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Evans

Palin Exceeds Expectations but Questions Remain

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Oct 3, 2008

In last night's debate, all eyes were on Governor Sarah Palin. After poor interviews with ABC's Charlie Gibson and CBS's Katie Couric and the Saturday Night Live spoofs, many began to question Palin's qualifications to be vice president and John McCain's judgment in choosing her. But after the debate, she proved to most people that she can serve as vice president ending the unqualified storyline but questions remain.

Going into the debate, Palin had low expectations. Thus, it was a given that she would exceed them. All she needed to do was to speak intelligently, commit no gaffes, and prove that she is not the incompetent that she has been portrayed as. That is an easy task. And to her credit, she seemed to gain more confidence as the night went along. She knew her goal: undermine confidence in Obama, convince people that McCain-Palin represent change, and use Biden's words to drive a wedge between the two. This she did -- and with a smile.

First, she clearly felt comfortable talking about tax cuts, small business, and energy and discussing those topics early in the night helped her confidence. In these discussions, she held her own and she was also effective in making her point on foreign policy. Second, she repeatedly talked about how John McCain and her were both mavericks and would bring change and was effective pointing out that Biden and Obama always looked to the past while they were looking to the future ("say it ain't so, Joe"). Third, she used Biden's words as Obama's policy as dangerous and Biden wanting to be on McCain's ticket to show that Biden questioned Obama's leadership.

And though polls show that the public thought that Biden won the debate (CNN poll 51-36 for Biden & CBS poll 46-21 for Biden), Palin is getting positive coverage from most of the media. They are not saying that she won but they are saying that her qualifications are no longer in doubt which means that she had a strategic win. The race will now focus on the top of the ticket, where it belongs.

However, questions still remain. For a candidate who is questioned as to whether she has the experience and intelligence to serve as vice president and potentially as president, she gave vague answers, sometimes incoherent answers(nuclear war is the be all and end all), avoided some questions, and the folksy langauge, while appealing to the public, is not very presidential.

Going into the debate, she should have done everything that she could to prove the naysayers wrong doggone it. Refusing to answer questions does not do it. Regarding a question about the financial crisis (the most important issue facing the country right now), she ignored it and went to talking about energy. Are you really saying that a potential VP doesn't have something to say about that?

Moreover, compared to Biden's fact laden, pointed, and on topic responses, her vague and non-responses made her look less prepared. And while 66% of the public thoughtshe was qualified to be president according to one poll (up from 46% before the poll), the 98% who thought Biden was qualified pales in comparison. She did trump Biden in style and as coming across as genuine (though Biden scored with his emotionally pause referring to knowing what it is like to be a single parent) and likeable but so does Bush and we expect more from our president.

Finally, was she too folksy? Darn right! I understand the desire to identify with the people and many in middle America appreciate that. But I want my president to be more than folksy. I felt like watching a Leave it to Beaver episode and I don't particularly want the "Beav" as my next president. My fear is that she may look unprofessional and thus unpresidential.

So everybody left the debate last night happy. Democrats were happy that Biden accomplished his goals (McCain is not different from Bush) and, more importantly, showed discipline. Republicans left happy that Palin will not drag down the ticket and the unqualified stories will disappear or at least fade away. Centrist are probably happy seeing a likeable VP with charm, intelligence, and poise. I, on the other hand, leave feeling better but there are questions to be answered.