Politics This Week: Palin, Jackson, Afghanistan

Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR News Analyst Juan Williams about the announcement of Sarah Palin's resignation, Michael Jackson and Afghanistan.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Joined now in the studio by our friend, NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning.

SIMON: And let's agree, as basketball fans, to try and avoid those analogies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: With all due regard to everybody involved. But what's your initial reaction?

WILLIAMS: You know, on July 4th, Scott, let me say, it's a red, white and blue mystery. Yesterday the political class in Washington had the phones ringing all over. You know, what's Sarah Palin doing? What's she up to? Why would she quit in the middle of her term? She's got 16 months remaining, and it would seem that that 16-month period would give her a platform to advance her presidential ambitions and to make the case that she is a conservative reformer, that she's someone who can put in place policies, demonstrate leadership, counter all the critics who says she's not ready to be president of the United States.

She's removed that platform of her own doing. It doesn't quite make sense. So some people thought it was erratic. I think there's also a sense that it was a rushed press conference. There was really just a spattering of reporters there - a lot of geese in the background. So the thought is, maybe she could be running for the Senate in the future, maybe she's going to become a TV talk show host.

One paper is reporting this morning she's been in talks with NBC. There's also the possibility she just wants to work on her book deal. She already has a book deal in hand. But don't forget, she's been beat up pretty good.

You know, there was just a recent piece in Vanity Fair that was unflattering, David Letterman was making jokes that were viewed as offensive. Maybe she just wants to get out of the spotlight.

SIMON: I got an email from someone last night who said you folks in the East Coast media establishment have never understood her, and that's going to make all of your analysis wrong, 'cause she just doesn't think the way you do.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. One thing before we get off of Sarah Palin, which is to say that she promised on Twitter yesterday that there's more information to come.

SIMON: Oh, my God. We can check that. Look, I don't want to ask you another question about Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, but I do want to ask you about his wife, Jenny...

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SIMON: ...who has established her own profile this week, I think it's safe to say.

WILLIAMS: Did not appear at the press conference with him, breaking in this tradition of women who, like Tammy Wynette sang, stand by their man. And this has generated a lot of interest in Jenny Sanford as to exactly who she is.

Now, she's from Chicago, Scott, you might want to know, graduate of Georgetown University in finance, worked as a vice president for acquisitions and mergers at Lazard Frères, so quite an accomplished woman and someone who has her own wealth. Her grandfather, I think, founded the Skill power tool corporation.

But here is somebody who's been a political advisor to her husband and who, when this news broke about his soulmate being in Argentina while she has four young boys with him, basically said, you know what - in a statement - I've got to be able to look my sons in the eye and maintain my sense of dignity, my sense of right and wrong. And I think this set her apart.

And also told the governor to get out - you know, take a break, you're not welcome here. I think this is a real contrast to the way political wives have been handling this in the past. And apparently a lot of women thought, you know, she's the hero in this story.

SIMON: Getting away from politics - although it's never far away from politics - U.S. Marines launched a major offensive in Afghanistan this week. Do the public opinion polls suggest that the American public will support a renewed, perhaps long-term effort in Afghanistan?

WILLIAMS: Americans don't want war, are tired of war, especially after what we've seen take place in Iraq. For the moment, President Obama is advancing this as a necessary war, in some parlance the good war, as opposed to what took place in Iraq.

But for the moment, the U.S. population is willing to hang with it. I don't sense it from the poll numbers that they're willing to stay with it for long though. So the question is how persuasive can President Obama be about the need to pursue this, especially with reports coming in the Washington Post this week that some commanders on the ground are going to ask for more troops. You have at the moment about 68,000 authorized. President Obama put an additional 21,000 in earlier this year. What if you need more, Scott? And you know, the ongoing battles are difficult.

SIMON: Finally, Michael Jackson news continues unabated this week. There was a tribute to him at the Apollo Theater in New York City. Has his death refreshed his perspective with some Americans?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think especially in the black community, it's interesting, there's a sense of wanting to be protective of that legacy and celebrating his greatness. But at the same time, you got to remember, Quincy Jones, the great producer who did "Thriller" with him, said recently - said this to Details -it's obvious he didn't want to be black, and that has always been a kind of tension with Michael Jackson.

By the way, I just want to correct something I said last week, when I said that he had done "Ebony and Ivory." I should have said that with Paul McCartney he did "The Girl is Mine," which suggested his interest in kind of crossing racial barriers and becoming a pop icon for all segments.

But yeah, I think there is a reassessment going on about Michael Jackson and a celebration of the tremendous music that he brought and his genius as opposed to all the scandals.

SIMON: Thanks very much. NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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