No, she’s not smoother than Joe Biden. She was not the better debater (she lost badly on points). She doesn’t have the depth of knowledge, the experience, the ease with “Washington speak” that Biden demonstrated – especially in foreign policy.
But Sarah Palin has something Joe Biden and every other politician in America would give their right eye to possess – the innate ability to look a camera straight in the lens and make a connection with the hearts of ordinary Americans.
Palin proved the one thing she had to prove; she belongs on The Big Stage. She might not be the brightest star in the firmament intellectually. But when she spoke, there was authority and confidence behind the words that belied every nasty thing written and spoken about her over the last few weeks. In fact, her performance made the McCain campaign handlers look like idiots. What the hell have they been doing hiding this woman for all this time? Are they nuts? I’m not the only one who underestimated this woman. The McCain people have as well. And at least I have an excuse – I’m ignorant. They’re supposed to know her, know her strengths and weaknesses.
There was a point with about 20 minutes to go in the debate where something happened that I never thought remotely possible; she took over the stage and dominated it with her personality. I believe they were talking about education and as the words poured out in that Midwestern twang, her eyes twinkled and that 100,000 watt smile lit up the hall, she turned on the charm and sincerity, and the stage suddenly shrank while Biden appeared a mere appendage to the broadcast.
She was totally at ease, referring some of her remarks to the moderator Gwen Ifill (who I thought bent over backwards to be fair – no doubt a consequence of her becoming a target after it was revealed she was writing a book partially about the Obama campaign) and nodding and looking at Biden on occasion. She did it effortlessly and without art or artifice. Biden sensed what was happening but couldn’t do anything. She was in charge, period. It was at that point, that I thought she might not be ready to be president from day one but that someday, she will be on a similar stage as a nominee for president of the Republican party.
The left is screaming tonight, trying to make believe that nothing has changed, that Palin is still a dunce, still out of her league. I would suggest they rerun the last hour and half and watch with a little more of an objective mind. She stood toe to toe with Biden (sometimes – other times she avoided direct combat) and bloodied him but good a couple of times. A boxing analogy would be the heavyweight champion boxing a middleweight. The lighter fighter might be getting pounded here and there but when getting in close, scores repeatedly with good body punches.
And, of course, the crowd is always with the underdog. Despite Biden’s competent performance, Palin will probably be narrowly declared the winner in tomorrow’s polls. Even her bitterest foes must acknowledge her ability to connect with ordinary people. That is a gift that any liberal only dreams of being able to do. For the left, it is not about connecting to average Americans. It is about average Americans acknowledging the liberal’s superior intellect and judgement and letting them run our lives. Unfortunately, in such times as these, that appears to be what the people are about to do.
I must confess that before the debate I was prepared for Mrs. Stumblebum – a female Gerald Ford tripping over her words and embarrassing herself on foreign policy questions. What I got was a composed, collected candidate who may have been deficient in the depth of her answers but nevertheless demonstrated a basic knowledge and familiarity with the issues. The nuances of instability in Pakistan might escape her (something an American president can do little about at this point anyway). But she had absolutely no trouble identifying why Ahmadinejad is an enemy of anyone who loves civilization and why it is of paramount importance that he not get his hands on nuclear weapons.
So I was wrong about her as far as how badly she would do. Not the first time I’ve been wrong on this blog and it won’t be the last. The question of the hour is does this change the race in any way? Will it kick start the McCain campaign and start a much needed comeback?
My sense is that it has stopped the bleeding but that the way back for McCain will not be through anything that Sarah Palin can do. She may have stopped the exodus of independents and women from the McCain camp but as far as winning any of them back I am just not convinced that a Vice Presidential candidate – no matter how well she performs in a debate or how she connects with ordinary voters – is up to that challenge.
For McCain to get back in the race, he must do it himself. Many Republicans are urging McCain to throw the kitchen sink at Obama – Ayers, Wright, Rezko, the Chicago Machine – the whole shebang of radicals, shady characters, and questionable associations. Obama can easily brush that kind of attack aside as an act of desperation by McCain. What he can’t brush aside is his record, or rather his lack thereof. McCain needs to go hard after Obama on the question of experience. It’s his best shot and he can bloody him at the remaining debates if he consistently hits that note. McCain must show that electing Obama is a risk. And in these uncertain times, that’s one thing the United States cannot afford.