11/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

7 Days in America: As Palin Fades, Will Bin Laden Again Try to Pick Our President? w/ Ferraro, Huffington, vanden Heuvel & Green

The VP debate is over and the reviews are in -- Biden exceeded high expectations and Palin exceed low ones...she stayed on message, though not on topic. And now it's likely that, as so many VP nominees before her, Palin will disappear into small markets to work her conservative base far from the national media "filter."

So short of some Obama gaffe -- and the man doesn't appear to make major gaffes -- we're down to only three significant variables over these final four weeks:

^First, the economy is tanking so obviously that it seems likely to dominate the election. Per most presidential campaigns, it'll come down to pocketbook issues -- and again, McCain hasn't passed the economist-in-chief test.

^Second, the McCain camp keeps threatening to try to Willie Hortonize Obama with ex-weatherman Bill Ayres. This guilt by association technique has worked before, but the economy is too big and the hour seems too late for such a despicable, lame linkage. What next, Steve Schmidt -- an ad connecting O.J. and B.O.?

^Third is an "October Surprise" that forces the race to be decided on international, not economic, grounds.

Enter bin Laden? I recall how in March of 2004 I cornered Wes Clark at an event and asked why wouldn't bin Laden do something provocative to help Bush win reelection since each protagonist helped the other -- in any Bush-Obama comparison, Bush was advantaged in America and bin Laden could better recruit al Qaeda. Being a discrete military grown-up, Clark wouldn't engage me -- so I launched a "Name the October Surprise Contest" on Air America Radio. We got thousands of listeners to suggest what might happen...and then something did. John Kerry blames his loss in part on bin Laden's Friday tape before the Tuesday election for focusing attention on the terrorist threat just as Kerry was starting to climb.

We can stipulate that Al Qaeda is evil but not stupid. We've watched them attack Great Britain right after Gordon Brown became PM and attack Spain just before their national elections. Since militaristic, conservative presidents are their recruiting tools, there's a very real chance that bin Laden or a local remnant will do something to derail Obama and help the warrior candidate.

While no one can exactly predict or stop him, there is something the HuffingtonPost, The Nation and Air America -- as well as all other progressive voices and outlets -- can together do. Repeatedly raise now the prospect of a terrorist intervention into our election because Republicans are more likely to fall into al Qaeda's trap of overreacting, witness Bush. If we anticipate it again and again -- in posts, on message boards, in comments on news sites, in letters-to-the-editors, on YouTube, on radio and TV -- we can help diffuse and weaken its impact. Then voters can say, not this time!

And as Katrina and Arianna explain below, Obama himself can give a foreign policy address where he soberly lays out how terrorists in the past like to test a new president or alter an election -- and how both candidates should not allow anti-Americans to hijack our American election.

Let's not surrender to political correctness and flinch from discussing this possibility because of how awful it would be. Fool us once, shame on you....


GREEN: No one's been more in the shoes of Sarah Palin than you because of your VP debate against George H.W. Bush in 1984. How similar was that to this week's debate and how similar were the attacks against you as inexperienced?

FERRARO: Actually, I wasn't in the same position she is....After watching the Katie Couric interview, and the fact that she was [a character] on "Saturday Night Live" two weeks in a row and with commentators urging that she should step down, I wasn't in that position; her stress level had to be a lot higher than mine was. The attacks [on me] weren't huge. For one thing, as a member of Congress for six years, I had been down to Central America - you remember the Iran-Contra situation - we visited Guatemala and Honduras, I spoke to these people in Nicaragua, I knew the issues. For six years, I had voted on these issues, and I had studied these issues before I voted on them. Now, was it equivalent to Vice President George Bush's experience, as head of the CIA, member of Congress, and Vice President? No. But was I knowledgeable? Yes.

GREEN: And presumably you could have listed some Supreme Court decisions and some magazines you had read. How did you prepare for your debate?

FERRARO: As soon as I was named in July, the two people who came out to see me were Bernie Aronson and Madeline Albright, whom I met for the first time. She was my foreign policy advisor. Madeline, then a Georgetown University professor, was attached to my hip for four months. She became one of my closest friends, and she was with me every single day. They also prepared a book early, early on, and it must have been, Mark, maybe six inches thick. And what it was, was Fritz's [Walter Mondale's] votes when he was in the Senate, my votes when I was in the House, where the campaign stood, where we disagreed, where we agreed, where Ronald Reagan stood on all of the issues.

GREEN: Moving from 1984 to 2008, what do you think of the criticism of Palin that she was on message but not on point?

FERRARO: I agree, I think Gwen [Ifill] should have followed up. I was interested in two levels. One was, could Palin hold her own? And she did that, as a woman, as a candidate, she did that, she held her own. The second thing is, if you look at the substance of the debate, she didn't answer the questions fully. And she said, 'you might want the questions answered one way, and the moderator might want them answered one way, but I'm going to answer them, I'm going to talk to the people my way.' She was aware of the fact that she didn't have total command of all the facts, or that she wasn't going to be able to answer all of the questions. But, you've got admit, that's not a bad strategy.

GREEN: If she exceeded 'low expectations,' did Biden exceed high expectations?

FERRARO: Well, I think he won the debate, obviously. He was more substantive, he did respond to the questions, and he pointed out, when they were doing this maverick thing, John's no maverick!

GREEN: Style question. Was she hopelessly hamming it up with her 'doggone it' colloquial style, or was that overall effective with many Americans?

FERRARO: Well, it doesn't work with me. And I don't know whether it works in Middle America, with a lot of people who are those undecided, blue collar voters. You know, those are my people. They are blue collar, ethnic, Catholics, a lot of them are unemployed, a lot of them are in jobs where they wish they could have more so that they could just send their kids to college. I don't know if it would sell in Queens - I kind of don't think so - but, you know, maybe it sells in Middle America. But the point I have to make on this, Mark, is that sometimes you talk to those people and they say, 'Oh yeah, she's one of us.' And then they turn a round and say to themselves, 'but I couldn't be Vice President....'

GREEN: You were an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primaries and had some testy exchanges with Obama camp. Are you now fully supportive of the Obama/Biden ticket?

FERRARO: When you say 'testy exchanges with the Obama camp,' that was during the primary when they accused me of being racist, and I was outraged. Now [I'm for the ticket.] I think Joe Biden has made the difference for me. It took me a while. It was not because of what I went through with the [Obama] campaign; it was because I wasn't quite sure he was ready to lead, and I was kind of sitting there wondering 'what do I do?' But, you know, what ended up happening was, Joe Biden...and the definition of the Vice Presidency, and how it's worked ever since Carter/Mondale, you know, the two of them working together, and how it has been done in virtually every administration since. I do think that Senator Obama was very smart in picking Joe Biden; Joe Biden adds that experience.


GREEN: Beyond content, did Palin in fact do well because of her in-your-face, aggressive style?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, what worked with the Republican base is the fact that the woman is fearless. I hate to take one of my favorite adjectives and apply it to one of my least favorite people, but after the complete humiliation of the last week, she kind of walked onto the stage and she owned it. And as women, I'm sure Katrina and I appreciate the fact that she can walk on the stage and and not be intimidated by what people are saying about her. But the fact that that woman happens to be possibly a heartbeat away from the presidency is incredibly concerning. And ultimately it does come back to John McCain, and we have to keep bringing it back to him.

GREEN: What was Biden's best moment?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: When he choked up, it was genuine, and there was such a role reversal. I mean, I hate to say that that's what a woman candidate is supposed to do, but her tone deaf reply suggested how programmed she was. GREEN: Palin used the gender card and then Biden trumped her? VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes, she was going to talk about her family in the context of dealing with all the things as a woman that she faces: taking care of the family, and how people are disconnected in Washington and so on. And he was moved to talk about his tragedy when his wife and daughter were killed and he was responsible for taking care of two sons, both critically injured. He talked about how men are also part of the family, and that is part of what we are all fighting for in the larger scheme of things. But she just didn't pick up on it; she wasn't there. If there is a gaffe that we come back to at some point, it will be that, I think that may hurt her, and hurt her among women.

HUFFINGTON: Overall, it was really like watching two different games being played. It was as though he was participating in a vice presidential debate, and she was participating in a high school debate. So there was that disconnect all the time: 'why are these two people on the same stage?' And he had clearly spent years preparing for that moment, in some way or another, whereas she spent two weeks cramming.

GREEN: Won't the campaign, like most presidential campaigns, now end up a referendum on the economy, and isn't this a mountainous obstacle for McCain, since his party has been in charge?

VANDEN HEUVEL: When you come out of an economy where you've seen the worst job creation under George Bush of any modern president, the economic crisis has made this an election a referendum on who can get us out of this mess. Despite this flawed bill that has been passed, what's key is that Obama keeps talking about the need to address this recession when he controls the Congress, and how to kick-start the economy with a bold investment agenda and keep people in their homes. I think it's very tough for McCain, whose only response is this ongoing mantra of more tax cuts. McCain is the deregulator, a record that's very hard for him to run from.

GREEN: If you're right about the economy, there seem to be only two conceivable ways to stop Obama. First, the McCain camp is hinting that they'll soon launch a sustained attack on Obama's character: using, for example, his ties to Bill Ayres. Can that work?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, it's old news for millions of people who have been getting these smear emails from the McCain team and independent Republican operations, and that's why Obama set up a first-time-ever web-smear-reply war room. I think McCain will go dirty, I think it's up to the judgment of the American people. But it's also up to people like the Mayor of Chicago, Daley, who is a respected figure on the national scene, to come forward and to say what he said earlier, which was, 'Bill Ayers: ugly history, but he is now a respected member of the Chicago political scene.' It's going to be a fight. But I think again, again, with this economic crisis, people want to hear about what's affecting their lives, and I'm not sure how far this gutter express goes at this moment. It might have played better at a different time.

GREEN: Second, there's Arianna's fear of fear-mongering. How can we predict and diffuse any October surprise based on terrorism?

HUFFINGTON: Thank you for bringing that up. I think we should all start talking about it, writing about it, and making transparent what, I have no doubt, the strategy will be. I don't know what form it will take, but this is their strategy. This is also Obama's Achilles' heel - I'm sending a book to Sarah Palin about the meaning of Achilles' heel since she clearly did not know, because she proceeded to talk to us about her attributes - but that aside, his Achilles' heel in all the polls is national security; McCain still has an advantage there. Obama needs to really take the bull by the horns, give a major speech, and just begin to erode that advantage. He's not going to be able to do it at the last minute. He has to do it consistently over the next month. And he can walk and chew gum at the same time: he can talk about the economy and keep eroding McCain's national security advantage, [an advantage] which he does not deserve; McCain has been consistently wrong on key national security issues, starting with Iraq, and Obama needs to keep bringing that point home.