It would be disingenuous of me if I said I wasn't hoping for an utter train wreck Thursday night, and something in me felt that that train wreck might happen. Something else told me it wasn't going to happen. One of those two somethings had to be right, so here we are.
Sarah Palin is painful to watch, particularly in light of the fact that she's so adept at saying nothing, and saying it very well. As John Binkley, one of her 2006 primary opponents in the Alaska gubernatorial race, said, "She's the master of the non-answer." Watching those debates (they can be found on YouTube) bears that out. Granted, since those debates were about Alaska issues, Palin was more familiar with what she needed to talk about and knew how to talk about it, but the fact remains that she really knows how to gloss over a subject that she either doesn't want to answer or one that she flatly knows nothing about.
Thursday night, Sarah Palin said a whole lot of nothing. The commentariat has expressed dismay and alarm over the things she said: wanting to expand the powers of the vice presidency, her reluctance to assign human activity to global warming, her desire to build an American embassy to Israel in Jerusalem(!!!), etc.—all this done in shocked tones, as if they really believed she was speaking as someone who had genuinely reflected on these issues. I'm sure none of them believed she actually has reflected on much of anything, of course, but the fact is that if she's to be vice president, we need something to base our opinions of her on, so we might as well take what comes from the horse's mouth. Or the pig's. But she said nothing, and she said it just like that nice lady up the street who's glad to come feed your cat and collect your mail while you're away on vacation.
This worried me at first, but I've calmed down. The way I look at it, Sarah Palin could have completely blown a hole in the bottom of the McCain campaign if she'd crashed and burned. She didn't crash and burn, though; she performed... adequately. Some conservative commentators have claimed that Palin knocked the ball out of the park, but that's a bridge too far. The bottom line is: no one thought that Sarah Palin really had a very good idea what she was doing when this debate started. Though she didn't come off as entirely incompetent, Sarah Palin really didn't convince anyone who didn't already think so that she knows what she's doing. She didn't hurt, but she didn't help.
With 29 days to go before the election, quite a lot is going to capture our attention. The economy will continue to crash. The campaign will continue to roll on, with two more presidential debates to go. And Sarah Palin will continue to stump for John McCain throughout the South and in other places where they need to gin up support from religious right conservatives (like southern Ohio, Missouri, southern Colorado and northern Nevada.) But come, say, October 10, we probably won't remember this debate. The only way it would have been memorable would have been if Sarah Palin had really dazzled us or if Joe Biden had somehow bombed terribly. Since neither happened, this one, for all its anticipation, is going to fade.
The polls are bearing this out, with CBS reporting that 46% thought Biden won, 21% thought Palin won, and 33% feeling it was a draw. In a way, it was a draw, but only because the bar had been set so low that Kate Moss herself would have had difficulty squeezing under it.
It's depressing that someone like Palin could be taken so seriously, but there's a bright side. The McCain campaign is pulling out of Michigan, which is worth 17 electoral votes and is a state that Obama more or less has to win. McCain is sending many of his Michigan staff to Indiana—a state that hasn't voted Democratic since 1964. (Michigan hasn't voted Republican since 1988.) This means that Obama has a signficant lead in every state that Kerry won in 2004. Obviously, that's not enough, but if Obama wins any two or three of the remaining states (or Ohio or Florida alone, or even Nevada plus the solitary electoral vote that Omaha, Nebraska offers,) he wins the election. It's an uphill struggle for McCain, and I'm sure he knows it. Watch for mud; it's going to start flying soon, doggone it, dontcha know.
Labels: debate, Joe Biden, Sarah Palin, vice president