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October 4th, 2008

My apologies to those who were hoping for links to streams, transcripts, or other resources from here; I’m afraid that that I have not been able to do very much blogging because of demands of my job. The college where I work is undergoing an accreditation review, and yesterday was crazy busy for us; from just before 11am to about midnight last night was back-to-back nonstop business.

I was able to catch the first half of the debate myself before I ran off to work, and have seen a variety of reports since then. One of my thoughts even before the debate began was a realization that there would most likely not be any Katie-Couric moments. The reason for this that occurred to me was that a debate format is way different from an interview format; debates tend to question the major issues of the campaign and the major events of the day, something easy enough to predict in advance and make sure Palin knows well. We’ve seen her Alaskan governor race debate clips, and she can be very cutting and precise when she is well-enough prepared. Even more to the point, the McCain campaign had made sure as much as possible that Ifill was warned away from trying to manufacture any “gotcha” questions (you know, the ones which might show that you don’t know something vital that you didn’t think you’d be asked about). They pre-accused her of bias and all that, so if she asked anything too specific or unpredictable, they were all set to fall on her for being “in the tank for Obama.”

But it turns out that Palin had another technique to help her even further: ignore the questions asked her. And not only did she ignore some of the questions, she didn’t even pretend that she wasn’t ignoring them–in fact, she declared that she wasn’t as a badge of honor, saying that she preferred to talk “straight to the American people.” How charmingly dishonest. Whenever she didn’t like a question or thought that she might flub the answer, she would just say, “you know, instead I’d like to talk about energy!”

Very hard to go deer-in-the-headlights when you are effectively asking yourself your own questions.

Not that this was too surprising considering the source, but it is even more telling.

No, what really surprised me about this debate is that Palin does not seem to have won the expectations game. Surely, a lot of people did expect her to get all kerfuffled (surprisingly, that’s not Yiddish) at some point or maybe several times during the debate, and that Biden would just stand a mile above her. But for some reason, the McCain campaign did not play up the expectations (again!) and perhaps that’s why there are so few people today saying that Palin won by not losing. There was no narrative set, no spin campaign to dominate the news cycle. People noted that she did not do as badly as many might have expected, and that she saved her career by not self-destructing, but she was not credited for boosting the McCain campaign last night or for turning the campaign around.

In fact, the verdict seems to be that Biden won, by swaying uncommitted voters more than Palin, and that Palin’s major accomplishment was convincing people that she’s not quite as dumb as they thought she was.

VP debates rarely do much anyway, so perhaps this debate was overblown. Right now, Obama is killing McCain in the polls, and McCain needs some kind of game-changer to turn things around. While this debate may not have been a disaster averted for McCain, neither was it anything close to what he needs to save his faltering bid for the presidency.

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  1. Tim Kane
    October 4th, 2008 at 11:09 | #1

    Ifill: Governor, what’s your favorite color?
    Palin: I’m not going to talk about colors right now, but I will say my favorite breakfast serial is lucky charms.

    “Charmingly dishonest.” That’s a bulls-eye.

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