Well, she showed up. She stood at the right podium. She mostly spoke English, gosh darnit. And the media’s post-debate analysis had to be the most condescending display of lowered bar cheerleading in American political history.
Last night, pundits and conservatives applauded Sarah Palin for not tripping over her feet on the way to the podium and not using the phrases “U.S. Americans” or “the Iraq.” They applauded her strategy of not answering questions she didn’t know (because what American really needs from its government right now is less transparency and competence). They even applauded her for speaking broken English. Here’s Roger Simon of the Politico explaining how Palin “ended up dominating” the debate:
Sarah Palin was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.
She not only kept Joe Biden on the defensive for much of the debate, she not only repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, but she looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.
She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s.
Here I thought America’s problems in Iraq and on Wall Street were complex and needed someone who could, you know, at least be able to point either out on a map. But the answer is so simple: we’re not dropping our g’s!
We shouldn’t be stabilizing Iraq, we should be stabilizin’ it! And why are we regulating Wall Street, when we clearly need to be regulatin’ it? If only we had a folksy, average Joe president who was in way over his head, avoided dealing with issues he didn’t understand, and dropped his g’s. Oh, wait.
Simon goes on to reveal that he’s learned exactly nothing from the last eight years:
True, a lot of her statements were of the fortune cookie variety. “At end of day,” she said, “if we are all working together for the greater good, it is going to be OK.” But a lot of people like fortune cookies.
She said what she wanted to say, and she was so relaxed she even winked at one point. Really! An actual wink during a national debate…
Of course! Why isn’t someone winking at Pakistan? Why aren’t we sending fortune cookies to Ahmadinejad? Somebody get the State Department on line one! And Panda Express on two!
Listening to pundits praise Palin’s substance-less performance last night was like watching a Little League game where the small kid who always strikes out steps up the plate, finally makes contact with the ball, and the crowd goes wild. No one cares that the kid just grounded out to the pitcher. All he hears is, “Wow, you really hit that ball, champ!”
And that’s great for Little Leagues– hell, I was that kid– but when it comes to a grown woman who could potentially be the President of the United States in less than four months, all this lowered expectations cheerleading is pathetic, condescending, and let’s face it, sexist. Any man who got up on stage and so obviously dodged questions he hadn’t studied for, stuck so closely to rudimentary talking points, and whose goal was clearly not to communicate but to survive would have been torn apart. But Palin? Wow, you really hit that ball, champ! Sure, you didn’t win, but here’s a trophy with your name on it!
My own sense of the debate was that it benefitted both campaigns by being almost completely newsless. For the Obama campaign, it didn’t change the trajectory of a race that is threatening to turn into an electoral college landslide. For the McCain campaign, it temporarily stopped the bleeding from the week-long Katie Couric– there’s no other word– massacre.
But before conservatives start getting too excited, Palin isn’t out of the woods yet. The difference between her crashing and burning in front of Charlie Gibson/Katie Couric and surviving last night was simply the lack of follow-up questions. With the debate format as it was, she never had to explain, never had to clarify, never had to be specific. She said the problem with No Child Left Behind is its lack of flexibility. If you had asked her right then what specifically we need to do to make it more flexible, her head might have exploded. She will get follow-up questions in the next five weeks, and realistically she’s no more prepared for them now than she was last week.
On both style and substance, last night was as good as I’ve ever seen Joe Biden. He communicated a clear, substantive message about how an Obama administration would operate, he connected to middle class concerns, he picked apart John McCain’s record (pointing out that McCain has also voted against funding the troops was brilliant), and he avoided all the pitfalls of debating the delicate Palin flower. Biden also got off the riff of the night when he pointed out that John McCain’s plan to fix America is two-fold: 1) Continue George Bush’s policies; 2) Call himself a maverick.
It’s clear that the Obama campaign’s debate strategy is to come across as the safe choice in this election. Neither Obama nor Biden, in their performances, has seemed especially interested in making the morning news clips. They’ve been more concerned with consistency, even-temperedness, and facts, rather than soundbytes and gimmicks. It’s a strategy that places a bold amount of faith in the intelligence and seriousness of the American people.
Right now, we’re 32 days away from the election, with nearly every poll in every state moving toward Barack Obama. Yesterday, the McCain campaign pulled out of Michigan completely. If the election were held today, Obama would win by 125 electoral votes. Every day that trend holds, every day the race isn’t completely turned around, is a day McCain loses. And he certainly didn’t make up any ground last night.