Palin Debate Countdown: T Minus 53 Hours

September 30, 2008

Thursday’s vice-presidential debate is looming over the political battlefield like Putin’s head over Alaskan airspace. CBS will be pumping a slow but steady dose of Palin footage into our IV over the next few days, but political junkies are counting on the big score coming Thursday night. In a generally dismal economic climate, Tina Fey’s career prospects look a little brighter every day, and investors who haven’t yet been wiped out entirely would be wise to put everything in Google stock before God’s gift to YouTube addresses the nation. Liberals are worried that expectations are so low that Palin can’t help but surpass them (with the Obama campaign doing its usual hatchet-job of raising them), while Ben Smith wonders if she may have entered uncharted political territory by setting expectations too low.

Andrew Halcro – former gubnetorial campaign opponent and forever enemy of Sarah Palin – isn’t so confident:

Since the McCain campaign demanded changes in the debate rules to include shorter question and answer times and limited interaction between the two candidates to prevent any free flowing discussions, Biden needs to simply ignore Palin on stage and answer the questions as if he were the only one there.

Any attempt to flex policy knowledge to show Palin is not ready for prime time will inevitably cast him in the role as the bully.

On the other side of the stage, Palin simply needs to do what she’s always done best during debates: fill the room with her presence and stick to scripted sound bites. With limited interaction, thus less chance of going off message, Palin can definitely hold her own.

(h/t Sullivan)

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that unlike Halcro, I have never been in a debate with Governor Palin, but I still think he’s wrong here. I do agree that the most important thing for Biden is to avoid coming across as a bully. Indeed, though my immediate reaction to the Palin pick was that McCain had just thrown the election, my biggest fear has always been that Biden would pull an Al Gore. (I still think this is a much more serious concern than him making one of his trademark gaffes; though it is impossible to hear the man speak too often without concluding that he is a jackass, when he says things that are crazy and/or conflict with his own views or Obama’s, he tends to do so in complete, English sentences. I think this is a contrast that even the lowest-information voters will not be able to miss.)

But it seems crazy to conclude from this, as Halcro does, that Biden should just leave her alone altogether. And while much – far too much – has been made of the shorter question-and-answer periods for each topic, refusing to interact with Palin simply isn’t compatible with the format, which is this:

Format: Ninety-second answers, followed by two-minute discussion for each question.  Two-minute closing statements.

Two minutes is a far cry from what we saw between McCain and Obama, but it is a long time to sit in silence trying to think of a Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade. And the fact that each segment is so short means that Palin will have to address a wide range of topics.

Palin did, in fact, hold her own in the Alaskan gubernatorial debates. But – at least in the portions that I’ve watched – there was almost no interaction at all, and, probably more importantly, they were discussing issues that face Alaska, issues that she actually knows something about. She’s spent the last few weeks trying to learn about non-Alaskan issues, and we’ve already seen how well that’s going.

So I have a different piece of debate strategy to suggest: head for that narrow maritime border before it’s too late.

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2 Responses to “Palin Debate Countdown: T Minus 53 Hours”


  1. […] across the Country, Thursday is Palin Day September 30, 2008 As Sarah Palin gets ready to debate in St. Louis on Thursday, lawyers working on her behalf will be in court, attempting to halt the legislature’s […]


  2. […] of them looked more presidential doing so than any actual president has looked in recent memory. Sarah Palin is expected to be a disaster Thursday night because she cannot answer a simple question about her reading habits without babbling, lying, and […]


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