cap p.17:Palin comparison: “I never attack the person,” Joe Biden said last Thursday in Virginia Beach, “I take issue with ideas,” distancing himself from the pit bull with lipstick that was Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention.
Well, we know Sarah Palin can read a telepromter.
According to right-wing Republicans in the tank for the Alaska Governor, that should put to rest any questions about whether she is ready right now to be president of the United States.
The media feeding frenzy that took hold as Palin’s tabloid life began leaking into the public sphere created a false perception that Palin, almost completely unknown to the American public, was an empty-headed ditz out of the TV show “Northern Exposure,” so the bar for her acceptance speech last Wednesday night was set fairly low. No one should be surprised that Palin was able to step over it.
In fact, Palin’s speech was long on insults—she showed she is a charismatic fighter who is willing to mix it up—but empty of substance. Lots of bark, no bite.
A pit bull with lipstick? More like a Chihuahua with funky eyeglasses.
In the days following her being named to the ticket, any number of TV talking heads, bloggers and newspaper columnists mused over whether her Democratic opposite, Joe Biden, was so much more experienced and capable than the former beauty queen that he would come off in their lone debate, scheduled for October 2 in St. Louis, as a misogynistic bully. Rick Lazio’s invasion of Hillary Clinton’s personal space during a debate in Buffalo, New York, during their 2000 Senate race is often cited as the quintessential, if cautionary, moment that men running against women must avoid.
But following Palin’s pugnacious performance, Democrats were loaded for bear.
Biden was in Virginia Beach on September 4, the morning after Palin’s speech, to speak about foreign affairs and veterans’ issues in a region of this swing state with a large current and retired military population. Afterwards, he took questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics.
Given Palin’s aggressive speech, one female audience member, noting that it was “tough to debate a woman,” implored Biden, “Will you promise us you will go at her the same way you would a man?”
She was drowned out by raucous applause.
“I never attack the person,” Biden answered. “I take issue with ideas.”
Given the weakness of the McCain/Palin ticket, this is the smart play.
First, and most significantly, the McCain/Palin ticket has a fundamental problem that can be summed up in one letter: W.
Like it or not, the Republicans are the incumbent party this election, and as its nominees, McCain and Palin are saddled with Bush’s record.
Even to the extent that McCain is able to leverage his utterly fictitious, but widely accepted image as a maverick to bat back this line of argument, the fact is that on the two major issues of this election—the economy and the war in Iraq—McCain’s positions are mainly, if not completely, a continuation of existing Bush policies.
Second, notwithstanding her courageous speech delivered under a lot of pressure on a national stage, the jury is still out with respect to Palin’s competency to be the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency, particularly with respect to national security.
“I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq,” Palin said as recently as 2007.
Palin’s speech included a reference to a pair of relatively obscure international situations, the oil pipeline in the Caucuses wrapped up in Russia’s recent scrape with former republic Georgia, and the terrorist attack on the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia, clearly designed to suggest she is well versed in the minutia of international affairs and, by implication, the major issues as well.
Who knows whether Palin has knowledge of these events or was just reading a teleprompter, although I have a hard time believing that someone who has not thought much about Iraq said out of the blue, and on her own, “Hey, let’s put something about Abqaiq in the speech. I’m up on that issue,” but maybe she did.
More revealing was the suggestion Friday on “Morning Joe” by McCain spokesperson Nicole Wallace that the campaign saw no need for Palin to respond to reporters’ questions in an unscripted format. Wallace couched her suggestion in the context of the McCain campaign’s new anti-media jihad, but it betrays a concern that Palin would not be able to pass competency muster in an uncontrolled situation.
Third, the positions of Palin’s that are known, mainly concerning social issues, are both extreme and out of step with the majority of Americans. These positions went mainly unmentioned during the convention, but they are reasons the very conservative base of the GOP is so enthusiastic about Palin.
Among other things, Palin favors criminalizing all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, and teaching Creationism in public school science classes alongside Evolution, a position that has been discredited both scientifically and legally.
I suspect that despite all the excitement of the past week, like most VP picks Palin will do little to significantly affect the race. McCain will likely see a bump in some polls coming out of the convention, reflecting the one benefit Palin indisputably does bring to the ticket—generating enthusiasm among conservatives who were previously lukewarm to McCain—and a short-term tactical benefit of quickly changing the subject away from Barack Obama’s historic nomination and acceptance speech in Denver.
Still, even that may not be the best thing for the GOP. The media tornado in St. Paul that the pick generated was a distraction, albeit an amusing distraction, from the GOP’s efforts to advance its agenda during the week when it had maximum public attention.
Instead, attention focused on a teenager’s pregnancy, a Down’s Syndrome baby and a parochial Alaskan scandal involving Palin’s former brother-in-law.
Given the Republican record, of course, perhaps this was not such a bad thing.
Still, over the longer term, the Palin pick will probably collapse under the weight of its own lightness, and Biden is entirely correct not to react to her in any significant way.
Alan Zimmerman is a Charlottesville-based writer.