Sarah Palin’s Alaskan spunk was back on show after a brief period of hibernation, and she demonstrated that the debate format is much to her liking. The 90-second intervals for speaking favored her succinct and often general manner of speaking. She also did not have to face a barrage of unexpected questions, which have made her look like a buffoon on two occasions now. Instead, Gwen Ifill offered up a number of very predictable questions and a couple of irrelevant softballs. It seemed that three uninterrupted days of pre-debate preparation meant that Palin was ready and rarin’ to bloviate about tax cuts and freedom. That being said, the governor certainly held her own.
In contrary to what most political pundits say, she won the debate insofar that she didn’t lose.
Palin’s singular goal on Thursday was to avoid making a mockery of herself, and she succeeded. Aside from using “nucular”—which prompted wise-cracks from liberals—she did not make any major gaffes or form incoherent sentences involving Putin’s head, floating, and American airspace. She did not respond to economics questions with a meaningless jumble of buzzwords like health care reform, tax reform, tax relief and tax cuts. She did, however, land a number of blows on spending and Iraq. She spoke with force and conviction about her values and her experience. So, her standing in the eyes of the media and the public should improve.
The question now is whether she did enough to reassure voters and reverse the wave of independents that increasingly believe that she is not prepared for the office of the presidency or vice-presidency for that matter.
She did enough to stop the bleeding, but unfortunately for Palin, Biden was fantastic. He chose to be aggressive, refusing to take the advice of perennially erroneous pundits. He showed his immense depth of knowledge on the issues while successfully avoiding comments that could later be labeled as condescending. He often wore a wide grin, showcasing his personable side.
Governor Palin showed some of that hockey mom tenacity but was often left grasping for arguments and finding only her cliché spiel on the Maverick Couple. Although she was quite successful in appearing competitive, she was, for the most part, not. Her three days of cramming prepared her adequately for initial questions but left her hopelessly vulnerable to follow-ups. Nevertheless, the debate showed that she is a quick-study, smarter than most liberals make her out to be.
Palin revealed a toxic cocktail of conservatism and populism, which, when coupled, makes zero sense. When discussing the economy, she had little to offer up but blaming greed and extolling personal responsibility, which she then repeatedly contradicted by refusing to accept the complicity of average Americans in the subprime loan crisis. She promised, “never again will we be exploited by those who are managing our money.” But greed and corruption were the real economic themes of the night for Governor Palin, who seems to think that “reform” will take care of all that Wall Street greed. Of course, Barack Obama and Biden are equally guilty of such diatribes. That is to be expected from Democrats, but less so from the party of free-market champion Ronald Reagan.
On that note, the Reagan count in this debate was three: Biden summoned Ronald’s name once to his advantage on tax policy, while Palin evoked him twice in irrelevant interludes on freedom.
Fortunately, the debate offered the two campaigns another opportunity to make some real distinctions in their respective positions on diplomacy. Unfortunately, both sides capitalized on the chance by further confusing the issue as they each cited Kissinger and exchanged synonymous vocabulary (“talks,” “engagement,” and “negotiate”).
Palin’s tactic in the round was consistent—evade debate. She did so with much success by often totally ignoring the question at hand and choosing instead to remind us of McCain’s history as a maverick.
Making her intentions clear, Palin declared to Biden that she might not answer questions but would instead “talk straight to the American people.” While that style might make for excellent stump speeches, it makes for an inane debate. By refusing to engage many questions, she repeatedly allowed for Biden to note her lack of response to a number of criticisms of McCain’s policy and voting record. She also displayed an absolute disdain for specificity, using her relatively short period of campaigning as a means of evading one of Ifill’s only tough questions on required cuts due to the financial crisis.
Governor Palin provided a number of one-word answers to enormously complex questions, choosing instead to go on more pre-scripted diatribes about drilling or reform. While she did manage occasionally to point to flaws or inconsistencies in Obama or Biden’s voting records, she mostly stuck to the usual script, employing vocabulary such as “maverick,” “drill,” and “freedom.” Biden at one point hammered back, giving a number of examples in which McCain’s maverick spirit failed him; and again, Palin’s lack of specificity failed her as Biden’s heap of examples towered over her own.
Despite Palin’s lack of complexity in her responses, there were a number of amusing exchanges. In one, Biden lectures the Governor on the responsibilities of the vice president as outlined by the constitution. In another, Palin corrects Biden’s misquote of her now infamous anthem of “drill, baby, drill.”
Palin ended the evening on an upbeat note, reminding us of her past bipartisanship and committing to similar action in the future. On the same note, she finished with a number of stretched truths about her opponents’ tax and energy policy.
A maverick, indeed.