Listening to the media fallout following last week’s Vice Presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin was in many ways more frightening than the notion that the Republican VP candidate, come January 2009, might indeed be a proverbial heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
Debates, as any high school debating team member will tell you, have rules. The main one is, answer the question. That’s right. In order to score points, a debater must answer the question posed, and through a series of cogent arguments, build a strong defense of a clear, singular position. Thus, the single most shocking moment of the VP debate was Sarah Palin’s brazen announcement that she had no intention of answering questions she didn’t like. In other words, she had no intention of honoring the most fundamental rules of the debate, rules both parties agreed on, rules that matter not out of some parochial or misguided authoritarian sense of protocol and propriety, but because they are designed to allow the American public a clear understanding of the candidates’ positions. And PBS’s Gwen Ifills let Palin get away with it. It was a lousy and irresponsible job by an otherwise intelligent newswoman, as insisting a candidate answer the questions posed clearly falls within the purview of the moderator.
But perhaps more frightening than Palin’s platitudes and arrogantly dismissive strategy was the fourth estate’s response to her performance. Putting aside unabashed partisanship and punditry for the moment, it would appear that far too many journalists have drunk the Kool Aid. Many seemingly impartial media players actually complimented Palin on her ability to sidestep questions she was uncomfortable answering, thus allowing her to keep her composure and ostensibly appeal, via the mechanical repetition of McCain’s broad campaign themes, directly to middle class America.
So let’s get this straight: Palin’s ability to either duck or re-frame questions scored her as many de facto points as Joe Biden’s straightforward, thoughtful, and specific answers? If that is the case, then thousands of high school debaters across the country are either crying “foul!” or hanging up their blazers for good.
Palin accused Biden, and by extension Senator Obama, of being “negative” due to Biden’s insistence on deconstructing the Bush Gang’s legacy of disastrous economic and foreign policy decisions. Finger pointing and looking to the past – that’s not what the American people want, according to Governor Palin. This goes beyond politics into a kind of intellectual Twilight Zone – how in the world can you solve a problem without examining that problem’s root cause, and in the case of politics, the decisions that lead to the creation of that problem? As Senator Biden succinctly observed, “Past is prologue.” But hey, let’s be positive! Change is coming! Brought to you by the same folks who created the mess in the first place! I gotta hand it to Palin: she’s got more moves than O.J. running through a crowded airport.
And thank you Senator Biden, for finally coming out and saying, once and for all, that John McCain is not a maverick. The Republican candidate has been a team player, if not a cheerleader, for Bush & Co. – his record of voting with the President over ninety percent of the time and his hawkish support of the Iraqi war speak for themselves.
A wise teacher of mine years ago counseled my classmates and me thusly: “Never put personality ahead of principle.” Sarah Palin is young and attractive. She proudly carries herself as “one of us,” a nice middle class girl who works hard and loves her family. The kind of gal you’d want to have a beer with. Not one of those snooty Harvard elites like Barack Obama. (And as we all know, Senator Obama, the product of a bi-racial marriage, a man who grew up fatherless and under what can only be described, to be kind, as adverse circumstances, clearly went through life with a silver spoon in his mouth, right Sarah?) And yet somehow, for many Americans, Palin’s projected, disingenuous persona translates into the ability to one day run the country because, you know, “she’s good people.” So sure, let’s go ahead and vote for McCain/Palin because they’re so doggone folksy. The folksy guy currently in the White House has worked out gangbusters for the last eight years, right?
I fear that it’s not just the journalists who have drunk the Kool Aid.
But you know what? I’d rather have a beer with Joe Biden any day. Oh you betcha.