Gosh Darn It, Palin Didn't Self-Destruct

11/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Gosh darn it, I was hoping to see Sarah Palin's hair catch on fire during the vice-presidential debate. Or failing that, I wanted to have one of those patented Palin-stare-blankly-into-the-camera moments in response to a thorny question and watch her freeze like some unlucky moose caught all alone on an Alaskan highway with a logging truck barreling towards it. She disappointed me and many Americans for not flubbing. She excelled as only she could, giddily playing to the masses as Little Miss Republican Sunshine.

Huffpost readers, I watched Dan Quayle in the 1988 VP debates, and Sarah Palin is no Dan Quayle. But what is that really saying? And I am grading on an easy curve. She passed this critical exam with energy and enthusiasm to spare, gosh darn it. Though I wanted moderator Gwen Ifil to ask her how to spell "potato." Or name three former Soviet Republics.

Palin is to "Wheel of Fortune" what Biden is to "Jeopardy." Luckily, she never landed on Lose A Turn, but still--- while listening to her prattle on about reform and getting government off the backs of the people, etc, etc., it was a brain-numbing and exasperating experience. Around and around, her Hamster-wheel arguments would travel, before slowly clicking into a predictable slot: Barack Obama will raise your taxes and John McCain is a maverick. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum.

Palin's strategy in St. Louis was simple and obvious: 1.) seldom directly answer a question so as to hammer home another GOP talking point; 2.) attack both Barack Obama and when appropriate, slip a shiv into George W. Bush; 3.) play up her Alaskan Middle Class Mommy Qualities; and 4.) repeat as many partisan cliches as possible.

Who knows how Middle America will react to Palin. She was as inoffensive as "Everybody Loves Raymond" which was the lamest, unfunniest top-rated show in television history. Because she didn't screw up, conservative pundits and a generous portion of the red-state public will want to anoint her the winner even though Biden was much more direct and formidable, and by all reasonable accounts, the better debater of the two. Whereas he used facts and logic to support his arguments, Palin tried to coast by on rote recitation, repetition, and gosh darn-it folksiness.

Biden clearly won the debate, but does this make him, and ultimately Obama, the overall winner? What matters is this: Who persuaded more fence-sitting voters by the evening's end, and who will benefit after two or three days of feverish media spin by both camps

They say the average U.S. newspaper is written for a seventh grader, Palin lowered the bar two more grades on Thursday. Maybe she's just a tad Smarter than a fifth grader, if you want to get all Reality Show about it. Yet she showed Katie Couric and all those elitist East Coast media smarty pants a thing or two by getting through the debate intact.

But what pains me to no end is that after eight years of a president pretty much unable to articulate a complex sentence without notes or teleprompter, the Republican VP nominee is another casualty of speaking coherent thoughts. Whereas Bush is verbally blocked and constipated, she is a flowing, logorrheic stream of banal utterances and cringe-worthy inanities. She can talk endlessly without really saying anything of lasting import. As one critic observed, she speaks in "glittering generalities." Well, all that is glitters is not gold. The crown she once wore as a beauty queen was made with fake jewels. And the crown she wears as McCain's running mate also has a shiny but superficial provenance.