Friday, October 3, 2008

Governor Palin's Reading List

Maybe you saw the last installment of Katie Couric's exclusive interview with Sarah Palin, in which Palin was unable to name what newspapers and magazines she reads on a regular basis. Through my contacts in Alaska, I have obtained a copy of Palin's secret subscription list, which I reproduce here for your benefit:

Mooseweek
U.S. Moose and Wolf Report
Hockey Mother Jones
Halibut Today
Un-Cosmopolitan
Drill Bit Quarterly
Good Iglookeeping
Better Homes and Icefields
Working Unwed Mother
The Wasilla Street Journal
The Midnight Sun-Times

and, of course, the National Enquirer.

I felt compelled to dig up this information after watching last night's vice presidential debate between Palin and Joe Biden. It became pretty clear, pretty quickly that Governor Palin doesn't have a very broad knowledge base. She does, however, have a full arsenal of doggone folksy expressions and a remarkable repertoire of winks and smiles.

One could argue that Sarah Palin won that debate, simply because she didn't embarrass herself with some obviously dreadful gaffe, and never had a desperate moose-in-the-headlights moment. On the surface, at least, she seemed to rediscover the frontier woman pluckiness that won the hearts of so many Middle Americans during the Republican National Convention.

One would be wrong, however. I refuse to lower the bar that low. I've watched the debate twice now, and I had to stop compiling my list of Palin's misstatements, factual errors, filibustering platitudes and evasive, time-wasting non-answers because it was giving me carpal tunnel syndrome. Biden had his share of b.s. too, misrepresenting some of John McCain's positions and some of his own, but by and large, he answered the questions, more directly than Palin, or for that matter, Obama or McCain did in their debate.

In fact, I think of the four candidates, Joe Biden has given the best performance so far, by far. He was uncharacteristically restrained and respectful. He stayed on point. He listened to the question, remembered to answer it, listened to his opponent's answer, responded to that, and demonstrated an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge, especially on foreign policy. On subtance, Biden won this debate in a crushing landslide. On style, Palin gets some points for her frisky country governor routine, but not enough to negate Biden's overwhelming advantage on everything else.

Last week, my take on the first presidential debate was out of sync with the polls. I thought McCain did well, and may have beaten Obama, by a narrow margin. But surveys showed most voters, especially the undecided, declaring Obama the winner.

This time, it turns out I agree with the voters. CBS News polled 500 undecided voters who watched the vice presidential debate. Forty-six percent of them say Biden won. Only 21% thought Palin did. The remaining 33% say it was a tie. CNN polled voters in general who watched the show, with 51% giving the win to Biden and 36% picking Palin, although by 54 to 36, those voters found Palin the more likable of the two.

In the CBS poll, 18% of those previously uncommitted voters now say they will vote for Obama. Ten percent of them have decided to vote for McCain. Fifty-three percent have a better opinion of Biden now, and only five percent think worse of him. Palin scored well in that regard too, with 55% saying they like her more now, but 14% say they like her less after the debate. And 98% see Biden as knowledgeable about important issues - only 66% say Palin is, although that's a huge improvement from the 43% who thought that about her before the debate.

Palin echoed McCain in her stubborn refusal to stop repeating false facts. She said U.S. troops are below pre-surge levels now. They're not - something you would think the commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard, whose son just joined those troops, would know. She said Obama voted to raise taxes on families making as little as $42,000 a year. That's simply not true. She kept calling the general in charge of American forces in Afghanistan "General McClellan." His name is General David McKiernan - which Biden must know, but to his credit, he never corrected Palin. That's an old habit of Biden's, something he's done since his first campaign for the Senate; when his opponent makes a mistake like that, he lets it slide, or even pretends he doesn't know the right information either, so as not to show up the other debater.

Palin, on the other hand, was quick to jump on Biden when he complained that the McCain-Palin energy plan is all about "drill, drill, drill."

"The chant is 'Drill, Baby, Drill,' Senator," she corrected him, seeming to savor the moment.

I thought the debate's most powerful moment came near the end, when Biden choked up while remembering the death of his wife and daughter, and near-death of his younger son, in a car crash in 1972. It seemed real, uncontrived, and it really connected with those watching, according to those voter meters CNN uses. From that point on, Biden was more forceful, as if he sensed the end of the debate was near and he was going in for the kill.

He got it, like a head shot on a moose in Denali.

Besides, I can't watch Palin anymore without thinking of Tina Fey. For me, the Alaska governor has become a caricature, and if she can't shake it, she's doomed.

I can't wait to watch Saturday Night Live this weekend. In the meantime, I'm sending Gov. Palin complimentary subscriptions to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Anchorage Daily News.

She may want to skip the section where they print the polls, though, because nothing happened in this debate to stop the McCain-Palin slide, or really to alter the race in any way. That burden falls on John McCain himself, in next Tuesday's town hall face-off with Barack Obama.