorated Republican presidential ticket and increasing nervousness in the Democratic ranks," Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.

"The new tone is to be presented in a speech by Mr. Obama in New Hampshire and in television interviews with local stations in five swing states, backed up by new advertisements and appearances across the country by supporters," they write. "In addition, advertising themes will be pay equity for women, an issue that has particular resonance as the campaigns battle for female voters, and a more pointed linking of Mr. McCain to President Bush and Republicans in Washington. . . . By every indication, Mr. Obama's aides underestimated the impact that Mr. McCain's choice of Ms. Palin would have on the race."

Says former Clinton press secretary Phil Singer (welcome back to the commentariat): "The Obama people need to reboot and figure out ways to make the McCain-Bush argument newsworthy again."

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe uses a memo to get the word out: "Today is the first day of the rest of the campaign, and today we are releasing two new ads that go directly at the fundamental issue in this race: John McCain is out of touch with the American people and unable to address the challenges facing the country in the 21st century and bring about real change, and that Barack Obama is the candidate who will bring about change that works for the middle class."

Continues Plouffe: "We will respond with speed and ferocity to John McCain's attacks and we will take the fight to him, but we will do it on the big issues that matter to the American people. We will not allow John McCain and his band of Karl Rove disciples to make this big election about small things."

ABC's Jake Tapper weighs in on the "Isotoner campaign": "Like any number of Democratic candidates before him -- Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, is once again declaring that he is going to take off the gloves and fight back against attacks from the Republican party. . . . But just so you know -- this is by my count the 4th time Obama's campaign has officially or unofficially made such a declaration that Obama will 'take off the gloves' and fight back."

Two new Obama ads: "Real Change" is the positive one, featuring Obama talking to the camera. "I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message because this year, change has to be more than a slogan."

And the harsher "Still": Says the voiceover, "Things have changed in the last 26 years. But McCain hasn't. He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email. Still doesn't understand the economy. And favors two hundred billion in new tax cuts for corporations, but almost nothing for the middle class."

McCain's new ad is cute with the word "they" (and who's this race supposed to be between again?): "He was the world's biggest celebrity, but his star's fading. So they lashed out at Sarah Palin. Dismissed her as 'good looking.' That backfired, so they said she was doing, 'what she was told.' Then desperately called Sarah Palin a liar. How disrespectful. And how Governor Sarah Palin proves them wrong, every day."

The Washington Post's Dan Balz asks whether Obamaland underestimated Team McCain: "There is a belief outside the Obama campaign that, while the Democratic nominee knows what he wants to say about McCain and the choice for voters, he has lost some of his edge on what he wants to say about himself and how he wants undecided voters to see him. That's part of the challenge for him now. Can he keep talking economics, economics, economics and still get back some of the aura of being the future-oriented candidate of hope and inspiration?"

One reason to worry: "McCain for the first time is up in the Intrade electronic prediction market, which gives him a 50.5% shot at the White House, to Obama's 47.8%," Politico's Ben Smith reports. "Intrade has been less predictive than it's been a pure measure of conventional wisdom all cycle, and the shift marks a shifted mood."

Is it all Palin? "The woman who was Alaska's governor for 21 months has reset the 2008 presidential election campaign, creating a McCain surge in the polls and making inroads in the enthusiasm gap once enjoyed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama," ABC's Jennifer Parker writes.

Or is it Obama's fault, too? "His task is to remind Americans that the stakes in this election are far higher than the matter of who said what and when about Palin. He isn't doing that," E.J. Dionne writes in his column. "It's clear that Obama has lost control of this campaign. And he will not seize back the initiative with the sometimes halting, conversational and sadly reluctant sound bites he has been producing."

"Democrats, hit reset," Peggy Noonan advises in her Wall Street Journal column. "Accept the fact that the race has changed utterly, that you're up against a ticket that has captured the public imagination. Now you must go out and recapture it."

He knows how the other side is playing. (And almost all at once, McCain is being called out for it -- what does that do for the brand?)

The Los Angeles Times' James Rainey: "It got so bad the day before the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that -- one of the nonpartisan journalism websites heroically trying to strain truth amid all the sound and fury -- had to put out an extraordinary news release. It chastised John McCain's campaign for -- now get this -- distorting FactCheck's debunking of distortions."

The AP's Chuck Babington: "The 'Straight Talk Express' has detoured into doublespeak. . . . Even in a political culture accustomed to truth-stretching, McCain's skirting of facts has stood out this week. It has infuriated and flustered Obama's campaign, and campaign pros are watching to see how much voters disregard news reports noting factual holes in the claims."

Think Joe Klein is fed up? "A new rule here: Rather than do the McCain campaign's bidding by wasting space on Senator Honor's daily lies and bilge--his constant attempts to divert attention from substantive issues -- I'm going to assume that others will spend more than enough time on the sewage that Steve Schmidt is shoveling and, from now on, try to stick to the issues," Klein writes for Time.

How about Paul Krugman? "I can't think of any precedent, at least in America, for the blizzard of lies since the Republican convention. The Bush campaign's lies in 2000 were artful -- you needed some grasp of arithmetic to realize that you were being conned. This year, however, the McCain campaign keeps making assertions that anyone with an Internet connection can disprove in a minute, and repeating these assertions over and over again," Krugman writes in his New York Times column.

And The New York Times editorial page? "What a difference four years makes, especially after Mr. McCain secured the nomination by hiring some of the same low-blow artists from the Bush campaign."

Bill Clinton isn't among the worried: "I predict that Sen. Obama will win and win pretty handily," said the former president, concluding his first private sit-down with Obama since he clinched the nomination.

"During the primaries, plenty of venom spewed from the two camps, but those on both sides say all is forgiven, if not entirely forgotten," Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Clinton is set to campaign for Obama in Florida on Sept. 29. He will also raise money for the Democratic nominee and make other campaign stops through election day."

Gallup daily tracking gives some cause of calm: "An analysis of Gallup Poll Daily tracking interviewing conducted before and after the two major-party conventions shows that the impact of the conventions was not materially different for white women than it was for white men, and neither group's shifts were substantially different than the changes among the overall electorate."

On a day politicking paused, politics didn't really disappear. It was just under the surface, as always, at the ServiceNation forum in New York City Thursday night.

"McCain underscored the value of national service, focusing heavily on military service. But he defended his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, for her comments dismissing Obama's work as a community organizer in his early 20s," Susan Milligan and Bryan Bender write in The Boston Globe.

Are job offers in the works? "Would you perhaps ask Sen. Obama to be a member of your Cabinet for national service?" moderator Rick Stengel asked. "Yes," McCain said with a laugh.

Per ABC's Sunlen Miller: "Obama -- when asked if he would accept McCain's offer -- said not just yet. 'We've got a little work to do before we get to that point,' Obama said, laughing."

Saturday Night Live is back this weekend -- and with it, an Obama appearance. "Last time Obama went on the show was in November 2007 -- when he was battling the political star power of a different woman," ABC's Jake Tapper writes.

"Before the Nov. 4 election, NBC will air seven fresh SNL shows, three live Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday specials and an election-eve special," USA Today's Gary Strauss reports. "McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin could also appear in upcoming shows."

The Sked:

Morning show madness: McCain and his wife, Cindy, do the Rachel Ray Show at 10 am ET Friday, and Sen. McCain joins the women of "The View" at 11 am ET.

Palin's interviews with ABC's Charles Gibson continue in Alaska, with portions to air on "World News" and "20/20" Friday evening.

Obama campaigns in New Hampshire, with a 6 pm ET rally in Concord in tap.

Also in the news:

What does it say about how things have changed for McCain and evangelicals that he and Palin feel free to skip this weekend's Values Voters Summit?

"Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin, the governor of Alaska, were invited to address this weekend's Values Voters Summit in Washington but are expected to be no-shows, leaving only Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich as two of the biggest political names scheduled to address the conclave of social conservatives," Ralph Z. Hallow writes in the Washington Times.

The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody: "The offer of a short video from vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin to folks at this weekend's Value Voters Summit has been turned down by its president, Tony Perkins. A source inside John McCain's campaign tells me that Palin was set to record the video Wednesday in Virginia before she left for Alaska. But when the McCain campaign approached Perkins about offering the video rather than a personal appearance Perkins said, according to numerous witnesses, 'That's not enough.' "

A new view of Cindy McCain's painkiller addiction: "While McCain's accounts have captured the pain of her addiction, her journey through this personal crisis is a more complicated story than she has described, and it had more consequences for her and those around her than she has acknowledged," Kimberly Kindy writes in The Washington Post.

"Her misuse of painkillers prompted an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and local prosecutors that put her in legal jeopardy," Kindy writes. "A doctor with McCain's medical charity who supplied her with prescriptions for the drugs lost his license and never practiced again. The charity, the American Voluntary Medical Team, eventually had to be closed in the wake of the controversy. Her husband was forced to admit publicly that he was absent much of the time she was having problems and was not aware of them."

A different view of Sarah Palin: "In her 21 months as governor, Palin has taken few steps to advance culturally conservative causes. Instead, after she knocked off an incumbent amid an influence-peddling scandal linked to the oil industry, Palin pursued a populist agenda that toughened ethics rules and raised taxes on oil and gas companies," Ken Dilanian writes for USA Today.

And an even more different view of Palin: Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee -- a charter member of "Republicans for Obama" -- describes her thusly: "cocky wacko."

The trickle-down: "John McCain successfully closed the gap with Barack Obama when he chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. But beyond the presidential contest, Republican leaders in Congress see a shifted landscape for their candidates, and for the first time in months, they have reason to be cautiously optimistic about the November elections," Reid Wilson writes at Real Clear Politics.

Who's presumptuous now? "A prominent Washington lobbyist who has worked for every Republican president since Richard Nixon has been tapped by the McCain campaign to conduct a study in preparation for the presidential transition, should John McCain win the election, according to sources familiar with the process," Time's Michael Scherer reports. "William E. Timmons, Sr. is a Washington institution, having worked in the Nixon and Ford administrations as an aide for congressional relations, and assisted the transition teams of both Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 2000. He was also a senior adviser to both Vice President George Bush in 1988 and Senator Bob Dole in 1996."

New role for the Macker? "Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic Party chairman and head of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, is weighing a run for Virginia governor next year," Gary Emerling reports in the Washington Times. "Mr. McAuliffe, 51, a frequent TV commentator and Democratic spokesman, fanned rumors at the party's nominating convention in Denver when he talked to Virginia delegates, then declined to rule out a run when speaking with reporters."

Said McAuliffe spokeswoman Tracy Sefl: "He's really flattered [by the interest], and his position is the same, that he's not ruling out anything."

Primed for national pick-up: "In July, Gov. Brian Schweitzer suggested in a speech in Philadelphia that he tampered with the 2006 U.S. Senate election in Montana to help Democrat Jon Tester win," The Missoulian's Charles S. Johnson reports. "On Wednesday, the governor said it was all a joke. But Bozeman Republican activist Tamara Hall, who found the speech on the Internet, didn't think it was funny. She filed a complaint accusing Schweitzer of vote-tampering in the race in which Tester narrowly unseated Republican incumbent Conrad Burns."

The offending quote: "And the advantage is, you know, when you've got a governor of a state on your side, whoa!" said Schweitzer, D-Mont. "You can turn some dials and we did."

The Kicker:

"Oh lordy day, I tell ya." -- Joe Biden, after referencing a "Biden administration."

"They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." -- Sarah Palin, claiming expertise on Russia.

Viewing Guide:

See more of Charles Gibson's interviews with Gov. Palin on "World News" Friday.

A special "20/20" -- "The Interview: Sarah Palin with Charles Gibson" -- will air Friday, at 10 pm ET. The hour will feature more of Gibson's interviews with the vice presidential candidate from Fairbanks and Wasilla. Kate Snow will report on the personal and professional background of Gov. Palin leading up to her nomination, and George Stephanopoulos will moderate a live roundtable discussion on the state of the presidential race.

Coming Monday: Join the "Good Morning America" whistle-stop tour, as ABC kicks off its "50 States in 50 Days" initiative. I'll be on board, with The Note and blogging.

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