The vice-presidential debates proved one thing. At the very least, Sarah Palin can be trained.
For several days, she had camped out in one of John McCain’s Arizona houses, where she underwent Debate Boot camp conducted by drill instructors who make Marine DIs appear to be slaggers.
With a few “darns,” “betchas,” and “ya”s, Palin managed to get all her talking points into the debate, even if she constantly changed the question to suit her note cards.
During the 90-minute debate, Palin six times referred to her experience as the mayor of a 6,000 resident village. Seven times, she specifically mentioned Ahmadinejad. Iran’s president, proud she knew the name, proud that she could pronounce it. No one asked if she knew his first name or anything else about him. Shades of George W. Bush in his first term trying to prove he knew something about foreign affairs by enunciating the names of a few world leaders—after several gaffes early in the campaign. Of course, twice Palin was wrong about the name of the U.S. commander in Iraq. Several times she noted she and John McCain are mavericks. About the sixth time she mentioned it, Joe Biden finally unleashed his debating skills. John McCain is no maverick he said in measured response. The Republican nominee voted with President Bush four times to extend the budget deficit, said Biden, who also pointed out that McCain went along with Bush on numerous health care and education issues, most of which were regressive rather than progressive, was one of the strongest backers of going to war with Iraq, and opposed tax cuts.
Palin’s answers were mostly glittering generalities as she peppered numerous responses with cheerleader messages about America, and even tossed in Reagan’s “shining city” example, and punctuated another response to Biden with a Reaganesque, “Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again.” Her responses, after awhile, seemed to be more acceptable to a beauty contest than a vice-presidential debate.
Both Palin and Biden had a few factual errors, with Palin ahead in the count of misstatements, discrepancies, and outright lies, according to Factcheck.org, a non-partisan source at the University of Pennsylvania. Possibly Palin’s biggest problem, and something that should concern every voter, was that she bumbled on the constitutional definition of the role of the vice-president, something Biden quickly corrected.
Nevertheless, Palin came across as confident, charming, and folksy, even giving America three on-camera winks. She successfully muted her previous blunders in interviews with TV news anchors Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, where she claimed Alaska provides 20 percent of the nation’s energy (it’s only 3.5 percent), revealed the only Supreme Court case she knows is Roe v. Wade, that like President Bush she probably isn’t much of a reader, believes she knows foreign affairs because Russia is a few miles from Alaska, and disguised her lack of knowledge of vice-presidents by claiming George H. W. Bush was the vice-president she admired the most because he “kind of learned the ropes in his position as VP and then moving on up.” In that same interview, responding to a question about what was the worst quality of the current vice-president, Joe Biden said it was shredding the Constitution; Sarah Palin said it was “the duck hunting accident.”
In the debate, Biden threw specifics after specifics. Almost every major online newspaper poll gave Biden the win, especially among undecided voters, with several polls showing him scoring in the 70s and 80s. The CNN poll showed that about 51 percent thought Biden did a better job, while 36 percent supported Palin. At MSNBC, it was 78 percent for Biden. Even the conservative Wall Street Journal readers polled online gave Biden 52 percent. The ultra conservative Drudge report, however, gave Palin the lead at 68 percent.
But, this was also a win for Sarah Palin. Expectations for her were so low that if she didn’t shoot a moose during the debate, people would be thrilled. In theatre, actors learn that their first responsibility is to learn their lines and don’t fall over the scenery. In this debate, Sarah Palin knew her prepared lines, and the scenery still stood after 90 minutes.
[Dr. Walter M. Brasch is an award-winning social issues columnist, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is president of the Pennsylvania Press Club, and former president of the Keystone state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist. He is also the author of 17 books, including America’ s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Giovernment’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights (January 2005) and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. He frequently writes about the media, social and political issues. You may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com.]