In VP Debate, Sarah Palin Talked Straight to the American People . . . and Insulted Their Intelligence.

About thirteen minutes into last Thursday’s vice presidential debate, Republican candidate Sarah Palin declared that she was not going to answer the questions the way her opponent, Joe Biden or Gwen Ifill, the moderator, would have liked. Instead, she said, she was going to talk straight to the American people. By the end of the debate, it became clear that Sarah Palin’s straight talk was little more than rambling, disjointed answers, folksy anecdotes about small-town life, and political talking points. It also became clear that Sarah Palin has little regard for the intelligence of the American people.

Take, for example, her answer to the question about taxation. After pointing out that paying taxes is not patriotic, she went on to state that she and her husband, Todd, are middle class. While it’s difficult to get hold of exactly how much Sarah Palin earned as governor of Alaska, at least one source reports that she earned $125,000, and that her and her husband’s assets add up to a net worth of over $1 million. However, despite her six-figure salary (which is roughly half of her family income), Sarah Palin insists on painting herself as an everyday, middle-class American. Now, I’m not sure what planet the Alaska governor inhabits but here on planet Earth, a six-figure salary puts its earner above joe-sixpack status. Yet Sarah Palin spoke as if the American people are not expected to know this—in much the same way they were not expected to see any irony in the fact that the Republican party (which is trying to sell itself as the people’s party) mocked community organizers at their recent convention. In keeping with this line of thinking, Sarah Palin actually said in the debate that the Republican party puts people first. Of course, anyone who remembers 2005 would have been forgiven for asking if she was talking about the same party that so notoriously failed to put the people of New Orleans first.

Such hypocrisy seems par for the course for the Republican party, so there’s nothing new here. After all, this is the party whose presidential candidate owns more houses than he can count—including a $12 million mansion in Arizona—yet accuses his Democratic opponent of being elitist. But again, that sort of hypocrisy has become commonplace in presidential campaigns. At the end of the day, it was Sarah Palin’s utter failure—or refusal—to even engage with the moderator’s questions or her opponent’s rebuttals that was most insulting to the American people’s intelligence. Several times she ignored the question outright and answered whatever she pleased. For example, when given the chance to rebut Biden’s charge that Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain supported “deregulation almost across the board,” Palin responds, “Oh, I’m still on the tax thing . . ..” Clearly, even when the discussion had moved on, Palin insisted on answering only the questions she wanted. Why?

At another point, after the moderator had asked—and Joe Biden had answered—a question about subprime mortgages and legislation that had made it harder for debt-strapped Americans to declare bankruptcy, Palin decided she would rather “talk about again my record on energy versus your ticket’s energy ticket also,” because she thought it was “important to come back to.” First of all, what kind of incoherent, rambling answer is that? Secondly, how could she have expected to get away with so blatantly not answering the question? But she didn’t miss a beat. She started talking about how “East Coast politicians” are keeping energy-rich states like Alaska from tapping into their energy resources, thereby leaving the US dependent on foreign oil while sending around $700 billion dollars to foreign countries who don’t necessarily like us. Although Sarah Palin’s energy-policy answer had nothing to do with the issue being discussed nor the challenge her opponent had just put on the table, she seemed unperturbed. She was on a roll. Throughout this charade, in fact, she acted as though the American people were not expected to notice any of this.

The rest of the debate continued in much the same fashion. On the issue of global climate change, Palin agreed the planet’s getting warmer but didn’t admit it was the result of human activity. Instead, she went back to oil drilling as a path to energy independence; as if burning oil drilled in the US was any more of a solution to climate change than burning imported oil. Palin’s rationale? The US is too reliant on countries that produce more oil and pollute more “than America would ever stand for.” Presumably, US dependence on these countries forces us to tolerate their pollution? Sarah Palin must have assumed that the American people don’t know that the US is the largest per capita producer of carbon dioxide, thereby making us the largest greenhouse-gas emitter. When asked about interventionism and nuclear weapons, Palin did not hesitate to make up a General McClellan, who she said is on the ground in Afghanistan. It turns out there’s no General McClellan in Afghanistan (though there was a Civil War–era general who went by that name). And, after Biden rebutted her answer on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Palin responded by calling his plan for an exit strategy in Iraq a “white flag of surrender.” Again, no answer, just a childish taunt. I could go on and on but that would mean listening to the entire debate again, which even I am not prepared to do.

Ultimately, Sarah Palin’s performance in the debate was very revealing. She showed herself to be charming and personable. She proved she is capable of speaking—or at least reading a flashcard—for 90 seconds at a time. She showed that she’s also good at dodging questions and reciting talking points since, more often than not, she barely responded to the question that was being discussed. What she isn’t good at, however, is coherence. But Sarah Palin’s apalling performance revealed something else about her. She is confident—perhaps it’s a trait she honed during her days as a beauty pageant contestant. How else are we to explain her unflinching demeanor during the debate? Anybody who only looked at her body language—or watched the debate with the sound off—would have sworn Sarah Palin was getting the better of Joe Biden. At times, it almost seemed as though she herself thought her answers were brilliant. This raises three possibilities: Sarah Palin is a phenomenal actress; she is delusional and out of touch with reality; or she simply believed that her answers were good enough for the American people. I think it’s the third one.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that Sarah Palin didn’t try hard enough during last week’s debate. In fact, I’m certain she did her best up there on that stage. The trouble is that her best just wasn’t good enough. No doubt, confidence is a good quality for any politician to have but, as a certain former Texas governor showed the world, confidence is not enough. Leading the most powerful country in the world will take more than self-assuredness. It will take experience, knowledge, insight, and—dare I say it?—education. This is something we should all be mindful of, considering there is a 50% chance Sarah Palin may literally find herself a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Hopefully the American people realize this. Otherwise, we might end up with something even worse than more of the same.

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9 thoughts on “In VP Debate, Sarah Palin Talked Straight to the American People . . . and Insulted Their Intelligence.

  1. Pingback: » In Last Week’s Debate, Sarah Palin Talked Straight to the American … Joe Biden On Best Political Blogs: News And Info On Joe Biden

  2. Palin and McCain are just what the doctor ordered to carry on George W. Bush’s legacy… McCain’s got the current president’s love for oil and warmongering while Palin has the deer caught in headlights // political pawn aspects covered

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  3. Emily,

    Thank you so much for your comment. You’re right on Katrina: the local and state governments deserve plenty of blame too, but it would be unfair to the victims to let the federal government off the hook. The GOP leadership was its usual smug, insensitive, and incompetent self throughout that crisis, and FEMA (a federal agency) repeatedly let New Orleaneans down before, during, and after the storm.

    And thanks too for sharing your personal perspective of being—or trying to be—middle class in this country, where it is becoming increasingly harder to make ends meet.

    I hope you keep reading the blog and leaving comments.

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  4. I wish there were more people reading this write up before the elections 4 days later. could you at least try sending it to all university student run newspapers? at least it would reach the voters – and they’re educated (hopefully) enough to understand it. i have a gnawing feeling we’ll have the beauty queen running this country in the not to very distant future.

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  5. I’m female and a Feminist (the real kind, the ones who just want women to be on equal footing with men for reasons of simple, obvious fairness)… and I agree just about 100% with this, and don’t find it the least bit sexist. In the words of the Hillary impersonator on SNL: “I didn’t run for President because I wanted a woman to be President. I ran because *I* wanted to be President, and I just *happened* to be a woman!”

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a person’s gender (or, for that matter, nice smiles or down-home folksiness) that should matter when we’re talking about whether they can lead the nation; it’s their ability to handle crises, communicate, and know when and from whom to seek advice when they’re out of their league that are important. The President is more than an expression of the The Kind of Folk I’d Like To Have A Beer With, he or she is the person who handles or helps to handle the vast majority of major issues and crises in this country; the person who deals with foreign powers; who controls the panic (or can worsen it!) when the country is under threat from within or without; and the person who makes it easier or harder to shape the laws in this country. If you don’t realize that, you shouldn’t be voting, simple as that! Stay home if you don’t realize the kind of impact the President and, yes, Vice President actually have on our lives.

    Granted, I am not entirely sure I agree with the constant blaming of the disasterous results of Katrina solely on the Republican Party; for one, I get the feeling it was a perfect storm of crappy preparations across the board from multiple people and groups, including the locals who did not seem to think anything at all dangerous about building a city below sea level on the coast of the hurricane-barraged Gulf of Mexico, and were seemingly unconcerned with having (as Florida does) good, coherent evacuation plans and a solid, effective way of communicating them to the people in place. I do realize that it was the Bushies that put an incompetant, untrained non-profressional at the head of FEMA, but aside from that… I really think the local government deserves more of the blame than they currently get in comparison to the larger national-level GOP. Palin, for instance, was way up in Alaska and only really capable of being involved with local, Alaskan politics at the time.

    But, there is more than enough that I will wholeheartedly agree with in this post. Especially the parts that point out the six-figure salaries and multiple multimillion dollar homes that the big Kahunas of the GOP have while simultaneously trying to pull a fast one on us and call themselves “middle class”. Middle class my ass!

    I’M middle class; I’m a college student living at home and making maybe $2,000 a year, TOPS, with parents who own their own small, family business and struggle to meet payments every month on a mortage, health insurance, copays on their needed medications, two cars + car insurance (shared between three adult family members), food costs, gas costs, and utilities bills. Oh, and to pay my way through the books and tuition at the local community college, in hopes of my at least gaining an AA so that I can work in something other than food service, because if I have to resort to being a fast food worker because that’s all that’s left, I will break down and cry (at this rate, sadly, it may be the only place I CAN get a job that pays enough to meet bills once I move out in a couple years, despite my being fairly personable, good with computers, knowledgeable of Spanish, creative and a quick typist!).

    THAT is middle class. If you have to struggle to pay the bills on the “basics” such as your one and ONLY home, basic utilities, gas, food and healthcare. If you worry about getting sick or injured because you can’t afford the copays for an emergency room visit, or even to close the shop for one of the six 8-9 hour days it’s open. If you struggle to pay tuition and books for even a public community college known for low tuition rates, while still unable to find a job that pays well enough to allow you to move out of your parents’ house even if you were willing to have a roommate to split the cost. If you lose sleep at night, wondering if the nervousness of the stock market folks will impact your ability to pay rent on the small shop downtown this month, or if the next rise in gas prices will mean you’ll have trouble paying the electric or water bill next month. THAT is middle class.

    If you can lose thousands of dollars in income over the course of a year and not ONLY not have to worry about still being able to afford healthcare including your needed medications, but in fact still manage to make more than most people make in half a decade… then you are not middle class. If you can afford to welcome a new child into your home without having to worry how you’ll manage to feed the poor thing once it’s off breast milk? You are not middle class.

    And if you can in fact lose a half DOZEN homes without being homeless? Then you ARE NOT MIDDLE CLASS.

    Millionaires may easily be folksy or earthy, but they are NOT “middle class”, regardless of how many members of their family happen to “school teachers”.

    In short, Sarah Palin The Millionairess is an even worse hypocrite and even bigger liar than McCain lately, and she can kiss my middle class ASS for trying to claim she feels my or my family’s pain when SHE doesn’t have to worry about whether she’ll be able to feed, cloth and house herself or keep herself from being in physical pain and suffering two months from now, without going into debt!

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  6. Thank you for having the courage to brouch this aspect of the debate.

    What is wrong with the rationale of America? I am baffled that we are still entertaining the thought of having this woman represent us. Go back to Little Diomede lady, oh that’s right you haven’t been there.

    There are women in the Republican Party who are qualified to run this country. Women who are intelligent enough to understand policy. Women who care enough for this country to know policy.

    John McCain should have made a maverick decision and had the fortitude to choose a running mate that would better America.

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