Saturday, October 4, 2008

The most sensible commentary I've read so far about Palin's debate performance

I'm on vacation and not taking in as much news as usual in recent days. I did make it a priority, however, to watch the debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin on Thursday night. Like so many others in our nation, I wanted to see for myself how she performed.

My own sense is that she probably didn't change many minds. She wasn't the great embarrassment that some had expected, but I definitely thought Biden got the better of the contest. I didn't find Palin's folksiness very winsome -- at least not for or from a Vice Presidential candidate (and as those who know me wold surely agree, I'm pretty darn folksy myself). I didn't think her sentences parsed very well, let alone her paragraphs. She avoided most of the questions. Plus, of course, I disagree with her on most (possibly all?) substantive issues!

So, I've been a bit surprised that the commentators I've read in the wake of the debate, mostly in the New York Times, have been as positive as they have been about Palin's performance. Of course, a lot of the commentary -- such as here and here -- has to some extent damned with faint praise, noting the very low expectations we all had following Palin's interviews with Gibson and Couric. Then I read Gail Collins' column today. Like her male counterparts on the op-ed page, she damns with faint praise, tongue firmly in cheek with lines such as, "Palin did indeed answer each question with poise and self-confidence, reeling off a bunch of talking points that were sometimes totally unrelated to the matter at hand."

But I also liked Collins' closing observations about Palin's strategy as a politician, how she benefits from the women's movement, and what the debate meant, in some ways, for women:

Palin is, in many ways, a genuine heir to the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, which tried to make sure that future generations of American women would grow up feeling they had every right to compete with men for all the best rewards and adventures the world had to offer. She never seems to have had a single doubt that she could accomplish whatever she set her mind to. When she got involved in politics, she used the time-honored male route of cultivating powerful mentors, then pushing them out of the way at the first possible opportunity. When she was governor, she did what very few female politicians do, and ignored all the subsidiary issues in order to put all her bets on one big policy payoff in the form of a new state energy policy.

Then, somehow, she concluded that her success in clawing her way to the top of Alaska’s modest political heap meant she was capable of running the United States.

This entire election season has been a long-running saga about the rise of women in American politics. On Thursday, it all went sour. The people boosting Palin’s triumph were not celebrating because she demonstrated that she is qualified to be president if something ever happened to John McCain. They were cheering her success in covering up her lack of knowledge about the things she would have to deal with if she wound up running the country.

No comments: