We haven’t seen a rout like this since Bulgaria’s women’s hockey team was beat down by Slovakia 82-0 in Olympic qualifying a month ago. Gov. Sarah Palin’s debate coaches must be pleased she hit the key words (boy, did she) and a little unhappy that that’s the extent of it. The grinning, winking (twice) Governor with the room temperature IQ America saw tonight made that “McCain-Spears” bumpersticker I saw the other day seem more than a little prescient.
By my count, she mentioned her running mate Sen. John McCain as a “reformer” ten times; as a “maverick” nine times. She used the phrase “greed and corruption on Wall Street” six times. And, she brought up “energy independence” seven times. She even repeated her canard about Obama “not voting to fund the troops” twice more after Sen. Joe Biden noted that McCain voted exactly the same way on the very bill she was referring to the first time. It seemed at times that McCain had voted the same way as Obama on just about every Obama vote she decried.
She even trotted out the mindless “they hate our freedoms.” Rarely did the key word/phrase have anything to do with the actual question. In fact, rarely did anything she said have anything to do with the question asked.
The Return of General McClellan
On Foreign Policy questions, Palin proved once and for all, she is not just unready for prime time — she’d have a hard time of it on CCTV.
She articulated no plan whatsoever on the question of her “Iraq Exit Strategy.” After blathering on sans specific about the success of “the Surge” and fawning about Gen. Petraeus, she settled on calling Obama’s lame 16-month withdrawal plan (incidentally the same thing Bush is now negotiating with Iraq) “waving the white flag of surrender.” Which I guess follows, as she mentioned “winning the war(s)” five times, once claiming that Biden’s position was undermining the “victory that is in sight.”
Both candidates vied for the title of, as Biden put it, “Israel’s best friend.” Palin vowed to defend the “peace-seeking nation.” Ho, hum.
While the noted gaffe-master Biden failed to entertain, Palin was more than up to the challenge. On the question of when the option to use our obscene arsenal of Nuclear Weapons would ever kick in, both candidates dodged it, but Palin’s response was downright incoherent. She even misspoke of how we couldn’t allow “Ahmadinejad to get Nuclear energy…”
Incredibly, she tried to show off on her knowledge of Afghanistan by rebutting Biden’s noting that even our top commander there said just today that “the principles of the surge” (whatever that may be) wouldn’t work there. She jumped right in and claimed that certainly was “not what General McClellan said.” Three times, she mistook General McKiernan for the disgraced, Lincoln-fired Civil War commander.
Her best misspeak of the night was when she blew her scripted line and reversed the sentiment: “it’s a toxic mess on Main Street and it’s effecting Wall Street.”
Revealing more than if she had actually answered the question “what is your real Achilles’ heel” she rambled on about anything but. A la Bush, Palin couldn’t name any issue where, after getting more information, she changed her position. Later on though, after taking a pass on answering what the current administration got wrong she noted that “there’s been huge blunders” without naming a single one.
Every time Biden hit hard on the Bush regime’s sorry record, Palin would dodge the specifics and smugly accuse Biden of “looking backwards” Yet, she kept quoting Ronald Reagan and advocating his discredited, decades-old policy solutions. She even dredged up Ronnie’s “there you go again, Joe” line; though, once again, it made little sense as she couldn’t articulate just where Joe had gone.
For every recitation of “I’m a mother, business owner, mayor and governor” who’s in touch with Middle Class America, cuz that’s what I’ve always been boilerplate of Palin’s, Biden smugly countered with noting own roots, his seemingly many down-their-luck working class hometowns – her “I represent Joe Six-pack” to his Joe at the gas pump who can’t afford to fill his tank.
To counter Palin’s “trust me, I’m a mom” emptiness, Biden stooped to exploiting the tragedy of his wife and child’s death. He referred to himself after the loss as a “single parent” and he choked up (just enough) mentioning his doubts at the time whether his son who was injured in the same accident would survive.
The creepiest piece of right-wing ideology that Palin pulled out was her defense of Darth Cheney’s expansion of the powers of the vice-president, not that it appeared that she knew what she was talking about. Ever the legal scholar, Biden hit that one out of the park, citing the relevant sections of the Constitution and noting that Cheney was the scariest, most dangerous VP ever.
It wasn’t a complete shellacking. Palin did score one point. After Biden, echoing Sen. Hilary Clinton, weakly excused his vote for the war as merely giving Bush some sort of diplomatic leverage, she rightly-noted, though I’m sure her handlers cringed, that “it was a War Resolution.”
MICHAEL DONNELLY writes from Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org