(Photo Credit: James Estrin, New York Times; Sarah Palin and Joe Biden chat at the conclusion of the vice-presidential debate -- or fight over who gets custody of Palin's adorable daughter Piper, 10/2/08.)
Weekend Updated: Scroll down for SNL debate parody, featuring Queen Latifah as moderator Gwen Ifill.
You have to admit she’s perky. Spunky. Fetching. Winsome. Winning. Plucky. Chipper. Pick pretty much any adjective that roughly translates to “assertive but in a friendly, girlie kind of way designed not to threaten, um, patriarchy,” and it applies to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who calmed Republican nerves and surprised a lot of caricature artists by not catastrophically failing in her debate against Senator Joe Biden on Thursday. (Transcript and video here.) It’s true she didn’t actually answer most of the questions that were put to her and that Biden was far more effective in performing the veep nominee’s job of using the debate to demolish the opposing team’s arguments on behalf of itself. Nonetheless, The Sarah and Joe Show made for 90 minutes of excellent television – far more compelling than the soporific John and Barack-athon of the previous week – because Palin and Biden played well together. They were relaxed, at ease, at some moments even genuine in their looks at and responses to one another.
Credit Palin for setting a congenial tone with her opening “Hey, can I call you Joe?” to Biden as the two shook hands at center stage. Even if the move was designed to tempt Biden to use an informal mode of address that would no doubt have been interpreted as sexist and condescending, it broke the ice and established a friendliness that never really dissipated. If Palin’s energy and aura of breezy self-assurance could be bottled, the proceeds from the sales of the drug could bail out the financial industry, pay for all the wars George Bush has started, and build all the bridges to nowhere we could possibly want. Whether it can get John McCain into the White House is, of course, another question. Palin saved herself from complete ignominy on Thursday night, but polls show Biden won the debate and that voters are continuing to move toward the Democratic ticket. It could be Dems will win – even without the coveted endorsement of America’s favorite dog blog devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball.
The resurgent Palin finally has an explanation for why she failed so stupendously in her pre-debate interviews with Katie Couric. She was “annoyed.” But how could this be? What flapped the unflappable mighty huntress? What bugged the unbuggable VP nominee? Oh, you know, that a pesky reporter was daring to ask follow-up questions designed to get her off her talking points and offer something more than folksy platitudes about kitchen tables and soccer games and tax cuts and mavericks. According to a Wa Po report on a less annoying interview Palin did with Fox News, Palin was annoyed in the CBS interviews because she felt she was going to "get clobbered" no matter what she said in response to the also perky and winsome Couric:
"In those Katie Couric interviews," Palin said, "I did feel that there were lot of things that she was missing in terms of an opportunity to ask what a VP candidate stands for, what the values are, represented in our ticket." Those subjects, Palin said, included Barack Obama's positions on taxes, spending and Afghanistan. "So I guess I have to apologize for being a bit annoyed, but that's also an indication of being outside the Washington elite, outside of the media elite, also," Palin said. "I just wanted to talk to Americans without the filter and let them know what we stand for."Democracy – Yeah, it’s annoying. That’s why George Bush has on occasion expressed a desire to be a dictator. That’s why Dick Cheney has operated pretty much as a dictator for the last eight years, which makes Palin’s creepy hat tip to the current vice president’s theory of his office on Thursday night deeply annoying to anyone concerned about the dangerous expansion of executive power that has occurred during the reign of Shrub and Darth. She may be a Washington outsider (you picked up on that, didn’t you?), but apparently the governor has a copy of the Constitution in her kitchen drawer up there in Wasilla, along with a copy of the collected sermons of noted Puritan divine Ronald Reagan (you remember him, right – the guy who first declared [according to Palin’s attribution in the debate] that America would be “as a city upon a hill?”). In an effort to prove that she does in fact understand what the vice president does, Palin indicated she was “thankful” that “the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are.” Moderator Gwen Ifill followed up with a question about whether Palin agreed with Cheney that the executive branch may not entirely control the office of the vice president because it resides partly in the legislative branch. Palin offered one of her more expansive and, um, responsive responses of the evening to this question:
Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.Roxie’s World has a question for Gov. Palin: Is there a “there” there? By which we mean: What exactly is it you are trying to do with the word “there,” which pops up in your speech as frequently as moose poop on a forest trail? As in, “I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, DC.” And, at the risk of annoying you, we have a follow-up question with regard to the word “that.” What’s up with “that,” Governor, another favorite term in your lexicon? As in, “that world view that John McCain and I share.” We have a hunch that such placeholder words, such vague non-referential referents, are signs not of ignorance but of obfuscation, of a conscious effort to say as little possible in an effort to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. They are the rhetorical equivalents of those cute little winks you kept flashing to the camera. A cynic might say the vagueness is an effort to conceal the far right wing nature of the program Palin would seek to enact, but there are no cynics here in Roxie’s World, just an old dog with her ear to the ground and a couple of grouchy English profs who have spent decades crusading against vagueness in the margins of their students’ papers.
One more point to make about Thursday’s debate. Ifill brought up the subject of “granting same-sex benefits to couples.” (Speaking of vagueness, one could argue there is a fair amount of that there in Ifill’s question. Is she asking the candidates to weigh in on whether all couples should be afforded the benefits of being of the same sex? Hmmm, is Ifill calling for a program of mass sex-reassignment? Hey, why not?) Anyway, perhaps flummoxed by the fuzziness of the question, Biden launched into a murky response that momentarily sounded as if the Democratic ticket supported a right to same-sex marriage:
We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.When Ifill came back to him later and asked directly about support for same-sex marriage, Biden was emphatic but still not much clearer: “No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.” Huh? And they say Palin verges on incoherent at times? For her part, Palin claimed she and McCain would support traditional marriage but would do nothing to prevent same-sex couples from having hospital visitation rights and the right to set up contractual agreements around property and insurance – exactly the kind of rights Biden had focused on in his torturously nuanced response. Go read the transcript. This post is already getting too long.
Bottom line? Dems may offer somewhat broader rights and protections to same-sex couples, but their nervousness about the issue and their refusal to speak the M-word opens up space for Republicans to claim they are being “tolerant” as long as they’re not quoting Leviticus and chasing queers out of town with pitchforks. It’s a gutless position, and it won’t pick up a single vote – or the coveted endorsement of America’s favorite dog blog devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball.
Update: Because we love you and know you want it, here is the SNL debate parody that opened last night's show. It's long and not as hilarious as some of the previous Palin-odes, but the writers seem to share our view of the discussion of benefits for same-sex couples. It's around the 8-minute mark: