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October 6, 2008
Post-Debate Palin: The
Same Disaster She Was Before
The standard joke, going into Thursday’s vice presidential debate, was
that as long as Sarah Palin didn’t fall down on stage or cry, she would
beat expectations and therefore win.
Palin didn’t cry, she didn’t fall down, and her performance in St. Louis
was a marked improvement over her catastrophic, cringe-inducing
performances in interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric. So by
those standards, she had a successful night. But by any other objective
standard she lost. She embarrassed herself again, just in a different
Accordingly, Palin’s debate performance amounted to a succession of
canned mini-speeches, often awkwardly delivered. The candidate was very
clearly studying her notes for much the debate as if reading off cue
cards, often stalling for a couple of seconds at the start of her answer
while attempting to find the right notes.
This Palin performance improved on the abominable interviews mostly
because moderator Gwen Ifill asked very few followup questions of either
candidate. And Palin, especially toward the beginning, gave, shall we
say, creative answers, such as when she was asked a question about
mortgages and gave an answer about energy, or when she said, “I’m still
on the tax thing” to a question that had nothing to do with taxes. (In
fact, talking about taxes in lieu of everything else is a sort of
microcosm of the past 30 years of GOP strategy.)
After all, in presidential debates, it’s not like candidates are ever
required to actually answer questions, or even give answers that have
anything whatsoever to do with the questions. In this case, it was
really barely a debate at all, as the candidates had very little direct
interaction with one another – not to mention that while Palin was
debating Joe Biden, Biden was, almost exclusively, debating John McCain
(and George W. Bush).
Biden’s performance started off sluggish but improved as the night wore
on. He was long-winded at times, as is his wont, but he got into a
couple of strong rhetorical flourishes, especially one about Iraq and
another about the struggles of middle-class families, during which he
appeared nearly on the verge of tears while discussing his late wife and
daughter. Biden also avoided any major factual and verbal gaffes, and
didn’t commit any Rick Lazio-type debating-a-woman blunders either.
Still, the story of the debate was a series of howlers from Palin.
Overall, her answers were full of run-on sentences and, once again, more
resembled speech segments than debate answers.
Palin, somewhat ludicrously, called for the constitutional role of the
vice presidency to be enlarged, which post-Dick Cheney would be
both ridiculous and probably impossible. She simultaneously called for
more freedom from the government but against deregulation. She gave an
answer on nuclear energy that was nonsensical to say the least, and
assumed, “I’ve only been at this for five weeks” was an argument for
her candidacy, as opposed to against it.
Most embarrassing of all was Palin’s closing statement, in which –
channeling Bush – she talked about how great it is to “answer questions
without the filter of the mainstream media, without people telling what
they just heard.” This during a debate broadcast nationally through . .
. the mainstream media, which was followed by hours of analysis over
what we just heard. Then she closed by implying that unless we vote for
the McCain-Palin ticket, America will no longer be free.
Sarah Palin proved nothing in this debate other than that she’s better
at reciting talking-point-filled mini-speeches than she is at answering
questions extemporaneously. She may not have fallen on her face, but she
is absolutely no less of a disaster as a candidate after the debate than
she was before.
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