Jonathan Berger
Jonathan Berger

Sarah and the spelling bee

So there we were, an admittedly partisan crowd, waiting for Joe Six-pack’s sister to bomb. Endless repeats of her embarrassing interviews with Katie Couric had left us with unrealistic expectations. Tina Fey’s work on Saturday Night Live hadn’t helped. Nor had the musings of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. We were expecting a train wreck and we got nothing of the sort.

Instead, we were subjected to ninety minutes of what often came across as very carefully staged theatre. Both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin stuck to their speaking points. But unlike the senator from Delaware, the governor from Alaska seldom did anything else. Instead of answering questions, she simply stared straight ahead, smiled, occasionally winked, and recited stock phrases from memory.

It was all quite bizarre. Biden accused Palin of not answering questions put to her: “If you notice, Gwen, the governor did not answer the question about deregulation, did not answer the question of defending John McCain about not going along with the deregulation, letting Wall Street run wild.” In response, the moderator asked if Palin would “like to have an opportunity to answer that before we move on”.

“I’m still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again”, she replied. “And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor.” And then the most chutzpahdik response I have heard this entire election season: “I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.”

In her closing statement, recited with the gusto of a fifth grader at her first spelling bee, Palin expanded on her understanding of what constitutes a debate: “I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they’ve just heard. I’d rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did.”

So there we have it. No questions, no probing, just the opportunity to get all folksy on us and repeat what her handlers had drummed into her all week. Darn right, you betcha, she did a heckuva job! Pity though, in attempting to connect with those who appear to be abandoning the Republicans in droves, she did little to upset Obama’s momentum. Seems like not every Joe Schmoe is a schmuk.