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Thursday, October 2, 2008
My Debate Prep

For my debate prep, prior to tonight's vice presidential debate, that is, I watched several Sarah Palin interviews. I didn't watch Joe Biden at all. I've been watching him for years; he's a known quantity.

Making Sarah Palin look evil or corrupt wasn't working, so the Democrats, including the BMA, switched strategies. Now they're trying to make her look stupid. They have decades of practice under their collective belt. It worked on Dan Quayle, who really is -- and was then -- a fairly bright guy. They tried it on Ronald Reagan and on George W. Bush. They could try it with considerable effect on Senators Obama, Biden, and McCain, if they were of a mind to do so. The Constitution has an age test for presidential candidates, not an IQ test.

Tonight is the vice presidential debate between Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden. Since Biden is a familiar figure, for my debate prep I concentrated on Palin instead. I had previously seen her convention speech; this time I focused on interviews.

I watched her long interview with Sean Hannity, who is as friendly an interviewer as she will ever encounter. She did fairly well overall. She's shallow on the economy and the current crisis, but so is everyone else on the ballot. A couple of times she seemed to babble almost incoherently, but she's far from being a rambling gasbag of Joe Biden's stature, and she's a lot less condescending. ("Let Palin be Palin," they're saying, in a historical nod to Ronald Reagan, and it's probably a good idea. Above all, I think, don't let Palin be Biden!) All in all, it was a strong interview.

I've seen clips of the Charles Gibson interview, which was no more a condescending hatchet job than a conservative must expect. Palin didn't have a glib, concise explanation of the Bush Doctrine -- do you? -- and Professor Gibson all but clucked over that. People who study such things say there really are about four versions of the Bush Doctrine, as it has evolved over the past seven years. One is that preemptive war is justified when the possible effects of a first strike by an enemy are catastrophic. She probably should have asked him, "Which version of the Bush Doctrine do you have in mind? There have been several."

I watched as much as I could find easily on the Web of Palin's interview with Katie Couric. I think I missed one segment. Couric was a little snotty at times, but did display the desirable interviewer's trait of pressing for an answer to her question, when the interviewee, in this case Palin, hasn't given one. I didn't think Palin was brilliant in discussing the bailout and related topics, or foreign affairs for that matter, but I didn't see the disaster some of the talking heads seem to think they saw.

I did cringe at one point in the first segment. Couric asked for specific examples of Senator McCain's efforts to reform regulation of the money industry, other than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Palin didn't have any. She said, "I'll try to find some, and I'll bring 'em to you." Not great, but not a disaster.

Two other Sarah Palin interviews seem influential. The best part of Saturday Night Live has always been the opening skit. A few weeks ago, Tina Fey debuted as a Sarah Palin lookalike in a funny piece which also involved a faux Hillary Clinton. Last Saturday, it was Tina Fey again, ostensibly being interviewed by Katie Couric, and hamming it up as an absolute airhead. I thought this one was funny, too, but with more of a hostile edge. Maybe this is what folks thought they saw in the real Katie Couric interview; I don't know. In any case, what would be really funny is if Joe Biden has been preparing to debate Tina Fey's airheaded Sarah Palin ("I can see Russia from my house!") instead of the real one. I doubt that's the case, and it would be a truly boneheaded mistake, but it would be funny.

Remember that these interviews are heavily edited, and producers are known to cherry-pick segments to suit their own agendas. Tonight's debate won't be edited, so in that sense we'll get a purer look at both candidates, more or less unmediated by what for Palin are mostly very hostile media. (How can anyone from so far north and west of New York City not be a hick, after all? She must be exposed!)

Will Senator Biden be a pompous, condescending, inscrutable, unbearably verbose? Each is possible -- each is a staple of his repertoire -- but maybe he can be coached. We'll see.

Will Governor Palin be articulate and clear, or will she make gaffes enough for the BMA to feed on for the next few weeks? I suspect she will be mostly the former, but not without a gaffe or two, or at least some gaps in her knowledge. We'll see.

The big question is, will the moderator or the opponent or both visibly condescend and attempt to abuse her, angering a significant segment of the electorate and swinging the outcome a few points in Senator McCain's direction?

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