I watched the Sarah Palin-Joe Biden vice-presidential debate Thursday night in a room with 400 people, on a wall-sized screen. By now you've read all the pundits' pronouncements that Palin performed competently and engagingly. She got whoops and applause in my venue, but, I have to confess, I was a bit disappointed in her.
Now, she was cool, she was relaxed and she was confident, qualities she seemed to lack in the Charlie Gibson interview I watched, and, I'm told in the Katie Couric interview so widely criticized. In fact, with Biden she didn't miss a beat, jumping into her answers with gusto, sometimes, it seemed, barely pausing for air.
I think her responses were homey, and direct to the people, reinforcing her out-of-the-beltway, one-of-the-Main-Streeters status. Yes, she's from a little town in Alaska, and that's a good thing, not a handicap. (Her detractors keep trying, though: I saw a nasty article in our local paper with a photo of her "nearly 3,500 square-foot" 4 bedroom home--for seven people, remember--that implied she lives in grandeur on her seven acres valued at $550,000.) She wasn't flustered by Biden's attacks or even his outright lies (like the whopper that the US and France cleared Lebanon of the Hezbollah). She stuck to her strong points (a little too much, perhaps, chopping answers to replay her energy background).
And, she looked great. OK, she should have worn a strong, friendly color (like moderator Gwen Ifill's seafoam green) instead of that severe black, but her newscaster experience was evident in her eye in the camera, her poise and energy. The fact I comment on her appearance is not sexist; remember that Richard Nixon lost his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy based on his haggard, basset-hound countenance.
But, despite Sarah Palin's ingratiating presentation, she didn't deliver something else I sought. I was hoping she could prove herself serious, sharp, savvy and presidential. We all know she's a PTA volunteer who has a pregnant high school daughter. We all know she's vivacious and folksy and talks as if she's gossiping over coffee in the nearest Starbucks, dropping final "g"s and saying heckuva, and adding a little wink now and then.
But do we know if she's aware of who are our enemies and allies, and their leaders? Does she know the background of our conflicts and conflagrations? Can she turn serious and formidable when addressing complex issues and dangerous circumstances? I wanted to see gravitas; I wanted to know she has the smarts to synthesize information in a comprehensive and dynamic way. I was not reassurred by that debate.
Now, I like the lady. And I think she performed well, generally, as did Biden. But I would have preferred her to have enough information at her fingertips to call him on his factual errors, just as he was willing to call her on statements he found objectionable. We need a woman who can hold her own in an argument, whether it's with a dishonest political opponent or a national leader.
However, I do believe that John McCain is excellent in such situations. He's not only principled but is experienced-- he has stared down foes, and weathered dire threats. He understands the broad international landscape and history, and from this knowledge has formed his perspective--in a way Barack Obama would need two decades to match.
I'm voting for McCain, and I think just as a wife completes a husband, Sarah Palin can complete this ticket, adding the strong feminine ingredient our nation has only enjoyed previously from a first lady's unofficial influence. As a partnership, McCain with his gravitas and experience, and Palin with her energy, zeal and ability to connect with a huge swath of Americans, can enthuse the constituency while at the same time bringing reform to the bloated monster government has become.
One of the points made by Biden in the debate was that the role of the Vice President has been "dangerously" extended by VP Richard Cheney: "the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote," Biden insisted. "The Constitution is explicit." If that's true, our primary judgment should be on the qualifications of the presidential candidate, not his "yes-person."
On that criterion, Obama's three years in the Senate doesn't come close to McCain's 27 years of military service and two decades in the Senate. And one of the indicators McCain is willing to be daring and unconventional is his selection of Sarah Palin. She may not yet emanate gravitas, but she brings her own bright light to the job. And she'll be getting on-the-job training from one whose honor, ability and respect cannot be questioned.