The debate last night was as predictably useless as every other.
Sarah Palin performed nearly exactly as I was expecting: she was charming, personable, friendly, vague and well-spoken (relative to recent performances), and she of course dodged nearly every difficult question. Joe Biden was surprisingly direct, clear, composed, succinct and charming—and definitively emerged as the candidate who knows what the hell he’s talking about. Sarah Palin didn’t melt down into a sobbing ball or talk about Putin rearing his head over Alaska, which is of course what we all wanted to see, but certainly not what we should’ve expected. In fact, that she was able to keep it together so well was as predictable as the you betcha’s she tossed in for good measure. Here’s why:
We all heard warnings that Palin is a good debater. But that isn’t true—she’s not a good debater at all. She is, however, an excellent deliverer of unchallenged stump speeches (when she’s lucky enough to remember which one to cue) that make her sound like a somewhat well-spoken human being. Problem is—what we saw last night was not a debate. It was no more than a glorified press conference.
Palin said it herself: “I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.” For now, let’s set aside the issue that “talk straight” implies a linear, logical, rational and fact-based thought process that Palin has yet to demonstrate. Let’s focus on the other problematic part of that statement: that a debate, by definition, is a method of discourse through which both sides of an argument are examined. But a one-sided, I-choose-the-questions-I-want-to-answer mini-speech? That feels more like something that belongs in the White House rose garden than a debate hall.
Of course, everyone knows the cows will come home to milk themselves (and bottle it) before you hear a politician employing legitimate straight talk. Politicians dodge questions all the time. Usually, though, they provide at least a modicum of answer to the question on hand. Especially at a debate, where choosing to avoid a question constitutes—or at least should constitute—a lost argument.
Part of the fault lies on Gwen Ifill, who might as well have been a teleprompter automatically tossing out questions. A moderator’s job is to push the conversation along, encourage an effective dialogue and keep the candidates in check. If one candidate basically says, “Sorry, I will not adhere to the rules of this debate. Instead, I will talk about the topics of my choosing,” the moderator should step in and say, “That’s nice, but you need to at least attempt to answer this question. Otherwise, we would’ve simply re-broadcasted your RNC speech.”
Biden is also partially to blame for not challenging Palin to engage more thoroughly, although his hands were admittedly tied. God forbid he do something sexist or patronizing like, you know, argue with a woman (gasp!). He sure did his darndest to be nice to the Governor, and perhaps erred a bit too much on the side of ignoring the absurdity of what she was saying.
More at fault, of course, is the McCain-Palin machine that built the convoluted, illogical factory that spouts out crap about how attacks on Palin’s experience and qualifications amount to sexist bigotry. Such a claim is sexist in and of itself, and unfair and highly degrading to women everywhere who have fought long and hard for equal treatment.
We know that Palin is a good public speaker when she’s comfortable and holding the reins—when she’s able to spew rehearsed high-level overviews of issues and talk passionately about them. Her RNC speech and the bits and pieces we heard last night all point to her ability to speak to her audience and engage them. She flounders, though, when she’s challenged to think on the fly (or, rather, simply think) about specifics and details—hence the Katie Couric debacle.
So if our country held real debates, in which candidates truly took each other to task by using rational arguments to prove the other side wrong, Sarah Palin would’ve found herself treading Arctic waters and grabbing for a disappearing iceberg. But between Ifill’s silence, Biden’s fear of coming across as patronizing and the load-of-crap “you’re being sexist” life preserver, Palin was all but guaranteed total control of that psuedo-debate.
Call it a free ride on an Alaskan cruise ship.
Aden Nak put it best:
And finally—did anyone else notice that Palin may actually not know the definition of the phrase “Achilles’ heel”? Observe this bit of transcript:
IFILL: Let’s talk conventional wisdom for a moment. The conventional wisdom, Governor Palin with you, is that your Achilles heel is that you lack experience. Your conventional wisdom against you is that your Achilles heel is that you lack discipline, Senator Biden. What is it really for you, Governor Palin? What is it really for you, Senator Biden? Start with you, governor.
PALIN: My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence and that’s extremely important.
I’d post the rest of her answer here, but it’s rambling and nonsensical and equally as stuffed with fluff, and you can read it for yourself if you choose. The point is this: not only did she not bother to address the question, her bizarre response gives me little faith that she even understood the question to begin with. This wasn’t a matter of the Republican “no, I will never admit a flaw” mantra. This was just pure bullshit.
MDIC: Palin, is the sky blue?
PALIN: My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor. [wink]
POST-DEBATE COMMENTATOR: Palin really nabbed that blue sky response! She winked at the camera, clearly demonstrating her ability to connect with the American people.
Ours, truly, is a pathetic country.
Yours until the cows also start skimming off the fat,
My Dog is Chelsea