Knocked Out in St. Louis: The Pathos of Sarah Palin

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Even more tellingly, in terms of qualifications to be president, those saying Biden is qualified rose from 78 percent before the debate to 87 percent. Palin rose only slightly to 46 percent after the debate, from 42 percent before it. Most Americans still view her as unqualified.

Palin has the depth of a Dixie cup.

[Election 2008: Searching For Sarah Palin]




Poor Sarah Palin. If nothing else, last night’s vice-presidential debate between the beleaguered Governor of Alaska and Senator Joe Biden proved unequivocally that Palin has never had an original thought in her lifetime and that the only questions she can respond to are those for which she has pat answers.

It was truly shameful to watch her time and time again fail to respond directly to the questions asked—whether they be about tax cuts, nuclear threats or her own shortcomings—and watch her shift into one of her scri pted talking-points carefully crafted by John McCain’s campaign team.

There were, admittedly, no deer-in-the-headlight moments as she had last week with Katie Couric, but her performance was largely shallow and giddy and phony to the core. She barely passed on style points, and she failed utterly and completely on substance. She apparently made up the name of the U.S. General in Afghanistan—oops, no “Washington insider” she—and she couldn’t name a specific policy on which she and John McCain differed from George Bush. She was clearly out of her league when she discussed the expanding the role of the vice-president a lå Dick Cheney.

Instead, she growled and smiled and winked her way through the evening. In a matter of five weeks, Sarah Palin has already become a caricature of herself.

And Biden? I found him passionate and knowledgeable, thoughtful and experienced. He kept to the point and ably advanced his own solid record of public service. Occasionally he fell into talking “inside politics” by focusing too much on votes in the Senate, but by and large he played well to working Americans. Indeed, I found him a better debater than Obama.

Biden’s line about John McCain taxing health-care plans being “the ultimate bridge to nowhere” was a knockout blow. Palin had no response. As one observant post-debate blogger noted: “She has the depth of a Dixie cup.”

Biden hammered Palin throughout the evening—politely and with restraint. He called her on her shortcomings and left the obvious gaffes for the pundits to handle (like calling Gen. David D. McKiernan incorrectly “McClellan”). He was superb. 

Fox News to the contrary, Biden won last night’s debate and he won big. CBS News's poll recorded that 46 percent of uncommitted voters surveyed gave the debate to Biden, where only 21 percent thought Palin won. A CNN poll scored it 51-36 percent for Biden.

Even more tellingly, in terms of qualifications to be president, those saying Biden is qualified rose from 78 percent before the debate to 87 percent. Palin rose only slightly to 46 percent after the debate, from 42 percent before it. Most Americans still view her as unqualified.

Add that to yet another very bad week for John McCain. He announced yesterday that he is pulling his campaign out of Michigan, where he now concedes he cannot win. His electoral strategy to victory grows narrower with each passing hour. He is now trailing in important key battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida, and there are prospects of a crushing defeat in November by more than 150 electoral votes.

McCain also showed that nasty, caustic side of his personality during an interview in Iowa with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, which, unfortunately for him, was videotaped. It served as a very real reminder to the American people that he doesn’t have the emotional stability to be president. A series of state polls in key battleground states released yesterday (conducted before the interview) showed significant voter doubts about McCain’s temperament. Don’t be surprised if Iowa turns blue in November.

Indeed, the Republicans can’t seem to find their message or their voice. Last night, Palin’s sarcastic one-liners may have gotten the likes of Pat Buchanan hard, but they did little to endear her and McCain to those undecided voters for whom temperament will ultimately play a decisive role. She did nothing to advance the McCain-Palin cause with any base other than the conservative, bible-toting wing of the Republican Party to whom she is their darling. She held her ground in retreat and little more.

Palin’s ratings have gone down steadily ever since her Cinderella acceptance speech at the Republican convention in August. A recent Pew poll reports 51percent of Americans believe she's unqualified to be president, up sharply from 39 percent a month ago. Even in Alaska, her popularity ratings are tumbling by as much as 30 percent.

For good reason. There was a most telling moment towards the end of last night’s debate as Biden was nearly moved to the point of tears when talking about the death of his wife and near-fatal injuries to his young sons. It was a moving—and authentic—moment in what has been a long and grueling campaign for the presidency. In response, Palin broke into one of her counterfeit facial expressions and panned monologues as if nothing had happened.

It would have seemed surreal were it not so tragic.

Sarah Palin may be able to deliver her scri pted lines like the small-town sportscaster that she was in Anchorage, but she clearly has no soul. The pathos of her peculiar candidacy will continue to reveal itself until Election Day.

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Black Star News columnist and award-winning filmmaker and journalist Geoffrey Dunn, Ph. D., is the former recipient of a both a John L. Senior Fellowship to the Cornell University Graduate School of Government and a National Newspaper Association Award for Investigative Journalism. His most recent film is Calypso Dreams.






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