Friday, October 3, 2008

Just like I thought

I've had a crazy-making fortnight with a lot of stuff going on both at work and home, so I haven't been posting as much. I wish I had written the post that was swirling around my head over the last week, so that this morning I could look like a wise and prescient cyberpundit. I knew that Sarah Palin would perform better than her Couric and Gibson interviews would suggest. I knew Joe Biden was unlikely to make one of his trademark gaffes. I guessed that Palin would appeal to those who like bright, shiny and pretty--packaged lines and zingers and "personal connection," not wonkiness. I thought that Biden might look a little old and dusty next to the Republican's "breath of fresh air" candidate, but I knew that once he demonstrated his vast knowlege of foreign policy and the economy, most viewers would remember that new ain't better if there is no "there" there. So, last night's debate turned out just like I thought. The veep candidates' performances likely cemented opinions on both side. Joe Biden won, but the game remains unchanged.

About Sarah

Sorry, Joe, but no one was tuning in to see you last night. We've seen you debate like a gazillion times. Last night's vice presidential debate was all about Sarah. Would her performance confirm fears about readiness stoked by refusals to talk to the press, and horrific stumbles during a handful of media outings? If you were really watching last night, you would say "yes." But it seems even though conventional wisdom says Biden won, it also says Palin performed well.

Look, folks were never going to see the debate train wreck they hoped for. You don't get to be a mayor or governor without political acumen and the ability to discuss issues. To believe that what we saw in the Couric and Gibson interviews is all there is to Sarah Palin is to believe that either the people of Alaska or Sarah Palin are nitwits. And that's not the case. The problem with the Republican candidate for vice president, who likely acquits herself on local and state issues perfectly well, is that she is someone with no interest, knowledge or experience with national or international issues and her handlers are trying to stuff her full of talking points and factoids to disguise that fact. Last night, Sarah Palin appeared well media trained, but still unable to discuss the details behind the talking points.

Palin also appeared too cutesy by half. If you watched any of her Alaskan debates online, where she appeared sober and adult, then last night's winking and "gosh darn it, Joe" was revealed for what it was--an attempt to win on moxie and charm, not substance. The superficiality of this act was never more clear than when Joe Biden choked up when referencing the accident that claimed his first wife and one child. It was a wrenching moment that left a lump in my throat. But Palin's response was a chipper canned talking point about the McCain/Palin ticket's maverickiness. Media training shouldn't override natural instincts or voice. In that moment of the debate, talking points obscured Palin's humanity and that's not good.

Whose fault is it?

Sarah Palin's public performances say less about her than they do about John McCain, who at a time of several national crises chose a running mate who has to cram for the role vice president like a college sophomore. It was the most cynical of moves: using a Republican woman (and not one of the many qualified ones) to attract disaffected Democratic women, who McCain reckons won't notice his running mate's beliefs, policies and lack of national and international knowledge, if she is folksy, charming and drives her kids to hockey practice just like them. McCain would put a vice president who is out of her depth a hair's breadth from the presidency to win. Country first? Looks more like "me first."

Just like I thought.

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