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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Palin/Biden Debate: Anti-Intellectualism, Class, and Meanness


After seeing Sarah Palin debate, I have to admit she is a skilled rhetoritician and to be honest after five gaffes in 8 days, my expectations for her were pretty low. The fact that she got through the entire debate without getting too tangled up in any tongue-tying grammatically incorrect incoherencies was truly surprising. Too bad she had nothing of substance to say and refused to answer most of the questions. But what was most appalling about her performance was her suoerficiality, her anti-intellectualism, and her complete disregard for the truth. Have we reached a new low in electoral politics?

Why was misrepresenting the truth a central debate strategy for Palin? Is she really still still saying that Obama wants to raise taxes when every news source in the country has revealed that as a lie? Is she really still claiming McCain had a pivotal role in the bailout bill when all reports indicate he had a marginal or destructive role if any? And did she think none of us listened to the Presidential debate ourselves and that we would believe her misrepresentation of it when she claimed Obama had called for talks with terrorists while she and McCain were devoted to diplomacy? McCain was very clearly arguing against diplomacy. Sitting down to talk with leaders you disagree with is the definition of diplomacy. She repeated the lie that McCain supports regulation of Wall Street when his entire record suggests otherwise and when Katie Couric asked her to name one instance of him voting for regulation she could not.

Governor Palin claims she is "Joe Six-Pack," meanwhile her yearly household income is over a quarter of a million. She is rich, not middle class, not working class, not poor. What she does have in common with many people who are working class is a substandard education. She attended five different colleges before finally getting a bachelors degree in journalism. Despite her background in journalism she now claims all reporters are elitist and out to get her with "gotcha journalism." Her running mate is still less educated than she is, having only attended the US Naval Academy where he was ranked the 894th out of 899 students. Neither one of them is working class. Neither one of them was denied opportunities to get education but both of them were poor students and neither of them has pursued the higher levels of education their class status gave them access to.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, might have been too smart to debate Palin. He actually answered every question (save one) he was asked and actually gave reasons, cited dates, and recited facts. He actually demonstrated intimate knowledge of foreign policy and a thorough understanding of legislative history. Palin, for her part, was very good at towing the Republican party line. She also lied a lot. For the life of me I still cant understand how her ticket can lie so much with a straight face. But she had almost no content and was very good at changing the subject, appealing to jingoism and talking in condescending and hostile tones about Joe Biden. She came across as a remarkably mean-spirited person but not a passionate mean-spirited person. She did not seem to be guided by any sense of justice or any real political mission. "Say it isnt so, Joe?" Really?

Biden meanwhile spent all of his time being civil, calm, and polite. He never attacked Palin, not once. Although she attacked him on a personal level, he was careful never to take an aggressive stance towards her, never critiquing her record or her positions on anything. I think he should be commended for this. After watching all her embarrassing interviews this week, I for one would not have been able to keep a straight face while she spoke if I were debating her.

What Palin does have is a real command of fake folksy appeal, superficial cutsey poses and colloquial expressions devoid of any content, designed it appears, to manipulate what she must think is a decidedly stupid electorate. While she repeated vague expressions and stock vocabulary, Biden kept providing detailed policy proposals and making detailed contrasts between the goals and records of Senators McCain and Obama.

Palin was unable to answer the only hard question she got - that regarding what the constitution says the role of the vice president is. I don't know why the questions were all so easy. Was the moderator afraid of embarrassing her after Palin endured so many embarrassing interviews this week? Who knows.

Biden wrote the Violence Against Women Act (which McCain voted against twice). And he cried! The man has ovaries! Women's rights will be much safer on his watch.
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