Thursday, October 2, 2008

Affecting the Impacts

"I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts." - Gov. Sarah Palin during the October 2, 2008, vice presidential debate

You know, the sad thing is that a lot of people are going to make the case that Sarah Palin exceeded expectations and reassured the American people that she is a worthy candidate for vice president during tonight's debate. In truth, she cleared a bar set so low it was a chalk outline on the sidewalk.

The only way she could have failed to meet the ridiculously low expectations set for her in this debate would have been if she stood drooling by the podium saying "wow, thems a lot of cameras" before admitting that she thinks Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a hottie and that the McCain campaign is really just an extended version of "Weekend at Bernie's" with her new boss as the titular character.

On second thought, I would have been much more interested in watching THAT debate.

As it was, she was able to speak in moderately complete sentences that presented a series of programmed messages and damn it, she was going to get through them all, even if it meant ignoring the questions being asked of her. Well, not really ignoring so much as "knowing better what the American people really want to hear." That'll teach the elitist mainstream media!

Sadly, moderator Gwen Ifil came across as spineless and entirely lacking control over the procedings tonight, either as a result of the rules negotiated by the two camps or because she backed off in the face of of the ridiculous pre-debate "concerns" by the McCain camp that Ifil was biased (clearly a case of "working the ref"). It didn't help that the debate format let Palin get away with it. There was no pressure to actually answer what she was asked, few if any follow-ups, and no coming back to her after she finished spouting inanities or sweeping generalities to press her for specifics (where's Katie Couric when we need her!).

It made me long for the 2000 VP debate when it was Cheney, Leiberman, and their moderator sitting at a table having at it. (I'm talking about the debate format, not the actual meeting between the Crown Prince of Darkness and Droopy Dog...I think that might have been one of the signs that the End Times are coming but we'd need to ask Governor Palin for confirmation on that one).

However, the Dems didn't want that format this year because they didn't think their candidates had been able to go after Darth Vader effectively enough the last two times. Personally, I think that was the fault of the Dem's VP candidates in '00 and '04, not a flaw in the format. That table discussion debate style would have prevented the speechifying that we saw this evening (and yes, Biden did some of his own) and would have instead created more opportunities to press for details through a true conversation.

At least we weren't treated to another round of "Thanks but No Thanks" bridge building and "Buy My Jet on eBay" mythmaking. On the other hand, we did witness Governor Palin state her wish to have even more expansive powers as VP than Dick Cheney, a horrifying thought when you consider exactly how much damage Vlad the Impaler has wrought during the last 8 years while pulling W's strings in Washington.

Joe Biden, to give him his due, was very solid, especially once the tranquilizer wore off following the first 30 minutes. As expected, he had facts at his command. He avoided the verbal diarrhea that has always been a weakness of his. The Senator managed to slip a few traps that Palin sent his way ("so can I call you Joe?"; "the white flag of surrender") and took advantage of some clever openings (stressing the value and importance of an Obama presidency when asked what a Biden presidency would look like if her were to ascend to that post).

On the attack, he made strong statements denying McCain's claims to maverick status, effectively tied McCain to Bush, and sought to define how an Obama/Biden administration would differ from Bush (and McCain by association). In fact, if the camera didn't keep cutting away to her, you might have assumed he was debating McCain, not Palin. This was a solid if not flashy strategy. Ignore her, don't attack her, and focus on the real target - the top of the opposing ticket. In essence, exactly what a vice presidential candidate is supposed to do in this situation.

His most powerful moment came when he wrested away the "I know what it's like to be a regular person" mantle from Palin as he emotionally touched on his heartwrenching experience losing his wife, daughter, and praying for the lives of his sons shortly after winning election to the Senate. He choked up and while it was only a brief interruption, I'm willing to set aside my cynicism about politicians and believe that he wasn't, couldn't have been faking that. It was honest, it was heartfelt, and it disarmed Palin, who was left flat with a frozen smile and with her rote maverick line. As the dust settles over the next few days, I think we'll see that most viewers will agree that Senator Biden won this debate.

That won't stop the talking heads and pundits from crowing over Governor Palin's "performance". That's exactly what it was, of course, spearheaded by her "I may not answer the questions the way the moderator or you might like 'cuz I'm going to talk straight to the American people" strategy. No polished diction here because she's just a normal, regular working stiff from Alaska with message points that may or may not have any relevance, doncha know?

It didn't hurt her standing with conservatives that she channelled a bit of Ronald Reagan tonight...yes, she actually dusted off that 1980 crowd pleaser "there you go again"., wait, I think it was actually "There ya go agin." Ah, Reagan by way of Marge Gunderson.

In case you're interested, her actual quote was:

"Say it ain’t so, Joe! There you go pointing backwards again ... Now, doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?”

Time was running out on the debate and I think she'd forgotten to get her canned "Say it ain't so" and "There you go" into play so she mashed them together in this bunch of blather.

Throughout the rest of the debate, she dropped names of foreign leaders, avoided the deer in the headlights reactions seen in 2 out of 3 of her national interviews so far, and came out swinging. Once again though, she never went beyond platitudes and generalities, generic claims, and at times, some largely incoherent (see quote above) or totally off-topic statements. Basically, she was substance-free tonight and, if you really listened to what she said, illustrated again that she still knows little about foreign policy or the economic system that is failing so spectacularly.

I think that is what we have to expect from Governor Palin over the next five weeks. She can cram for the test, memorize the superficial facts, but when it comes down to it, she's a folksy pitchman for a campaign with no ideas. Nevertheless, she may have stopped the bleeding and there might be fewer conservatives calling for her to step down from the ticket. Please Lord, let her hang around so we can hear her gritting her teeth and congratulating Obama and Biden when they win this thing (oh please, oh please, oh please...I hope I didn't just jinx it).

And last but not least, what's with the winking? Did she think it made her look sassy? Was she trying to lock up the votes of the coveted post-adolescent "I want to have sex with a cougar" demographic? When she winked at the camera again and again, I felt...well...kinda dirty, like a good friend's mom just tried to hit on me. Ewwwww!

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