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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 way.  


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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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