Commentary Magazine


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Quizzing the Candidates

Sarah Palin’s perfectly fine interview with Charlie Gibson and her somewhat disastrous one with Katie Couric are being cited as evidence of the “frightening” nature of John McCain’s “irresponsible” pick. While critics pretend that John McCain pulled Palin’s name from a hat, it’s worth pointing out the uselessness of these quiz show-type interviews.

In 1999, Andy Hiller asked George W. Bush to name the leaders of Pakistan, India, Chechnya, and Taiwan. Bush was only able to give a partial answer on the Taiwan question, drawing complete blanks on all the others.

As a predictive measure this test was a big bust. Bush may have been familiar with President Lee Teng-hui, but such familiarity didn’t stop the U.S. from consistently failing, over the course of Bush’s presidency, to give Taiwan the proper support in its struggles with China. And after 9/11, it didn’t really matter what name came after the title President Gen. in Pakistan. Whoever it was, they were going to be pressed to help fight extremists and they would be sure to fail for fear of their lives. If there is a spot on the globe where the U.S. holds less sway than in Chechnya, I’m unaware of it. As an Islamist tangle subsumed by a Russian nightmare, Chechnya has simply been the recipient of vast American humanitarian aid for years. As for India, Bush’s policies in the subcontinent are nothing less than an unqualified success. Bilateral trade deals and energy deals have inspired unprecedented allegiance from this critical ally. Bush didn’t know Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name, but Indians revere the name George W. Bush.

Nine years later, the question that still stumps me is: who exactly is Andy Hiller?