Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor and one of Sarah Palin’s most influential beltway boosters, cites the former Alaska governor’s performance in the 2008 vice presidential debate with then Sen. Joe Biden as proof of Palin’s not-to-be-misunderestimated political talent.
Said Kristol (via Politico’s Ben Smith) at Vanderbilt University: “I just challenge anyone here who has decided she’s a ridiculous person who can’t hold her own to go back and watch that debate. She did fine, and held her own against the 30-year senator.”
This is a slightly complicated matter.
No, Palin did not vomit or fall flat on her face, either literally or rhetorically. [See political cartoons about Sarah Palin.]
And I agree that Biden’s performance was hardly a thing of triumph—but this was very much by design.
Recall the Obama camp’s consternation on the eve of the debate: Would Biden come off arrogant, boorish, or oafish? Would he seem “mean,” even misogynistic, to sensitive women voters or independents inclined to hear Palin out? [See photos of Palin and her family.]
If one accepts Kristol’s Pepsi challenge and watches the debate (go ahead, watch it here!), you’ll notice that, after Palin spoke, Biden frequently pivoted away from Palin and re-trained the focus of the debate on his friend “John,” and how “John” says this, “John” believes that, “John” is a dear friend who’s wrong about a lot of things.
It seems clear in retrospect that a large part of Biden’s debate preparation came down to treating Palin with kid gloves. He scarcely challenged her directly; indeed, it was almost as though Biden tried, as best he could, to pretend that she wasn’t really there—in a nice way, of course!
The only reason it seems to the likes of Kristol that Palin “held her own” is that, in a sense, it was Biden’s job not to win too handily. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
None of this means Palin is a “ridiculous person.”
But I do think Palin would make a ridiculous candidate.
Even Kristol is on his way to conceding this.
Come on in, Bill. The water's fine.
- See 10 reasons why Palin would make good president, and 10 reasons she'd make a bad one.
- See photos of Palin and her family.
- See editorial cartoons about Palin.