I guess the second scenario I envisioned came to pass: Palin's "attacks" were pretty weak, Biden was a class act, and Palin didn't completely embarrass herself except for the constant lying, which America is used to by now.
And yet, although Veep debates don't generally amount to much in the grand scheme of elections, I suspect this one actually helps Obama. Because it was one of the most widely watched debates ever (or was at least projected to be; I haven't seen the ratings reports yet), which means that lots of low-information voters stopped by just to gawk at the potential train wreck. And if the snap polls even come close to reality (we're not supposed to trust snap polls, but they were remarkably accurate in the wake of Obama-McCain #1), then 87-95% of the viewers thought Biden was qualified to be Vice President. Surely the numbers weren't that high going in, given his history of gaffes. Throw in the fact that he consistently leveled the most withering attacks at the top of the ticket, and I bet this results in even better poll numbers for Obama. It's possible we've even reached a tipping point, if McCain's abandonment of Michigan is any indication.
The most interesting element to me was how quickly the CNN audience of independents turned on Palin every time she said something calculated to be folksy. "Darn right we need tax relief," "There you go, Joe!"...every time she said something like that, the viewer response plunged, and one of Tina Fey's sketch writers sprouted wings. Wow, I thought. The independents actually don't trust her. (At least not in Ohio on CNN in real time.) If she has to prove herself--instead of waltzing onstage and being trusted on sheer mom-and-apple-pie spunk--she's going to be useless to McCain, because the best she's able to do when pressed on issues is say a few quick bromides and run away before they have follow-up questions. (As Josh Marshall has noted, all of the embarrassing Katie Couric moments came when Palin was asked to clarify something--she is literally a surface-level candidate, one determined scrape away from appalling the nation.)
A roundup on Andrew Sullivan's site shows that a few commentators (like Erick Erickson and Jay Redding) actually think Sarah Palin completely dominated the debate and mopped the floor with Biden. If you really think this happened, get yourself checked: it means you're not paying attention to what mainstream independents are listening to, and it's a sign that you're very much out of touch with politics in America--and possibly reality itself--and the electoral map this season will only cause you shock and heartbreak. The sane conservative commentators are mostly shrugging and saying, "Well, at least she stanched the bleeding from the wound she caused." That I can agree with.
The other thing that struck me is that Palin's message of alleged "change" falls flat with independents precisely because what she calls "change" is what any sensible political observer might call "the same Republican talking points we've heard since Reagan was a pup"--lower taxes, rein in spending, strong America, tax-and-spend liberals, blah blah blah. And it made me think that those of us who are actually looking around at the modern Republican party have been seeing how empty those promises and ideas actually are: Clinton gave us a surplus and actually reduced the size of government. Bush squandered it while making government larger than ever; Bush's policies have overtaxed us militarily, helped create our current economic disaster, and have brought our national reputation lower than any time in modern history. (And where the fuck does she get off talking about how "bipartisan" their ticket is? Was she even watching her own convention? Did she not remember her own ugly-ass speech? Jesus.)
Perhaps this is the biggest tragedy of the campaign: McCain might have had a chance to represent change, if (in some ideal world) he actually were a vanguard cutting-edge Republican of principle and not (as we've seen now) a soulless opportunist who will lie about anything if he thinks he can apologize for it later in his next book. But the diehard right wing of the party is so in love with itself, so blinkered by its own rhetoric, that it isn't even aware that its policies have failed and that maybe it's time to change something somewhere. For the most part I say good fucking riddance; let the Rush Limbaughs and Dick Cheneys wind up scraped off the bus tires of history. But for an actual Republican of principle, the religious right wingnuts, with their dog-in-the-manger approach to outreach have left the tent too small to support life.
(Picture: the amusing poster for where I watched the debate last night. A fun time, except that the promise of free beer caused an overflow and they actually shut off the TV when the fire marshal made people evacuate. So I actually missed the entire section on Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Was it as good as I hear?)
Labels: current events