Joe Biden isn’t the most polished debater, but Jesus Jumping Christ on a pogo stick, Sarah Palin is the most cliche-ridden, corn-pone-spouting character on TV since the cancellation of The Beverly Hillbillies.
I don’t know where to start. Gov. Palin was nothing but a fount of soundbites, and if that was the goal of the McCain campaign — to talk over the questions that Gwen Ifill put up and let her come across like a finalist in a beauty pageant — than she was wildly successful, if not grating. Facts, truth, and reality be damned; she spouted lies about the Obama tax plan, distortions about his health plan, she doesn’t know the name of the general leading the troops in Afghanistan (McClellan was the general in the Civil War; the one in Afghanistan is McKiernan), she pulled neo-con talking points out of the air (move the capital of Israel to Jerusalem?), and she coated it with enough high-fructose corn syrup to give everybody an insulin shock.
It started out shaky for Mr. Biden, and at times he seemed flustered and unfocused. His answers about Iraq and taxes sounded too inside baseball. But at about the 45 minute mark, he got his footing and he started to really sell his points, and he began to turn the table on her. He sounded like he was speaking from his experience and knowledge rather than rote memorization.
At the same time, Ms. Palin’s folk festival began to sound hollow, then creepy; did she actually wink at the camera? She made a point of not answering questions put to her. I guess this is part of being mavericky, but it came across as petulant and childish, and it conveyed a sense of her not being able to answer a question that was actually put to her… or answering questions that were not asked. I don’t know if that was the game plan of the McCain campaign, but if it was, they were counting on the audience to fall for rhetoric and bullshit rather than substance, which she can’t offer. And as much as she complained about Joe Biden “looking back,” there was nothing that she said that was substantially different than the last eight years, right down to the corny cliches and droppin’ those ends of the words like Mr. Bush… and saying “nucular.” That’s a reason right there to vote against her, not to mention her wholesale endorsement of Dick Cheney’s attempt to take over the government.
I don’t think this changed the race. It may stop the slide of the McCain poll numbers for a little bit, but in the end people are going to look at this and realize that she’s not ready for prime time, and it may have turned off independents and moderates who were looking for some substance. To quote Joe Biden, if it was there, I didn’t hear it.
Further thoughts: A lot of the talking heads are saying that Sarah Palin “met expectations” in the debate. Well, I should hope so; the McCain campaign did everything they could to tilt the playing field in her favor, from insisting on changing the rules of the debate format to working the ref by trying to intimidate moderator Gwen Ifill. So with all the gimmes, all Ms. Palin had to do was come out on stage, not trip over the rug, and not lose her note cards to “meet expectations.”
If I hear the term “game changer” again, I’m going to throw something.