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Sarah Palin Lives To Gaffe Another Day


Sarah Palin

As usual, post-debate bloviating wandered aimlessly through the night with assessments ranging from “she did better than we thought she would,” which is what parents say when their kid doesn’t strike out at a Little League game, to the thoroughly puzzling “America must be surprised."

As usual, debate viewers are much more decisive, the first round of snap polls giving the debate to Joe Biden by sizable margins.

CNN's sampling said Biden took the clash by 51% to 36%, basically a trouncing.

And here’s the revealing number from CNN. While 84% said Palin did better than expected – well, the bar was set awfully low – she still doesn’t clear a basic hurdle: Watching the would-be vice president for 90 minutes left only 46% saying she’s qualified to be president, up a mere four points from before the debate. And a clear majority, 53%, continue to say she is not qualified for the job.

Meanwhile, CBS’ polling of 473 uncommitted debate-watchers found that 46% gave the evening to Biden, 21% say Palin won, and 33% say it was a tie. Splitting the tie votes between the two, 62.5% said Biden came out on top while fewer than half thought Palin took the night.

While both candidates saw their images improve, 98% ended up declaring Biden as “knowledgeable” after the debate, while only 66% saw Palin as knowledgeable. Admittedly, that’s a higher number than what folks thought of her before the debate but the McCain camp can take small comfort from the figure because Biden essentially ran the table of undecideds.

At Campaign Headquarters …
In the Virginia headquarters of the McCain campaign, the post-debate relief is palpable.

“We could have been blown out of the water,” one of my two sources inside the camp tells me this morning. “She didn’t make any horrid mistakes and she did what she had to do: Keep the base support firm.”

What about reaching the undecideds, the independents, the Reagan Democrats? I ask, citing the snap poll tallies from right after the broadcast.

“That’s John’s job,” comes the reply. “All we wanted Sarah to do was keep us close enough to fight another day.”

So, essentially, Palin’s only task last night was to not screw up, not give the base a reason to flee in horror.

I ask about the moment when Palin actually suffers her much-anticipated Couric-like moment that escaped most commentators. Looking square in the camera, Palin actually proclaims the financial crisis “a toxic mess, really, on Main Street that’s affecting Wall Street.” The gaffe comes at about 53 seconds:

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“I saw that, too,” he says, adding with relief, “I’m glad not too many people caught it. I’m glad Biden didn’t pounce all over that.”

Some eight hundred miles away in Chicago, one of my sources on Obama’s staff says everyone is happy with Biden’s job, especially after the first half-hour.

“Once Joe decided he had to swat at the gnat, he really came into his own,” is the assessment. “He kept his answers short, he stayed on point, he spoke to the audience in words they understood, and that moment when he choked up mentioning how he felt as his son lay dying in a hospital (after the car accident killed Biden’s wife and daughter and gravely injured his sons) we saw Joe being Joe. America saw it, as well.

“I wonder why she didn’t react act all,” I’m asked. “Didn’t it seem odd that the world’s greatest hockey mom had no reaction to someone fighting back tears when he talks about losing a child? Where were her ‘family values’”?

Explaining the Obvious
People tuning in to the debate were already expressing deep concerns about Palin's understanding of issues and solutions. As a result, Palin's folksiness was far less effective than when she strode the stage in St. Paul six weeks ago to unveil her “ya’ know” and “ya’ betcha” lines. People aren't worried that she "isn't one of us," so her aw-shucks shuffling didn't help last night. On the other hand, people are concerned that she doesn't understand the issues of the day, and she did nothing to reassure them.

Biden jumped on her disjointed mish-mash of foreign policy non-sequiturs and talking points to spell out a clear difference between what the audience was hearing from Palin and the real world in which Biden and Obama live:

On one front, Palin did not disappoint: She remains a habitual liar, a flip-flopper and someone who has no idea what she’s saying.

In the debate, she espoused strong support for equal benefits for same sex couples. But Palin told the Anchorage Daily News, “I believe spousal benefits are reserved for married citizens on (sic) our Constitution,”

Palin sidestepped Biden’s claim that McCain argued against greater regulation on Wall Street, contributing to the debt crisis. Palin’s claim is that McCain supported the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005, which would have created a new government agency to oversee Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other federal housing programs. In fact, the bill would have done nothing to stop the rash of predatory subprime lending that preceded the housing bubble. It only provided oversight for Fannie and Freddie – but it said nothing at all about the companies that issued subprime mortgages. So while Palin brought it up as an example of how McCain is the “re-regulator,” she avoided Biden’s straight rebuttal.

Oh. And Palin called the commander of the NATO force in Afghanistan "McClellan" instead of using his name, General David McKiernan. Maybe she confused McKiernan with George McClellan, an awful Civil War general who was so reluctant to fight the Confederate Army Pres. Lincoln finally fired him. The only thing reassuring about this possibility is it shows Palin remembers something from her time at, what?, five universities in six years.


Charley James

If you're born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I've been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigative journalist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarities of modern times.

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