Week in Politics: The Palin Interview

Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today speaks with host Scott Simon about the Sarah Palin interview and other top stories from this week.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Of course, the breaking story this morning is the hurricane and we're going to cover the story live, but also a week of much news to talk about in the economy, the presidential campaign and the seventh anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Dan Schorr is away this week so we're pleased to be joined by USA Today's Washington Bureau Chief, Susan Page. Susan, thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. SUSAN PAGE (Washington Bureau Chief, USA Today): Scott, it's great to be with you.

SIMON: And let's get to Governor Palin interviews first.

Ms. PAGE: Because what else could we talk about, possibly?

SIMON: I - first I...

Ms. PAGE: When it comes to politics?

SIMON: No. Absolutely the case. First interview since joining the ticket. What's your assessment or impression?

Ms. PAGE: You know, she survived. And she didn't make any big gaffes, there's no huge horror about some error she made. So in that way I think the McCain campaign is probably pleased by how that went. Now, she didn't have a lot of specifics. Some debate about how deep her knowledge is on some of the foreign policy questions. I was more surprised, frankly, by the lack of specifics on some domestic issues when she was asked three things that the McCain presidency would do differently from Bush on the economy. She ended up - I think she rambled on for a while and ended up with kind of a Republican mantra of cut taxes, control spending and improve oversight, both out in specifics on those.

I was trying to think, Scott, the last time a political interview was so hotly awaited and dissected. And the one I came up with, I think, was the Clinton interview during the '92 campaign on "60 Minutes" when its campaign was really faltering. And of course...

SIMON: They had sex in it, though.

Ms. PAGE: Yeah, it did. But that was about the presidential candidate. Here we've had this extraordinary interest in the Number Two person on the ticket.

SIMON: What about when Charlie Gibson looked down his glasses over at Governor Palin and said this plainly, do you believe in the Bush doctrine? Was that a fair way of putting that question?

Ms. PAGE: Let me defend the gotcha question because whatever Governor Palin's merit, she is very new to the scene. You know, two weeks and a day ago, most Americans probably could not have named the governor of Alaska, except for, of course, those Americans who are themselves Alaskans. So there's a lot of curiosity about what does she know, is she ready to serve his president, should that occasion arise? And so I think it is fair to ask questions that are aimed at exploring that.

Now, she did not seem to know what the Bush doctrine was. Some defenders today - Charles Krauthammer's column, a story in the Washington Post - that say, there are several different things that could describe the Bush doctrine. But I think it's fair to say that for most people the Bush doctrine is the idea of preemptive attack for danger that's down the road.

SIMON: But is it? And let me take that aside from a moment. And I have a world of respect for Charlie Gibson, who's not only a gracious man but I think a very fair reporter. But I'll go this far. I think if I were - I hope, if I were asking a question like that, for the sake of the audience if not the candidate, I would say, what do you think of the Bush doctrine - doctrine of preemptive attack?

Ms. PAGE: Except I think his point was does she know what the Bush doctrine is, and what does she think about it?

SIMON: She might know what it is when you say what it is. But does she know it by that broadside that those of us in the news business put on it, the Bush doctrine?

Ms. PAGE: Well, you can make that point. You can say it was a gotcha question. I thought - I personally thought it was a fair question, and I thought one thing that was interesting and not explored by most of the commentary was when she finally discussed the Bush doctrine, the idea of preemptive strike, she didn't really address the question. The answer she gave said, I believe, that if there is an imminent threat, we could take any action. Well, that's of course something everybody agrees on.

SIMON: Another fracas this week over Senator Obama's use of the term lipstick on a pig. The McCain campaign condemned him using the phrase as a sexist jape(ph). Senator Palin - or Governor Palin made that famous reference to her lipstick in a convention speech. The Obama campaign condemned the condemnation. What do you make of it?

PAGE: A blatant appeal to the farm states, I think. The...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Wow. What an original analysis! Was it a sexist jape or for that matter an anti-(unintelligible)?

Ms. PAGE: I think there's no evidence he was trying to refer to her. Now I was talking to my mother who lives in Kansas...

SIMON: Pretty well-known phrase.

Ms. PAGE: Pretty well-known phrase, and she said, well, you know, that's the best line she had in her speech when she talked about the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull and she said the answer - the difference would be lipstick. What a non-issue. I mean, I spent most of this week in Fitchburg, Massachusetts talking to voters about the presidential election and what they think about it and all they wanted to talk about was the economy. With what's happening with their mortgages, gas prices, how they're going to pay for home heating oil. They did not want to talk about lipstick on a pig.

SIMON: Was it - Was there something refreshing about seeing the two presidential candidates not talking but just together at Ground Zero in New York?

Ms. PAGE: One of the few things, I think, that could have stopped this campaign, stop the ads for day, remembrance of 9/11. We just have 52 days to go in this presidential election. We lost one of them to the remembrance of 9/11. I think that's not a bad thing.

SIMON: Thanks very much.

Ms. PAGE: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: Susan Page, of course, the Washington bureau chief of USA Today. Always good to be with you. Thank you, Susan.

Ms. PAGE: Thank you.

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