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The Incredible Lightness of Being Sarah Palin

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Well, isn't Gov. Palin the gift that keeps on giving?

Just when the pack was sure that John McCain chose her to reach out to disaffected Democratic women and lure Hillary Clinton supporters to the GOP, Palin roared onto the national stage Wednesday with Barack Obama so squarely in her sights that she may have solidified the Democratic base as much as she did her own.

Palin convinced me I was wrong last week when I told Sam Donaldson on ABC NOW that the high-water mark for television coverage this campaign would be the near back-to-back convention speeches by the presidential nominees and the opportunity that gave reporters for direct comparison.

Now, because neither Obama nor McCain seems to thrive in the debate milieu, I'm convinced the big show this fall - at least for political junkies like me - could well be the vice presidential debate between Palin and Sen. Joe Biden four weeks from today at Washington University in St. Louis.

Democrats I spoke to this week were gleeful over Palin's thrashing in the national media, but they also worried it might be a challenge for the verbose and animated Biden not to overplay his hand as Rep. Rick Lazio did against Clinton in the 2000 New York senate debate.

Palin thrashed back on Wednesday, and now that we've seen her political chops we know she'll face a similar challenge not to be too directly engaged with Biden. It should make great TV.

Let's be honest, here. This race is close. The debate, possibly the campaign, could swing on Biden's ability to finesse his political strength - his incomparable foreign policy expertise - without yielding the gravitas Obama counts on him to provide for the ticket.

I expect the lesser-experienced, equally energetic Palin will come to her debate touting the familiar low-expectations game. She'll bait Biden and hope he responds in a manner too hot for the universal cool medium (television).

In terms of what this campaign will do for or to her career long-term, Palin showed Wednesday that she is either pathologically fearless or pitifully naive.

Nobody with the slightest clue as to how government works buys this phony spin about Palin having more "executive experience" that the Democratic ticket (partly because the same logic also gives her more "executive experience" than McCain).

It's ludicrous to believe this woman is ready to step in as leader of the free world in this era of international terrorism and economic globalization, if God forbid McCain were elected and somehow couldn't serve his term.

There are high schools in Florida where the student body president has roughly the same number of constituents Palin had as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. As governor, she oversees a budget that addresses the needs of a population the size of Ft. Worth, Texas.

Karl Rove, in a rare moment of candor, told The Washington Post last week that Palin was "not a governing decision but a campaign decision."

Tom Edsall later wrote:

"McCain and his supporters made the surprise choice of Palin after examining their prospects in all the battleground states and concluding that they face strong odds of losing unless radical steps are taken to shift the political momentum... they knew that she would provoke the kind of controversy that can be a 'game-changer.'"

Palin left no doubt in her speech Wednesday about her role in this campaign: She is eager to be a Pitbull in lipstick, a twenty-first century incarnation of previous GOP attack-veeps Spiro Agnew, Bob Dole and Dan Quayle.

But as Presidents Agnew, Dole and Quayle learned the hard way, it may feel good to be placed on the ticket and assigned to fire-up the wing nuts, but it also can take a rookie on a one-way journey across a political bridge to nowhere.

Palin used her national debut to take a clear and unnecessary shot at Michelle Obama by referring to people she (Palin) knew as a child who were "always proud of America," and to ridicule Barack Obama's history of community organizing as an experience that lacked "actual responsibilities."

She tied herself disingenuously to Biden's birthplace of Scranton, Penn., to resurrect a gaffe Obama made during the primary when he described residents from that area as bitter and clinging to God and guns.

And she completed the Tory trifecta by thumbing her nose at a favorite conservative boogey man - "all those reporters and commentators" - who the McCain campaign has thrown under The Straight Talk Express.

It was red meat for the right wing, and they devoured it like the starving political step-children they were until McCain added her to the ticket.

Ironically, as a citizen and voter, it's not the welfare of Obama and Biden that concerns me. It's the corner legitimate reporters covering this campaign are allowing themselves to be painted into with the framing Steve Schmidt has constructed around reporting on both McCain and Palin. It's as if he's decided to Swift Boat the press - an old Rovian tradition.

I've been on the receiving end of that as a reporter at the Texas Capital, so let me tell you how it works.

The Rove candidate is behind or facing a stinging scandal. News stories are not going his way. All of a sudden a new factor - something completely from nowhere - lands right in the middle of the discussion.

Chaos follows. The lines of what is and isn't legitimate news are blurred, and reporters who do not shift gears and give Rove and his communications staff equal footing in the new story - which the Rove camp abuses by using that new access to level outrageous, unfounded accusations - are browbeaten and publicly branded as biased and unfair.

Rove wins, and post mortems are filled with campaign officials wringing their hands and reporters second-guessing decisions they made in the heat of the campaign.

Well, the 2008 campaign officially heated up last night. In case you haven't heard, the election is about eight weeks away.

Rove wrote a strategy memo in 1986, the year many suspect he bugged his own office then threw the story of an FBI investigation into it to reporters on the eve of a gubernatorial debate his client wasn't expected to win. In that memo, he quoted Napoleon, saying, "The whole art of war consists in a well-reasoned and extremely circumspect defensive, followed by rapid and audacious attack."

In recent weeks, we've seen a Republican machine that answers tough questions about McCain's presidential campaign with indignant retorts based on the fact that he was a prisoner of war 40 years ago, and tough questions about Sarah Palin's "executive experience" in Alaska with charges that other faceless reporters have asked ridiculous sexist questions therefore she is off limits.

With that well-reasoned and circumspect defense, I'm expecting the Pitbull in Lipstick to throw as much mud as possible. She'll do it with impunity, then in the tradition of Agnew, Dole and Quayle yell "double standard" and "bias reporting" when she is called on it.

I'm also hoping that this time the national media won't be Swift Boated.