Sunday, October 5, 2008

The VP Debate Fallout, and A Window of Opportunity

The MSM yak has been deliriously self-conscious of late. In an immediately post-Rovean political theatre, commercial opinions have perhaps never before been so restrained in both method and content. Besides the classic and obvious visual pairings offered by television time-eating commenteers--both philosophically and physically sitting to the right and left of the Main Source, on hand, and equally timed, even long-time columnists in semi-successfully sidelined news venues measure their words with a paranoid sense of restraint. Like the more reassuringly present Chinese censorship machine, the market-driven self-censorship of American Political Opinionators is a murky and opaque thing to grapple with. The possibility of losing that one's intractable sense of 'balance and fairness', and thus witnessing one's readership die off in Malthusian droves puts The Fear into writers, even at such supposed bulwarks of what-to-thinkedness such as the Times or WSJ's editorial pages.

My case and point resides in the ridiculous G-Rated Disney movie that VP race has become. Though it is tempting to side-track on the hilarity of watching Americans vote for the starry-eyed protagonist to win a happy ending, I will focus on the point of this article, in that Sarah Palin's Debate performance is in fact a slowly exploding time bomb of her own making.

As had been widely reported, Ol'Mooseskin had had a rough week prior to the debates. Revelations that she could not name any newspapers, or that she had absolutely no fluency in international political dealings, or that she thought drilling for natural gas in Alaska would bring an end to imports of Saudi oil, or that she was otherwise completely incompetent for the presidency (the chief qualification of a Vice President), had been circulating quietly among people who had any interest in knowing. Among those with an interest in knowing were the paid political opinions around the country, and they had had the last straw. Kathleen Parker, had "exhausted her cringe reflex," which was telling, considering how long it had been working, and how sturdy and thriving it must have originally been.

But this defection was not in any sense sea-changing. In fact, the sea of bobbing heads and talking faces on the tube had merely changed tack--going into the debate, Palin should not be expected to do so well. 'After all, she's an outsider.' The only thing notable about this season's round of pre-debate expectation-lowerings was the shameless both-sides-of-the-fencery perpetrated by the media in both assisting each campaign's self-abasement and following it up with extensive coverage of 'how campaigns seek to lower expectations.' This kind of schizophrenic behaviour should be a warning sign to the cable-news's friends and family of deeper psychological issues. But alas, will probably be ignored because of the far more interesting gorp being served up by David Blaine.

Moving on to what I was originally trying to say, The expectation-lowering worked. And then Palin managed to not look like an idiot. At this point I really cant decide which outcome would have served her better, the passable performance she turned in, or a complete flub including several run on sentences with dangling prepositions. The fact is, her ability to form complete sentences has cemented her eventual doom. With the Couric interviews, Americans could hide behind excuses; "they were edited!" and "cheap-shot questions!" But the most important failure in the interviews, her lack of substantive answers, was disguised by her unintelligible appearance. Instead of looking unqualified, she looked like a babbling moron. And instead of feeling contempt, Americans felt sympathy.

But that was yesterday. Today, We can take perfectly intelligible Palin sentences like ". . . there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don't want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?" and go straight for the meat: She's wrong. And not just subjectively, or in popular opinion. She is dead, dead wrong. It is easy to point out how Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, knows almost nothing about global warming, and how to prevent its worst impacts than Joe Six-Pack, without mocking her.

And this is exactly what showed up in editorials following the debate. By turning in a performance that was only mostly flawed, she has opened herself to criticism for those flaws. Or more to the point, she has demonstrated herself as someone of appropriate size to be picked on, and editorialists can feel free to pick away without being accused of 'beating up the cripple.'