I long to read the inside story of preparing Palin for prime-time.
What on earth did the campaign do to her between St Paul and Couric, to
drain her confidence so and leave her looking like a gibbering idiot?
Somebody must have decided that she had to turn herself into Biden
within the space of a few days--a tall order, even supposing that the
campaign needed a Biden rather than an anti-Biden, which she was ready,
out of the box, to be.
She needed to cram, of course, but not in order to spew it out by
rote in answer to any random question. The main thing--and perhaps, by
tonight, this lesson had been learned--was not to pretend to be
something she isn't, and not to claim knowledge or experience she
plainly does not have. Living near an international border is not a
grounding in geopolitics. Imperfectly memorising the names of a few
foreign leaders does not cut it. The crucial thing was to seem steady,
a quick learner, modest about her current breadth of knowledge, but of
sound judgment and firm on certain basic principles. In striving to do
well in the pop-quiz style of interview so beloved of the US media--any
winner of Jeopardy, by this standard, would make a fine president--she
surrendered her greatest advantage: authenticity. She had to refuse to
play by those rules.
Whatever the reason--her sense of occasion, a change of coaching
staff, who knows?--she did well enough tonight to lift the campaign's
head back above water. She defaulted frequently to rehearsed talking
points, and to topics she feels most comfortable with--notably energy.
But what mattered most was that she never really floundered, and above
all she never looked scared. She was herself. Some, certainly not all,
of the damage of the past week is erased.
No light whatever was shed on policy issues. There were the
obligatory pointless tussles about what Obama and McCain have or have
not said about taxes, funding troops, and so forth. Biden pressed the
linkage between Bush and McCain, and quite effectively--challenging
Palin to point to differences. But her main riposte--this election must
look forward not back, enough with the finger-pointing--will have struck
many viewers as fair.
There was one real breakthrough. Did you notice? Asked which of
their campaign promises might need to be delayed because of the
financial crisis--a question put three times to Obama and McCain in
their debate, without effect--Biden came up with an answer: "Well, the
one thing we might have to slow down is a commitment we made to double
foreign assistance. We'll probably have to slow that down." There's
brave! That laughing you could hear was me.
Could Biden have been more effective? Maybe. I'm sure many Democrats
will criticise him for failing to go for the kill. But I think he
judged it just right. He was friendly and courteous, laughed at himself
once or twice, and displayed a superior mastery of the issues without
ever seeming overbearing. He was much more critical of McCain than of
her. Altogether he seemed as likeable as Palin, and much more
qualified. Perhaps he could have destroyed her by being more
aggressive, but it would have been a risk. Palin in this confident mood
would be no pushover. More aggression might have backfired, and could
have aroused sympathy for his opponent. A clear win on points was all
he needed, and that is what he got. Settling for this was wise. Obama
and McCain go into the last round with the Democrat comfortably ahead.