Without a doubt, Gov. Sarah Palin blew the doors off every expectation I had of her going into the debate last night. For 90 minutes she spoke in complete sentences and actually made a few coherent arguments with valid points, references to legislation and even tried to come up with the name of the top US general in Afghanistan. She got the name wrong (she said McClellan --from the Civil War?-- and not McKiernan), but she tried, and apparetnly neither Biden nor Ifill knew his name either since she was not corrected. My gut tells me they were just being polite.
This debate was a forum for Palin to show that she was not an abject moron, and she succeeded. I hold the firm belief that nobody could be as stupid as Sarah Palin appeared in the Katie Couric interviews, not even able to remember one newspaper or magazine that she reads regularly. Palin appeared nervous and even intimidated with Couric, but last night she looked more self-assured and engaging.
Sen. Biden, on the other hand, was as informed and articulate as always. Reciting votes on individual bills, outlining a grand plan for foreign policy, explaining his vote on the Iraq Force Resolution, expounding on his committment to the middle class. Biden was vintage Biden, only absent the missteps and run-on diatribes.
To me, this was like watching the Chairman of Surgery debate proper intraoperative management with a nursing student. Sure, the student will have some talking points and may know basic anatomy, but Surgeon Biden was coasting in second gear and one got the impression that he had several more layers of nuance that would never be reached in 90 minutes, or ten hours for that matter.
More importantly, Palin's stance on nearly every issue was opposite to mine. She is in favor of prolonging the mission in Iraq, applying strategies in Afghanistan that would fail, giving Israel free reign with our blessing, closing down the scant negotiations we have with Iran, cutting taxes to the highest income groups, not really mentioning nuclear proliferation, ignoring health care, among others. She did not recognize the tatters that our diplomatic relationships are in with our allies.
This type of performance is all Palin needed to do in order to assuage the hemorrhage of dissent from the Republican base: Just get dressed up and speak in complete sentences. Furthermore, she took a swipe at Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric when she stated that she wanted to only speak directly to "the American people, you all", and not have her views "filtered through the mainstream media", as if TV interviewers made her look like a dolt. This plays into the intense hatred the right wing voters have for the so-called liberal media (SCLM), which will surely win her some points from the nutjobs.
So this is where we are now in the United States. We can pull a beauty queen out of the woods, prep her for 5 weeks, cramming her brain with facts and names, and throw her potentially into the White House. Hockey mom becomes president, as Matt Damon had said, sounds more like a title for a Disney movie. Life imitating art. Because the anti-intellectual candidates have sometimes been operable presidents-- Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan-- now some look for anti-intellectualism as a prerequisite for the office, and while it's fun having that folksy charm and "aw-shucks" demeanor around, the problem is that ocassionally you get an anti-intellectual like George W. Bush and I know we can't afford to take that chance right now.