In essence, the mainstream media reviews of Sarah Palin’s competent performance in the vice presidential debate actually didn’t much differ from those of the conservative media, although the implications of her mastery of the debate format were hotly disputed.
From the Chicago Sun-Times
Gov. Sarah Palin reminded Americans on Thursday night why so many of them greeted her rise to national prominence with enthusiasm when John McCain picked her as his running mate.
Appearing assertive and confident in her national debate premiere, Palin battled Sen. Joseph Biden on a broad range of issues — the Wall Street meltdown, taxes and spending, Iraq, foreign relations, which candidate best represents change — and more than held her own.
From the Denver Post:
Palin spoke with clarity and confidence and got to the heart of the matter with the kind of populist candor she displayed at the Republican National Convention. “Go to a kid’s soccer game on Saturday and ask any parent what they think about the economy, and I betcha you’re going to hear about fear,” Palin said. “Our economy is hurting.”
Much later, Palin was even confident enough to take a swipe at Biden with a line from former President Ronald Reagan. Palin’s intent was to argue that Barack Obama wasn’t forward-looking, but merely critical of President Bush.
With a big grin, she said: “Say it ain’t so, Joe. There you go again. You’re still pointing backwards.”
Even the New York Times couldn’t deny her credit:
She didn’t answer questions directly, but she spoke out with self-assurance and even cockiness, correcting Mr. Biden when he tried to repeat the Republicans’ slogan about oil exploration in Alaska. “The chant is ‘drill, baby, drill,’ ” she said. And Ms. Palin was the one who set the tone, making Mr. Biden sound stuffy before he had a chance to make her look unsteady. She bounded onto the stage, shook hands with her opponent and said brightly, “Hey, can I call you Joe?”
Washington veteran reporter (the other) Roger Simon of Politico raved:
She not only kept Joe Biden on the defensive for much of the debate, she not only repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, but she looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it. She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s. “John McCain doesn’t tell one thing to one group and somethin’ else to another,” she said. “Those huge tax breaks aren’t comin’ to those huge multinational corporations.” She said what she wanted to say, and she was so relaxed she even winked at one point. Really! An actual wink during a national debate, when she said she was going to try to get John McCain to change his mind about not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
She killed. She had him at “Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?” She was the star. He was the second male lead, the good-natured best friend of the leading man. She was not petrified but peppy.
The blogosphere had plenty of fun with Joe Biden’s long list of misstatements and fabrications. Whether on Iran, health care or the Constitution, Biden stretched and at times entirely abandoned the facts.
The irony is that the MSM, precisely as they had done at the GOP Convention, helped deliver a huge audience (nearly 70 million viewers) and a moral victory to Palin. Had they not savaged her and ridiculed her for weeks — just as they did after her selection as VP was announced — she would not have appeared so stunningly different and better than the image many voters had of her going into the debate. If the MSM did not exist, Palin would have to invent them. They are the perfect foil and they never disappoint.
As one network exec confided to me about the penchant for underestimating a politician like Palin who repeatedly has won elections, “We can be such idiots in the media.” Who could quibble with that?
The real dispute among the pundits came over whether the debate means anything. Did it change the trajectory of the race which now is decidedly in Barack Obama’s favor? Not surprisingly, the MSM sniffed and declared nothing had changed. Conservatives hoped it had — by changing the narrative, reviving the base and reminding millions and millions of viewers that the McCain-Palin team loathes Washington insiders as much as they do. They prayed that Noonan had it right:
Sarah Palin saved John McCain again Thursday night. She is the political equivalent of cardiac paddles: Clear! Zap! We’ve got a beat! She will re-electrify the base. More than that, an hour and a half of talking to America will take her to a new level of stardom. Watch her crowds this weekend. She’s about to get jumpers, the old political name for people who are so excited to see you they start to jump.
The opportunity to turn the page — or “reboot” in New Media-speak — was enhanced by the passage on Friday of the $700B financial rescue bill. The final vote 263-171 was not a close one, leaving some to wonder what took so long.
The phones had jammed the switchboard on Capitol Hill only a week earlier with conservatives and liberals alike inveighing against the “bailout.” Paralyzed by fear of an enraged electorate and annoyed by the ultra-partisan barbs of Nancy Pelosi, most House GOP members last week were unwilling to “walk the plank” while Pelosi’s closest supporters voted “no.”
But the stock market continued to dive, credit dried up, another bank failed and cooler heads in the Senate prevailed, thereby forcing the House’s hand. On the second go-around Pelosi did her job — she garnered support and avoided vilifying the opposition.
Who stands to benefit from the bill passage? Many conservatives hope it will be McCain who can now move on to talk of broader themes like reform, energy, national security and tax cuts. But the financial meltdown has left his poll numbers sagging and moved the economy and the unpopular President front and center in the race. Democrats smell victory and intend to keep focusing on the financial mess in the home stretch.
In the last month of the campaign McCain will need to convince voters that he and Palin are the “outsiders” to replace the Washington crowd which the entire country has come to revile. Conservatives continue to fret that McCain has not made better use of the connection between Democrats and the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae debacle. (By contrast the National Republican Congressional Committee has a punchy new ad highlighting this very point.)
Obama meanwhile has the best chance he has all year to make the simple pitch that it is time to throw out the Republicans. With jobless claims rising and factory orders sinking it seems increasingly improbable that the Republicans could hang on to the White House.
Two more debates, lots more ads and rallies and perhaps an October surprise or two is all we have left.
The McCain-Palin ticket will have their work cut out for them, but they are hoping the worst is finally behind them.