The Corner

Maybe not tonight

…but I would give a lot of extra credit to Governor Palin if she could do what John McCain did not seem able to do last week on the economy. When Barack Obama accuses McCain of being willing to “spend” $300 million at this critical juncture, by cutting taxes on businesses and “the rich” (aka, the people who pay taxes), I need to hear someone point out that there is a real difference between instances when the government fails to confiscate additional tax dollars, by, say, lowering or simply not raising, taxes — and actual spending. I hope Palin reminds voters that, last week, they heard Senator Obama remain unable to mention even one potential cut in spending under the current “crisis” conditions.

That is the kind of substantive, yet common sensical distinction that real people understand, but which is deliberately obfuscated by liberal politicians at every possible instance. It should be driven home.

I am hoping that Palin will be able to deflect questions with a little more sophistication than she has done so far. I am a big fan of “I don’t know…but here is what I do know” when the need arises. Biden will never do that.

Frankly, partisan nastiness has reached such a point that it inevitable that both Palin and Biden will exceed expectations. If you think about it, have you ever actually seen a debate in which one of the candidates really embarassed himself? No. A painful moment here or there, but nothing mortifying. Still, a lot of people will be watching for the “train wreck” potential tonight.

One reason that it’s never as bad as predicted, is, as Amy suggests below, that TV is a warm medium. People watching it get absorbed in all sorts of visual cues, facial expressions and body language. Palin is attractive, and, in the normal course of things, reasonably polished. She is straightforward, can move to the big picture, and she likes those Reaganesque homilies — and she is steely enough on a good day. Love it or hate it. Tonight she needs to display as much steel as possible, and to offer a solid gut response when she can’t give details — and when she can. Sounding tough won’t hurt her.

At his best, (or Neal Kinnock’s), Biden isn’t so different. His speeches are heavy on anecdotes, blarney, and personal warmth. He is no intellectual, and not much of a policy wonk. He too needs to display a certain amount of personal steel, and intellectual rigor, and the ability to move to useful abstractions. Details don’t add up all by themselves. Unlike Palin, he can’t sound too tough — especially in responding to her. He certainly can’t show even a smidge of contempt. For the most part, people who like Biden do so for personal reasons. If Palin had had a bit more time on the national stage, this would be a reasonable match up. That is not the case with McCain and Obama, who are entirely different temperamentally and stylistically.

In any case, the McCain campaign had best be thinking about their new big message. Even if Palin falls on her face, if they lose, it has very little to do with her.

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