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Friday, October 3, 2008

Palin Performance Shows What You Can Get Away With

Joe Klein encapsulates a couple of my primary impressions from last night's Palin/Biden debate:

Sarah Palin's high-energy performance in the vice-presidential debate was the most glaring demonstration—since George W. Bush's performances in 2000—of how little you can get away with knowing and still survive one of these things, especially if the rules limit the cross-examination as severely as they did in this debate. Her relentless opacity was impressive. She refused to answer the questions where she hadn't been prepped with answers and when Biden pointed out that an early question had been on deregulation not taxes, she flashed: "I may not answer the questions the way you and the moderator want to hear, but I'm gonna talk straight to the American people."

Talk straight she didn't, with only a few exceptions. She talked talking points. And when the talking points concerned areas where she didn't know diddly, she didn't talk them very convincingly. Indeed, there were times I got the distinct impression that she didn't understand the points she was talking about (on the vice president's constitutional powers, for example).

The fact that Palin made it through the debate without running off the stage shouting, "I can't do this!" should not obscure the fact that there was only one person tonight whom anyone with any sense—even John McCain, I imagine—would trust as President. Biden's performance was strong and, happily, gimmick free. He used no gotcha soundbites, no consultant-driven silliness—a fact driven home by the lameness of Palin's snark lines like, "Say it ain't so, Joe" and—pace, Gipper—"There you go again, talking about the past"...

What [Palin showed] was some folksy charm and some energy—qualities that might get her selected for Dancing With the Stars, if not Jeopardy. But that's not enough to change the trajectory of this race, especially since nothing that was said in this debate will be remembered, or remarked upon, a week from now.