The question I want to hear tonight is one that Gwen Ifill asked in the 2004 VP debate. It was unusual for a debate question, in that it was directed solely at one of the candidates:
IFILL: This goes to you, Senator Edwards, and you have two minutes.
Ten men and women have been nominees of their parties since 1976 to be vice president. Out of those ten, you have the least governmental experience of any of them.
What qualifies you to be a heartbeat away?
Depending on how you want to judge being mayor of a town with a population that would all fit in the bleachers at Fenway Park, Palin has even less experience than Edwards did. I doubt she’ll ask this question again tonight though. The McCain campaign is already working the refs, and they would spin it as an openly partisan attack.
Palin is likely having a difficult time preparing for Ifill, because Ifill has a habit of asking questions that force the candidates off their talking points, and make them think on their feet. Like this one from the 2004 VP debate:
IFILL: I will talk to you about health care, Mr. Vice President. You have two minutes. But in particular, I want to talk to you about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts.
What should the government’s role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?
A generic talking points driven answer about affordable health care would have been glaringly inadequate for this question, and a political pro like Cheney had no problem weaving together an answer on the spot. But given Palin’s recent interview debacles, I can see a question like this producing a real moose-in-the-headlights moment for her.
However, it’s more likely that there will be little drama tonight, and VP debates typically have little to no impact on the overall race. The McCain campaign successfully negotiated for rigid rules in this debate and very limited time for answers (90 seconds) – perfect when you want to just stick to memorized talking points. Still, unlike any Presidential or VP debates in my memory, there’s a chance for a cringe inducing, painful to watch flame-out. One that could bring the whole McCain campaign down with it.
Post Debate Update: I was right about Ifill having a few questions that didn’t square neatly with pre-packaged talking points. But I incorrectly assumed she would make at least some effort to press for something resembling an answer. Palin’s moments of babbling incoherence in the Couric interview came when Couric would ask follow-up questions, to see if Palin had anything to offer beyond her memorized 30-90 second talking points. Here’s Ifill with a good question on when to use nuclear weapons, Palin’s meaningless response, and Ifill then making no effort at all to get an actual answer:
IFILL: Governor, on another issue, interventionism, nuclear weapons. What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?
PALIN: Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.
Our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that’s a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry.
But for those countries — North Korea, also, under Kim Jong Il — we have got to make sure that we’re putting the economic sanctions on these countries and that we have friends and allies supporting us in this to make sure that leaders like Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad are not allowed to acquire, to proliferate, or to use those nuclear weapons. It is that important.
Can we talk about Afghanistan real quick, also, though?
Imagine Palin as President in a situation like the Cuban Missile Crisis.
A.L., in his post The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations makes this cogent point:
What’s saddest I think is that Palin is getting much better reviews than she would have if she were a man. Let’s face it. The press is holding her to a much lower standard for fear of being called sexist by Republicans. Dan Quayle did much better than Palin did in his 1988 debate and he didn’t get nearly the praise she has. I think Joe Biden did an excellent job last night, but at times I almost wished that Hillary had been up on that stage, if for no other reason than to remind people what an intelligent, knowledgeable, competent woman looks like in a debate. If Hillary had demolished Palin in the way Biden did (and she would have), the press would have been much less reluctant to call a spade a spade.
In that sense, I really think Palin is setting the women’s movement back. There’s no reason that her threshold for competence should be so much lower than everyone else’s.