Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin’s debate performance critical

Sarah Palin’s performance in the vice presidential debate Thursday night will determine the course of the last month of the presidential campaign.

If she does OK, the race will continue to be fairly close in the last few weeks, with the outcome still in doubt but Obama holding the advantage.

However, if Palin embarrasses herself and her party and contributes further to the belief that her nomination was a monumental mistake, the presidential race is over and the only remaining question will be the margin of victory.

So far, Palin has come across as unintelligent in interviews, and has been lampooned viciously for that. However, it’s an impression that may not be entirely fair — the more charitable and accurate word may be unknowledgeable. Perfectly smart people will sound stupid if asked to expound on topics they have not studied and thought about, and that seems to be what is happening with Palin.

Time and again, she has shown no real familiarity or comprehension of national or international policy. In fact, her interview with Katie Couric is destined to become political legend. Afterward, one McCain aide tried to explain Palin’s performance in that interview by claiming that Couric had asked Palin “a series of trapdoor questions.”

They weren’t trapdoor questions, they were basic questions, and simply put.

Things got even more absurd this week after a voter in Philadelphia asked Palin whether US forces ought to chase terrorists across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Absolutely, Palin said, thus taking a position identitical to that of Barack Obama and contradicting that of John McCain.

Here’s how the conversation with the voter, Michael Rovito, played out:

“How about the Pakistan situation?” Rovito asked. “What’s your thoughts about that.”

“In Pakistan?” Palin responded.

“What’s going on over there, like Waziristan?”

“It’s working with Zardari to make sure that we’re all working together to stop the guys from coming in over the border,” Palin said. “And we’ll go from there.”

“Waziristan is blowing up,” Rovito replied.

“Yeah, it is,” Palin said. “And the economy there is blowing up, too.”

“So we do cross-border, like from Afghanistan to Pakistan, you think?” Rovito asked.

“If that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should,” Palin said.

It’s hardly unheard of for a vice presidential candidate to express views different from that of the presidential nominee. Joe Biden has already done so on occasion.

But in a later interview with Palin at his side, McCain claimed it was somehow “gotcha journalism” to have reported Palin’s response. Gotcha journalism, to report accurately a vice presidential nominee’s public response to a voter?

Here’s the interview. Note also how McCain and Palin try to mislead viewers about the nature of the exchange with the voter.

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