Friday, October 3, 2008

Give Her a State, She'll Take the Senate and Then Some

RJ Eskow on HuffPo has the best take on the debate I've read so far:
Palin Runs For Senate Dictator - TV Repubs Ride The "Straight Talking Points" Express

By RJ Eskow [originally published October 3, 2008 in Huffington Post]

It was creepy to watch Sarah Palin ignore Gwen Ifill's questions and repeat the same scripted answers over and over, as if she were oblivious to her physical surroundings. Even creepier was the fact that so many Republicans interviewed afterward seemed to do the same thing, each robotically repeating the same stock phrases. It was like that scene in Children of the Damned where their eyes start glowing and they all speak in unison.

Instead of "straight talk" we got "straight talking points," from Pat Buchanan on down. Here are some of the buzzwords that spinmeisters in Greater Roveland apparently distributed to any Republican likely to wander within 500 feet of a microphone:

  • She was "terrific."
  • Joe Biden is "slick."
  • She's "younger" and "attractive" and "that represents change."
  • Biden and Obama are "looking back" by discussing the last 8 years, and John McCain's role in them. We want to "look forward." (That one's classic Rovian Bushspeak, as is McCain's "let's not place blame" routine.)

Note that there were only a few of these phrases in play. The Art of the Talking Point demands that you don't present too many at one time - and if the GOP understands anything, it's the Art of the Talking Point. Unfortunately for them, early polling shows that viewers aren't buying it. CNN's flash poll said that 51% of polled viewers thought that Biden won, as opposed to only 36% for Palin.

Paul Begala, on the other hand, made what I thought was a brilliant observation. He said that Palin did very little to help John McCain, and that he didn't even think she tried. He said that it appeared to hm that she was more interested in positioning herself for a 2012 run. That feels right.

Palin's performance was weak, scripted, and disrespectful to voters in its refusal to give the public the answers it deserves. Pundits say she beat expectations because she didn't say anything outrageous - but she did. She mis-stated the Constitution as she made a blatant play for power. Here's what she said:

I'm thankful 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.

The Constitution doesn't say that, and apparently she doesn't support the fundamental principle of separation of powers. It sounds like she wants to assume semi-dictatorial power over the deliberations of the United States Senate. It's odd: Her original objective tonight was to convince a minority of voters - the Republican base - that she would be at least minimally competent to perform the duties of Vice President. Instead, she demanded far more than merely those historic duties. She wants to be more powerful than any Vice President in history.

Apparently Dick Cheney's been too much of a pussycat for her liking. At least Cheney had some grounding in government when he started assuming authoritarian power. But Palin wants more power than Cheney - with vastly less experience. She made a play tonight for nothing less than an elimination of constitutional checks and balances, so that the Executive Branch can manipulate the Legislative.

Observers who think this was merely a poorly-thought-out phrase are gravely misjudging Palin. What she lacks in experience or skill she more than makes up for in blind ambition. This was not a randomly uttered sentence: It was a statement of intent which she will no doubt attempt to fulfill should her ticket win.

So as robotic Republicans repeated their straight-talking points, many of us saw a repeat of George W. Bush in Sarah Palin. We saw the same pseudo-folksiness and fundamental dishonesty. We also saw with the same unquenchable thirst for power - power that she (like he) isn't competent to wield.

And by an overwhelming margin, viewers also saw a candidate who lost the debate.

Yes, she exceeded expectations, and yes, she did better than she did with Katie Couric. But Joe Biden was warm, human, engaging, effective, and anything but "slick."

The GOP continues to use the playbook of the last eight years: contempt for the press and the political process, an endless thirst for unilateral power, and a willingness to subordinate independent thought to the talking points of the party line. Their only problem? It looks like the public has stopped buying it. Let's hope so, or the duly elected (and undoubtedly Democratic) Senate may soon find itself under the legislative equivalent of martial law.

RJ Eskow blogs at:

A Night Light
The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog

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