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Sarah Palin's Speech: The Good, the Bad, and the Whoops

05/25/2011 12:45 pm ET

And so Sarah Palin has made her speech. And commentators were amazed she didn't collapse before their eyes. A crowd of 15,000 Republican partisans cheered wildly. The American public doesn't watch substance. So, therefore she hit a home run.

So, did she?

Perspective is important, because nothing exists in a vacuum. So, as I watched the speech, I tried watching it from three perspectives: Make no mistake. All three perspectives are very real. And more, all of them matter. Not just the razzle-dazzle.

For the first perspective, that was easy. Anybody can play to the house, and she did. It was big there. She did wonderfully. She got everyone dancing, because she blasted Barack Obama big time. It looked good and played great. It energized the Republicans, no doubt, and showed that this person everyone was saying was a nothing actually had some fire. To the house, she was absolutely wonderful. Beautifully done.

Let's now look at the second perspective: watching as undecided voters, people who are actually hurting and wondering which candidates will help them. I think Sarah Palin had some very nice moments criticizing Sen. Obama. She showed herself a feisty fighter. And it came across well. She presented a relatable side, someone who "gets" everyday folk. It was effective razzle-dazzle. Though much wasn't true ("Democrats will raise your taxes!!"), that's me knowing that. Some others won't, some will.

But watching as if undecided, I also kept thinking - a lot - "Okay, so, what are you going to do??" And I kept waiting for her to say something. And she never did. And as an undecided voter who's hurting, I started to get a bit annoyed. And I started to think, "George Bush was someone I might like to have a beer with, but he's who got me into this mess." I wanted someone to get me out. And on occasion I even gave myself credit to say, "Wait, I've watched some TV ads, and I saw Barack Obama's acceptance speech, too, and he didn't say that." So, on this second level, it played okay - pretty well in some parts, some good razzle dazzle for those who don't pay much attention, but for all those people hurting enough to care, it also had some huge, problematic, gaping holes.

Oh, and she put her children on the table, talking endlessly about her son going to Iraq. They're supposed to be off-limits.

But it's the third perspective that shocked me, and this is what most people have overlooked. And even though it affects only an audience of one, it creates significant problems. Because it swung the barn door wide open for Joe Biden. You must keep in mind that Joe Biden is a seriously smart man. Former chair of the Senate Justice Committee, and current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's one of the country's leading experts on world affairs - and during the Democratic debates, he gave lessons to all his highly-impressive opponents on the subject.

Watching the speech as if Sen. Biden, I could see his eyes gleaming every time Sarah Palin said we were "so close to victory in Iraq" and that Democrats want to "cave." In their debate, he will skewer her on this. Even the White House is now for setting time tables to withdraw. Iraq itself wants us out in 16 months - which John McCain has said we must do, because Iraq is a sovereign nation. When she blasted Mr. Obama about wanting to negotiate without preconditions - Joe Biden will detail not only American history in negotiating, but also note that the Bush Administration has now met with Iran without pre-conditions. Time and again, she opened the door even wider with ghastly foreign and domestic platitudes that will fall apart in the face of an expert responding. And Joe Biden will respond every time.

Yet none of this gets to the two most glaring gaps in her speech for a waiting Joe Biden. The first is what she wants to do about the issues that face America. The economy, housing, the environment, science, women's right to choose, stem cell research. Watching as Joe Biden, I couldn't wait to address these. Or her belief in teaching creationism. That Iraq is a mission from God. That global warming isn't man-made. She intentionally left all these out of her speech. Joe Biden won't.

The second glaring gap is her lack of experience. It can't be forgotten. Yes, she attacked Barack Obama - but she never explained herself. When your big accomplishment is selling a plane on eBay, your empty spaces are pot holes. What a mistake it was for her to belittle being a community organizer in the inner-city of Chicago. Really? It was Barack Obama's first job - right out of college. Incredibly impressive. Meanwhile, 20 months ago, she couldn't even be mayor of 5,500 people without the town bringing in an outside administrator to help her. Barack Obama's full career has been vetted by the American public and won 20 million votes. She has 114,000 in her home state. Before meeting face-to-face with Joe Biden, she had this one chance to build a defense why she was qualified to be a heart-beat from the presidency, even with zero experience in foreign affairs. She offered nothing in her speech. And let the door open.

But above all, there is one major issue that people are missing about this third perspective. And it's very real. And very serious. It may have been Sarah Palin's biggest mistake. If people are razzle-dazzled by the speech - then this speech raised the bar for her. She's no longer playing with low expectations, because she chose to slash and burn. Her one ace card was always the inability of Joe Biden to be hard on her. But that's gone, because she opened the door first, directly attacking her opponents on policy. This isn't isolated Alaska, where she's on safe, familiar ground. This is the full nation, the world, and everything is at stake. Her speechwriters went for razzle dazzle and ignored that, at her peril.

And lest you think this is a minor quibble - more people will likely watch Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debate than saw her speech.

So, finally, let's step back and look at Sarah Palin's speech in full. All those perspectives together. Not just "She beat expectations." Not just "People don't listen." Let's look at what her speech actually was.

Some of it was extremely good. She didn't show herself a disaster. She got some good, rousing responses. But her best parts -- her attacks -- left her glaringly open and without defense. Democrats couldn't seem "mean" before. Not any more, she attacked first. Foolish.

But mainly, this was just a speech. Written by others, that she practiced, practiced and practiced. The measure of her candidacy will be out on the campaign trail, facing the public and the press. And then facing Joe Biden..

In the end...she didn't say anything. She offered no proposals to get those hurting in America out of their problems. Name one. She offered no solutions for Iraq, Iran and North Korea. And with John McCain's serious health issues, that gaping hole of no answers and no experience will stretch wider, unaddressed.

And so this one speech is over. It likely went over well with many. Republican poll numbers likely will go up overnight. It happens at conventions. Yet recognize it in full: if this had been a keynote speech, it would have been ignored. There was nothing in it to suggest dazzling people for 19 months and winning your party's nomination for president. And now, Sarah Palin must enter that real world.

Sarah Palin's speech does not exist in a vacuum. It does not exist only in the Republican convention hall. It does not exist only in the eyes of those both smart and dull who'll see only razzle dazzle. It also exists in the eyes of those watching across America who are very hurt and want answers. And it exists in the eyes of the one man watching who will be debating her in front of a far larger audience.

The speech was good. And bad. The bad, though, is seriously problematic. And how her speechwriters opened the door to it was a big mistake.