Friday, October 03, 2008

Did You Berate or Relate to the Debate?

Doggone it folks, I've been itchin' to talk about the debate since it wrapped up last night! In the face of such low expectations, it's not surprising that Sarah Palin did better than expected. I don't think either candidate did extremely well or very badly, but here are my initial impressions of both.

Sarah Palin is "g" averse to a fault. She's talkin' to folks, workin' with McCain, listenin' to ideas. If this accent was consistent, it would be more believable, but at the moments when she has little of substance to say, she falls back into this speaking style, apparently to connect to those folks at home who have no clue that the need for foreign policy extends beyond the war in Eye-raq. Her folksy speaking style does nothing for me, but sadly there are probably many Americans that it really resonates with.

I was also struck by her scripted answers, particularly when questioned about foreign policy. She had a two-minute sound bite to deliver and gave the impression that beyond what was on those cue cards she had nothing else to add. When asked a question she was not prepared to answer, the cue cards were her life line. She simply looked down and delivered another one of her party's talking points with her point blank gaze drilling into the camera.

By repeatedly using the phrase "up there is Alaska" Palin gives the impression that her home state is a foreign country. To those of us who feel that being the governor of this remote state with its sparse population leaves her woefully underqualified to step into John McCain' shoes, this does little to alley our concerns. She tries, but fails to portray Wasilla as a town just like yours and mine. I'm here to tell you Sarah, gee whiz, Wasilla Alaska ain't no Silicon Valley.

She winked. Not once but twice. To convince me that she has moved beyond her beauty queen past and is ready to interact with foreign heads of state, she needs to leave that schtick behind. She is an attractive woman whose manner of dress, makeup, and behavior will always be scrutinized more closely than that of her male counterparts (although hopefully McCain doesn't wear makeup.... at least publicly). In order to be taken seriously as a politician she's going to have to behave like a serious political figure. Have you ever seen Condaleezza Rice, Hilary Clinton, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg resort to winking? With that said, her experience as a television anchor served her well. Her eye contact with the camera certainly gave the impression that she cared about her audience.

I know her mannerisms help "Joe Sixpack" and his wife "Wendy Wal-mart" relate to her, want to have a beer with her, and feel like she's just one of us. But this country is going through one of the worst economic crises in its history. We are involved in two wars, and our nation's approval rating around the world is heading south almost as quickly as George W. Bush's. I don't want "one of us" as our Commander in Chief or even as our VP. What I want is someone who doesn't require cue cards to talk about foreign policy.

Palin took Joe Biden to task on several occasions for looking backwards and dwelling on the mistakes of the Bush administration. She and McCain paint themselves as mavericks who will shake things up with their fresh focus and new ideas. Perhaps it is time to recall the words of George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

In conclusion, Sarah Palin didn't do or say anything that was truly horrible or frightening during the debate as many of us who support the Obama/Biden ticket hoped she would in our secret heart-of-hearts. That in itself was scary though because it means that her handlers have coached her well enough that her bald ignorance and wrong-headed policies have just gone into hiding until after the election.

Now for Joe Biden. He came across as warm and friendly towards Sarah Palin which was key. If he had appeared hostile, he would have been criticized in the same manner in which McCain was, following the first presidential debates, for sounding "angry". When Biden spoke about foreign policy he sounded knowledgeable. One got the impression that he had a great deal more to say on the subject but was constrained by his two-minute response time limit. He made some small gaffs during the debate, including almost referring to his running mate as McCain, and occasionally resorting to wagging his finger at the camera. I noticed that he and Palin had both been coached in the fine art of the Bill Clinton bent finger wag,but that Biden slipped up and forgot to reel in that digit in a couple of times. I am unabashedly biased, and am struggling for objective criticisms of Biden's performance, so I'm just going to give up now. One positive thing I will say about Sarah Palin is that she has brought politics back into fashion. She's got people talking and feeling they need to get involved and be informed. If she can do that for this country, then she's not all bad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't have said it better myself.David Brooks in the NY Times this morning used the word "polished" in connection with Palin's performance. Not!!