The Corner

Sarah Palin, the Winner By a Wink

Greetings again from St. Louis.  I have a new story up on the home page about last night’s debate.  Before it began, Obama campaign officials had been talking up Sarah Palin’s debating skills.  Afterward, they attributed her performance, in part, to her…winks. Yes, it’s true.  From my story:

Palin delivered a strong and sure performance Thursday night.  After enduring weeks of derision, Palin didn’t just beat the low expectations for her performance; she ran all over them.

But how?  Superior debating ability?  Commanding logic?  A winning manner?  No, not at all. If you listened to Team Obama after the debate late Thursday, you learned Palin accomplished her impressive performance by…winking.

“Don’t sell the American people short,” Axelrod told reporters after the debate.  “I’m sure they liked Gov. Palin, but they need more than a wink and a smile.”  Axelrod also said Biden gave people hope, “rather than offering them a wink and a smile.”  And he added that, “The American people are asking for more — they want more than a wink and a nod and a smile.”

A few minutes later, I talked to Bob Barnett, the Washington lawyer who has played key roles in past Democratic debate preparation and who this time represented the Obama campaign in negotiating ground rules between the two candidates.  Barnett knows how to watch and evaluate a debate, so I asked him to critique Palin’s performance.  “She played her tapes,” Barnett said, meaning that Palin repeated pre-planned statements.  “She came in with ten things to say and six winks to perform, and she did them.”

“Six winks?”

“Yeah.  Did you see?  Six.  I counted six.”

“You were watching closely.”

“Well, I was counting.”

It’s probably safe to say that this was the first national debate in which one side explained that the other had done its best work by winking.  By a few hours after the debate, the great wink issue had driven some commentators on the left nearly to distraction.  “The next person that winks at me, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to take it after tonight,” said MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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