Friday, October 3, 2008

Sarah Palin & The "Great" Debate

Well, it’s the morning after the 1st and only Joe Biden-Sarah Palin vice-presidential debate, and like many political pundits—both professional and amateur alike—I was almost spasmodic with eager anticipation of the expected verbal sparring match, what amounted to a high-profile under card to the Obama-McCain main bout.
Like many others interested in the realm of the political, I watched Palin’s acceptance speech at this year’s Republican Convention, and took note of how, in the following days, electrified McCain supporters and Republican-leaning fence-sitters…albeit briefly.
After basking in the glow of her convention speech and the resulting novelty of her candidacy, the Alaskan governor made the rounds on the television evening news interview circuit, grilled first by Charles Gibson of ABC, and then by CBS’s Katie Couric. To say the least, her performances during these interviews made her look less than stellar. With Gibson, she dances around the question of what she thought about the Bush Administration’s policy of pre-emptive military action in protecting America; her lack of knowledge on the subject was obvious. While with Couric, she looked more like Dick Van Dyke’s old television character of Rob Petrie—answering questions with almost comedic ramblings and stumbling over her own words.
As I watched, I almost found myself searching for possible answers for her dismal interviews. I was considering everything from whether or not she was merely acting the part of a former blonde dyed brunette (in an attempt to lull her Democratic rivals into believing she was a pushover in the upcoming debate. If this were the case, she had missed her true calling as an actress), to whether or not her deer-in-the-headlights appearance was some sort of karma coming back to haunt her, payback for killing all the moose with her hunting rifle (as her supporters often like to tout). Needless to say, she was considered the underdog in the debate by most who had witnessed her meltdown during her previous interviews.
However, during the debate, Palin (although failing to come across as seasoned and knowledgeable as her rival) managed to somewhat hold her own, even if was by way of answering moderator questions with slogans (e.g., “Drill, baby, drill”) and canned rhetoric that adhered to the party line (withdrawing from Iraq was tantamount to America “Waving the white flag of surrender.”). It was clear that she had had some decent coaching by McCain’s staff.
Between Biden and Palin’s almost exclusive ping-pong pandering to the Middle Class voter (in typical high-profile political fashion, the rich were made to have the ethics Simon Legree, while the poor were not even mentioned), Palin’s strategy appeared to be one of talking to the audience rather than answering moderator Gwen Ifill’s questions directly. In fact, she sounded more like she was on a presidential stump rather than directly answering questions in a formal give-and-take (to be fair, Biden did some dancing around questions too). This tactic is sure to go over well with voters already committed and looking for “confirmation,” or to those who vote their passions as opposed to the merits of the issues at hand.
However, and much to her credit, she did managed to interject the need for personal responsibility as a factor in cleaning up the current crisis in the lending industry. When asked “who was responsible for the current subprime mortgage situation,” she cautioned viewers against “living outside our means” (I personally believe that too many Americans do not take personal responsibility into account in policy).
Biden, according to preliminary polls out this morning, appeared by most to seem more presidential, more in command of the issues. However, there were points of order for him that Palin (probably because she is not as skilled a debater or as seasoned as Biden) decided not to take advantage of, such as his voting for the bankruptcy reforms of 2 years ago, and Obama’s vote against the same policy; Ifill seemed more committed to pressing Biden on this point than Palin (a point I personally would have loved to see him try to defend).
After the smoke of the verbal dust-up cleared, both combatants remained standing, much to my personal dismay; given both my love examining the nuances of political theater and Palin’s own previous dismal performances, I was half-expecting a Lloyd Bentsen-Dan Quayle-era knockout. Although she performed well in this particular forum, her command of the issues as well as her green nature in the hardball world of Washington politics was evident. One of her verbal jabs during one the evening’s exchanges seemed to have reflected this as she tongue-in-cheeked, “I guess I'm not used to the way you all do things in Washington.”


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