Friday 3 October 2008

Sarah Palin: unqualified, but still alive

I couldn't quite stay up for the VP debate in St Louis (full transcript), but was grateful for our two year old daughter waking us up at 6am so I could watch the recording as live before hearing anything about it.

Campaigns always try to manage expectations downwards: none can ever have played quite such a blinder in the expectations game as Sarah Palin. And no politician since Al Gore has done quite so much for the internet as Palin.

Her CBS interviews have conclusively proved that she is not yet qualified to be President. But Palin's lack of knowledge is perhaps less scary than her confidence in spite of this. In her clarity, certainty and lack of all nuance, she very much resembles the current President George W Bush. And like Bush in 2000, she performed confidently and well, by combining her talking points with a folksy anti-politics appeal, in the controlled debate format in which it was relatively easy to duck specific questions.

Joe Biden's strategy was a smart and effective one. He never challenged Sarah Palin and was wary of contradicting her directly - though he was very clear in his rebuttal of the Cheney doctrine of the vice-presidency. But he hammered McCain again and again. Biden won the debate comfortably according to the immediate polls of viewers and undecided voters, with clear and focused advocacy of Obama's domestic and foreign policy platform. And the weakness of the McCain-Palin ticket in current conditions came across too: on domestic policy, the answer is always for government to do less and get out of the way.

But Republicans will be relieved too. Palin's performance - an honourable defeat - will end the question of whether she can remain on the ticket.

As she gets back to energising the base, Palin is unlikely to be exposed to much more media scrutiny during the rest of the campaign. The PalinSpeak interview generator will have to suffice.

If the faltering McCain campaign were to recover and win, then there would be an immediate priority for development assistance to our long-standing ally: Gordon Brown should ensure that Britain urgently sends the best heart surgeons we have to Washington to be on permanent stand-by for the next four years. Any 'special relationship' would demand no less.

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