There have, of course, been many assessments, pro and con, of Palin's performance since Thursday's VP debate. She seems to have benefited from the low expectations created by her interviews with Katie Couric, but having seen clips of her previous debates, I was sure she would do well.
From the standpoint of women's issues, this is the most incisive - and sobering - assessment so far.Talking in Points
The Republicans were euphoric over Sarah Palin’s debate performance, particularly the part in which she stood tall and refrained from falling off the stage. “There are conservatives and Republicans across America who are ... breathing a sigh of relief,” said Pat Buchanan on MSNBC, adding that “of the four debaters we’ve seen, she was the most interesting, attractive of them all.”
Palin did indeed answer each question with poise and self-confidence, reeling off a bunch of talking points that were sometimes totally unrelated to the matter at hand. When she was asked to respond to Joe Biden’s critique of the McCain health care plan, she announced: “I would like to respond about the tax increases,” cheerfully ignoring the fact that tax increases had never been mentioned.
After the recent Katie Couric unpleasantness, Palin told the viewers that this time they were getting a chance to hear her “answer these tough questions without the filter.” And, indeed, her answers were murky in the extreme. She railed repeatedly about government regulations getting in the way of the private sector, then announced that the financial rescue plan “has got to include that massive oversight that Americans are expecting and deserving.” She said that she didn’t want to discuss what caused global warming, only how to ease its impact.
She appeared to agree with Dick Cheney’s manic theory that the vice president is a member of both the executive and legislative branches, although it’s hard to tell since she began her answer this way: “Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position.”
When the moderator, Gwen Ifill, asked under what circumstances the candidates would consider bringing America’s nuclear weapons into play, Palin said: “Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.”
It’s hard to remember that a month ago, very few people had ever heard of Sarah Palin. McCain sprung his vice-presidential selection on us at the last minute, possibly under the impression that the country felt things had gotten too boring lately, and would appreciate the excitement of having a minimally experienced political unknown serving as backup to a 72-year-old cancer survivor.
Since then, she has spent most of her time going from one Republican rally to the next, repeating chunks of her convention speech, which have grown more disjointed with every stop. (In an airplane hangar in Ohio recently, she told the people of Youngstown she was happy to be there because Alaska has, per capita, the nation’s most “small planes and small pilots.”)
For reporters hoping to question her, she has been determinedly unfindable, a Judge Crater from Juneau. And after the Couric debacle, you can bet your boots that the campaign is going to take Palin’s debate performance, declare victory and wrap her up until after the election.
This is all a terrible shame. For us, mainly. But also for Palin, whose intelligence and toughness may wind up buried under the legend of her verb-deprived ramblings.
Palin is, in many ways, a genuine heir to the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, which tried to make sure that future generations of American women would grow up feeling they had every right to compete with men for all the best rewards and adventures the world had to offer. She never seems to have had a single doubt that she could accomplish whatever she set her mind to. When she got involved in politics, she used the time-honored male route of cultivating powerful mentors, then pushing them out of the way at the first possible opportunity. When she was governor, she did what very few female politicians do, and ignored all the subsidiary issues in order to put all her bets on one big policy payoff in the form of a new state energy policy.
Then, somehow, she concluded that her success in clawing her way to the top of Alaska’s modest political heap meant she was capable of running the United States.
This entire election season has been a long-running saga about the rise of women in American politics. On Thursday, it all went sour. The people boosting Palin’s triumph were not celebrating because she demonstrated that she is qualified to be president if something ever happened to John McCain. They were cheering her success in covering up her lack of knowledge about the things she would have to deal with if she wound up running the country.