Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sarah Palin's Ridiculous Debate

As noted in my previous post, expectations were so low for Sarah Palin going into last Thursday's debate with Joe Biden that merely managing not to fall off the stage would be considered a success.

And by those standards she did acquit herself well enough - she stayed on her feet and was able to string a few sentences together here and there with lots of winks, you betchas and darn rights. (I confess it was a relief not to see her implode on live television before 50 or 60 million people - thanks to the kid glove treatment by moderator Gwen Ifill, who apparently was sufficiently cowed by the conservative right's claims of her Obama bias not to follow up on any of Palin's non-answers to her questions.)

Palin's performance did demonstrate that she is qualified.... for senior class president. The vacuous non-answers, winks, smiles, and colloquialisms are all fine for someone trying to win a popularity (or beauty) contest, but not for someone running for the second highest office in land. We now have first-hand experience with what happens when we elect someone on the basis of aw-shucks likeability - and George W. Bush has done more to weaken the United States in his eight years than any president in history. We cannot afford any more ignorance in the president's office - and I'm sorry folks, Sarah Palin may be a nice lady and good in beauty contests, but she is not presidential timber.

The following letter to the editor in yesterday's New York Times rings true:

"As someone who teaches history," writes from Barbara Weinstein of New York, "I often give essay exams, and inevitably there are students who arrive ill prepared to take the exam. These students typically adopt one of two strategies: they either construct an essay that is a torrent of words, hoping that by filling up the space I will not notice that they don't know anything (Sarah Palin's performance in the Katie Couric interviews); or they ignore the question I've asked, and answer something else they do know a little about (Ms. Palin's performance in the vice-presidential debates).

"Both strategies earn an F, since neither indicates that they can tackle a crucial issue in the course."

As a teacher myself who grades hundreds of law school essay exams a year, I can vouch for Ms. Weinstein's observation on the tactics adopted by a student who may be clueless on a particular question, and concur with the ultimate failing grade either way. As she says, by "adopt[ing] what amounts to Strategy No. 2 in the debate, and therefore avoid[ing] seeming as clueless as she did in the Couric interviews," Palin reassured the Republican base that the beauty queen can still deliver scripted comments, but "it was no more helpful in establishing her ability to be an effective vice president than Strategy No. 1."