Palin joins big leagues

Posted 10/9/08

With one simple question, Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, took charge of the vice presidential debate Oct. 2 in St. Louis. As she strode onto the stage, …

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Palin joins big leagues


With one simple question, Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, took charge of the vice presidential debate Oct. 2 in St. Louis. As she strode onto the stage, smiling, to shake hands with Sen. Joe Biden, D-Deleware, she warmly asked, "My I call you Joe?"

It was clearly a disarming question before the questioning even started. Some might say she was cheeky for asking such a question of a senior senator, but think of all the impacts that those five words had.

She established respect for him by asking if she could presume to call him by his first name. She established that she is his peer — governor to senator. She anchored her femininity by asking a socially correct question of familiarity. She treated him not as an old man, but as a peer. She showed she was not in awe of him by leading the tone of their relationship from the very start.

As it transpired, that relationship continued throughout the evening.

With that, she was ready to beard the lion in his den. I use the term den, because she was facing Gwen Ifill, the chosen moderator from the liberal PBS, an established strong Obama-Biden supporter with a book about Obama to be published on Inauguration Day, debating on the Washington University Area of St. Louis.

Now, I've spent a good deal of time right around the Washington University campus in recent years as my son was going through surgeries and follow-ups at the Washington University and St. Louis Children's Hospital area. You can take my word for it that that area is definitely a haven for the Obama-Biden ticket.

Ifill's book deal had been revealed a couple of days before the debate by Matt Drudge, and that possibly defanged Ifill. It became clear Ifill stands to make a large amount of money from the book, and she was caught between the possibility of being fair or being totally derided as non-professional if she showed overt Obama-Biden leanings in the question. Hence, Ifill's mien was softer and devoid of aggression, almost leaving the candidates to their own resources to set the rules.

Many wondered if Palin would be able to stand up under the threat of Biden's great debater reputation. Now, I'm not going to take much away from Biden's performance, allowing that he was probably near peak performance. He was less arrogant and condescending than normal, even gracious for the most part. Given that, his performance was still flawed with numerous errors and absolute falsehoods.

I picked out a few, myself, but heard Carl Rove give a list of at least 11 undisputable errors in the "facts" Biden used. By contrast, Palin had no gaffs and only a couple of debatably accurate points. So, error wise, it was 11-2 in her favor.

I heard one pundit saying that she violated the rules of debate when she chose not to directly address one question asked by Ifill. That is required in college classroom debate. This is politics, and the moderator can ask any question he or she chooses, but the candidate can answer the question with any play he or she chooses.

Did she not know the answer? Could be, but I rather doubt it. She then said, "I may not answer the question the way that either the moderator or you want to hear," as she looked directly at Biden. But I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record." And, so she did.

She showcased what she's done as a mayor and governor, exhibited great footwork as she took questions about energy, successfully sparring with Biden on the abortion issues and gay marriage. She made clear the need to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She emphasized that she hadn't had to check her opinions at the door when McCain chose her for his running mate, and used their opposing opinions on drilling in Alaska National Wildlife Reserve as a prime example.

So, she is her own woman. She had the opportunity to make the points she wanted to make, and did so when she considered Ifill's question less than important and not key to the task at hand. More importantly, it showed that she was the master of her destiny in the debate, choosing to show her nimbleness in the venue.

Welcome back, Sarah.

Curt Dale, a longtime Parker resident, is a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force and holds a Ph.D.


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