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Michael Russnow

Michael Russnow

Posted: October 3, 2008 04:51 AM

The McCain/Palin Debate Spin: We Won Because She Wasn't a Dithering Idiot


At the end of the veep debate, CNN showed a poll indicating 84% felt Sarah Palin did better than expectations. Had they polled me, I would have been one of them. After her interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric how could she have sunk lower?

So, she wasn't a total fool and managed to exude a certain charm during the first half-hour. However, with the exception of those wanting their leaders to be just like they are -- read that to mean uninformed -- Sarah Palin in her match-up with six-term Senator Joe Biden proved woefully inept.

After that first, "Aw shucks," "Let's hear it for real people," barrage augmented by a winning smile and a hushed voice that's meant to convey sincerity to the 25th power, it was clear that what I indicated in an earlier HuffPost piece about her has become patently clear. What Gertrude Stein said about her hometown Oakland could also be said of Sarah Palin. "There is no there, there." Sarah Palin is simply without substance.

She was hard pressed to answer questions directly, preferring to restate her old standbys about energy, her love of country and that she is a real person, the latter apparently because her career wasn't based in Washington.

She even tried to humanize her image, saying that despite her views against same sex marriage she didn't judge people and had a diverse group of friends. However, when moderator Gwen Ifill asked Palin if she was in agreement with Senator Biden, who'd said he was against all forms of discrimination against same sex couples but did not support gay marriage, Palin would only repeat what Biden said about gay marriage. Perhaps because she realized that her key supporters -- the evangelical right wing -- might already be choking on their fried chicken wings because of her attempt to say something pleasant about a group of people they consider an abomination.

For his part, Senator Biden started off a little slow -- I thought he had a cold. His voice wasn't as animated as hers and I worried her style might trump his substance. However, he quickly got his stride just as her folksy persona was wearing thin. It became so clear in the last two thirds of the debate that his facts and figures, delivered with gravitas but without condescension, were hitting their marks.

I understand why his coaching team told him to treat Palin with kid gloves, to not appear cocky and exemplify the image of a Washington insider. There was also concern that since he was a man and a lot older it might appear he was bullying a likable opponent, who, in spite of her inexperience, was clearly trying. But I sure would love to have seen Biden get a couple of personal zingers in -- just as he masterfully did about McCain on a number of occasions. Especially when Palin callously smirked that his call for an end to the Iraq war was akin to waving the white flag of surrender.

How dare this incompetent twerpette use such insulting language to the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who'd supported our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo and argued for an international force to possibly stop the genocide in Darfur? What does this woman know about anything when she can't even get the name of the commander in Afghanistan right, even as she kept injecting the difficult to pronounce name of the Iranian president, which she'd clearly rehearsed. Pity she didn't know, as Biden pointed out, that, despite the Iranian leader's caustic and reprehensible comments about Israel, he was not the head honcho in Iran -- that it is a theocracy led by an Ayatollah.

But back to the "wave the white flag" crap spewed by Palin, more incendiary buzzwords that have nothing to do with fact, as we were never in danger from Iraq under Saddam Hussein. It is an unfortunate, though sometimes successful, tactic displayed by the GOP right wing when they have a lot to defend. They deflect problems created under their watch with emotional garbage, not unlike George Bush I's acceptance speech when he led the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The GOP tries to make the case that they are the heroes, just as they besmirched a real Vietnam War hero, Senator John Kerry. This, even as he ran against a man who had it pretty easy as a stateside National Guard Member and a vice presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, who dodged the draft five times.

That's why I wished Joe Biden slammed her on that one, as if Democrats are cowards and the country needs to be rescued by the Republicans, a party which screwed up the past eight years on fronts domestic and foreign.

But it's probably best he didn't, because he kept his cool and had his best moment when he gently put the hockey mom down after one of her all too many "I'm just a mom sitting around a table with my family just like you" comments. He reminded people in a choked up, trembling voice that he'd raised two sons after the death of his wife and daughter and that fathers are no less capable of sitting around a table with their families, too. It was his finest moment, and I'll bet there were even some Republicans -- maybe not the most fanatical -- who had some tears in their eyes.

Okay, so Palin's not an idiot. How could she be, having become a governor, even of a tiny state? But did she match Biden or prove that she was qualified to be president? Not by a long shot.