Still, as her former running mate would say, the fundamentals of Sarah Palin are strong. Her conservative detractors—Colin Powell, David Brooks, and Christopher Buckley among them—were put off not by her personality but rather her lack of knowledge about certain national and foreign-policy issues. Such deficiencies can be addressed easily [bold mine-DL]. ~Chris Beam

This is a claim I keep seeing repeated again and again to bolster the claim that Palin will be back.  New reports from inside the McCain campaign put this in a rather harsh perspective, since they suggest that the deficiencies are so great that if they are to be addressed at all it will not be easy. 

Carl Cameron reports:

There was great concern in the McCain campaign that Sarah Palin lacked a degree of knowledgeability to be a running mate, a Vice President, and a heartbeat away from the Presidency.  We are told by folks that she didn’t know what countries were in NAFTA….We’re told that she didn’t understand that Africa was a continent….a whole host of questions that caused serious problems about her knowledgeability….[She] was particularly angry about how the Katie Couric interview went.  She didn’t accept preparation for that interview, and aides say that was part of the problem.    

Obviously, we should take what disgruntled McCain staffers dish to reporters with a grain of salt.  They have an agenda, and part of it is to make her look even worse than she already does to deflect some of the criticism away from McCain.  The claim that she didn’t know Africa was a continent is the sort of thing that almost sounds as if it belongs to a caricature of a person who knows nothing, but it seems remotely possible that it is true.  Americans’ knowledge of world geography is notoriously poor, which does not excuse it in this case if true, but neither is it all that far-fetched.  The troubling thing is that I get the sinking feeling that a lot of people who want her to become the future of the party couldn’t care less about this.  I can almost hear some dedicated pundits rehearsing the next defense, “Well, how many people understand that Africa is a continent?  Do we expect our elected officials to understand the conventions originally invented by ancient geographers?  Besides, technically, Africa is attached to the landmass of Asia and so you can see why she might have been hesitant to identify it that way.”  A more aggressive defense might say, “Who cares about Africa?  Palin is interested in helping this country.”  The claim about NAFTA seems hard to believe–how could a governor of Alaska not know which countries were involved in this agreement?  Then again, this tends to confirm everything we have come to know about her lack of interest in policy details.  These claims about her are so bizarre and yet specific that it is hard to dismiss them outright.    

Still, the report that she refused to prepare for the Couric interview makes everything quite clear.  She wasn’t overwhelmed with scripted answers and talking points that they had been forcing on her–she was genuinely at a loss for coherent answers because she had not even attempted to prepare for the questions she would be asked, and so she tried to bluster her way through to rather calamitous results.  Far from being a distorted or misleading image of what Palin knew on her own, that may have been the clearest picture of her understanding of the issues that we had in the last two months.  In the last few days, I have seen remarks to the effect that “anti-Palin” conservatives are going to end up feeling foolish in the future for having doubted her qualifications, but with every passing day and each new revelation I am even more convinced that everyone who criticized her fairly on her record and statements will have no reason to feel that way. 

Update: In a new NYT story, the claim about the interview is qualified here by an anonymous McCain advisor:

Ms. Palin, who had prepared for and survived an initial interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, did not have the time or focus to prepare for Ms. Couric, the McCain advisers said. “She did not say, ‘I will not prepare,’ ” a McCain adviser said. “She just didn’t have a bandwidth to do a mock interview session the way we had prepared before. She was just overloaded.”   

I’m not sure that this helps Palin that much, but it does complicate the picture a little.