The GOP flack who prepped Sarah Palin for various public appearances is stepping up to say that the Alaskan governor isn't quite as dumb as angry McCain aides are trying to paint her. Republican and former Bush executive secretary of the National Security Council Steve Biegun has gotten in touch with National Review editor/wonderboy Rich Lowry to redeem the former vice presidential candidate by repudiating recent claims she has no idea who's in NAFTA and thinks Africa's a country. He calls the allegations "absurd," while managing to note that she had a "steep learning curve on foreign issues," as Lowry formulates it. It's nice someone is stepping out on Sarah's behalf, but is this half-hearted defense simply part of the larger scheme to discredit her for 2012?As you'll recall, McCain aides leaked to Fox News' Carl Cameron that Palin didn't know Africa was a continent, not a country, and that she couldn't name any of the countries in NAFTA. Palin has only expressed indignation at the idea she's none too bright, and now we can at least be consoled by the fact that Palin learned about the conflict in Darfur while she was in church according to Lowry:

He says there's no way she didn't know Africa was a continent, and whoever is saying she didn't must be distorting "a fumble of words." He talked to her about all manner of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to the Sudan. She was aware from the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, which is followed closely in evangelical churches, and was aware of Clinton's AIDS initiative. That basically makes it impossible that she thought all of Africa was a country. On not knowing what countries are in NAFTA, Biegun was part of the conversation that led to that accusation and it convinces him "somebody is acting with a high degree of maliciousness." He was briefing Palin before a Univision interview, and talking to her about trade issues. He rolled through NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Colombia FTA. As he talked, people were coming in and out of the room, handing Palin things, etc. She was distracted from what Biegun was saying, and said, roughly, "Ok, who's in NAFTA, what's the deal with CAFTA, what's up the FTA?"—her way, Biegun says, of saying "rack them and stack them," begin again from the start. "Somebody is taking a conversation and twisting it maliciously," he says.

Palin was prepping for a Univision interview! Maybe that time could have been spent preparing for targeted Katie Couric attacks like "What magazines do you read?" Lowry goes on to report that:

According to Beigun (right), Palin had a steep learning curve on foreign issues, about what you would expect from a governor. But she has "great instincts and great core values," and is "an instinctive internationalist." The stories against her are being "fed by an unnamed source who is allowed by the press to make ad hominem attacks on background." Biegun, who spent dozens and dozens of hours briefing Palin on these issues, is happy to defend her, on the record, under his own name.

The guy who briefed Palin is publicly admitting that the result was a product of hours and hours of work? Maybe leave that off your resume and keep "unquestioning Bush lackey" on there, big guy. Seriously, though, this can only be the work of a Republican faction that wants Palin never to speak on behalf of their party again.