You can put lipstick on a pit bull, but you can't make it hold an intelligent conversation. Sarah Palin, America's self-described "Number One Hockey Mom," is quickly finding out that reading a highly polished speech prepared by a professional speechwriter and voicing an intelligent opinion of your own are not necessarily the same thing.
Poised for her first major debate before a national audience that will determine whether or not she continues with her shot at the White House, Palin is weathering calls for her resignation from conservatives and party leaders who are having second thoughts about her. She has a tendency to make embarrassing and often naive statements. Every time she responds to reporters' questions "off-script," Republican leaders grit their teeth and wait for the train crash. Comedians furiously take notes.
Worries about her lack of qualifications are growing, with Republicans seriously mulling the possibility of pulling her off the ticket. Palin's popularity is sinking, with numbers that make George Bush popular by comparison. An AP-Gfk poll found that only 25 percent of likely voters believe she has the right experience to be president. That's down from the more than 40 percent who believed in her just after her convention speech.
Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is losing ground to Obama, and Palin is doing what no other politician has been able to do in the past twenty years - make Saturday Night Live relevant again. Tina Fey's dead-on impression of Palin is making national news and eating away at her credibility.
Biden her Time?
Today, however, on the day of the debate, political analysts are actually talking as if Palin might have a chance to survive. They point to her rival, Senator Joseph Biden, and his penchant for over-complicating his answers and putting his foot in his mouth. He might also become overly confident and simply laugh her off every time she gives a logic-challenged answer to a question. American voters grudgingly accept that smart people make better presidents, but they dislike it when those smart people flaunt it. To remain in voters' good grace, Biden must be confident, but humble, knowledgeable but reserved in challenging her answers. But analysts say that that might be asking too much of Biden, judging from his past speaking engagements.
In other words, political analysts have basically warned Biden that he must "fight" Palin with both hands tied behind his back, legs bound, and blind-folded. Otherwise, he might come off as too smart for his own good.
On the other hand, to "win" the debate, analysts say that expectations for Palin are now set so low - she only needs to show up and not make a fool of herself with simplistic, absurd or convoluted responses. She just needs to increase the wattage on that toothy smile and turn on the charm. For that reason, they advice McCain's camp to let her "be herself;" stop trying to cram hundreds of useless facts about foreign affairs and the economy into her exhausted little mind. Voters know she's not a Rhodes scholar, say political analysts. They want the girl next door. They're looking for her to zing Biden with some of that down-home, "hockey mom" sense of humor that puts uppity intellectuals like him squarely in their place. If she can do that, she's home free.
The sound you hear is the collective breath of horrified Democrats who fear she might actually pull it off.