BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE 1: The Campaign Trail

Four more weeks of nail biting and
backbiting (an ongoing weekly summary of the presidential campaign).

 

BY BEN WESTHOFF

 

October 6, 2008 – dizzy with spin: If you’ve talked to a white
person in the last couple weeks (white as defined by “Stuff White People
Like” blog, i.e. Wes Anderson-appreciating types), you can be sure he or
she babbled, at length, about how annoying Sarah Palin is. Palin’s shtick
absolutely appalls them, for sure, as does her stance on the issues and catch
phrases like “drill, baby, drill.” The only thing greater than these
folks’ dissatisfaction with Palin is their love for Tina Fey’s impression of
her.

 

It’s a unique moment in time when the recently-obscure vice presidential
pick of the candidate trailing in the polls can dominate both politics and entertainment
news. Palin’s sharp looks, saucy attitude and tenuous grasp of policy ensured
that not just white people, but also penitent supply-siders, extra-credit
seeking school kids and frat boys all tuned in to last week’s high rated VP
debate. (The latter were largely in it for the Palin drinking games; sadly she
never said “fetus,” which, in my
version
, would have required imbibing ten pitchers of Long Island Ice Tea.)

 

Expectations were high for the theater of the debate because expectations
were low for the candidates themselves. After her deliciously Quayle-esque
interview with Katie Couric, Palin bunkered down for three days of cramming in Arizona with the hopes
she wouldn’t embarrass herself and create further distraction for the McCain
campaign. Biden, meanwhile, had the two-fold goal of (A) not appearing to bully
his opponent a la McCain at the first debate or Gore in 2000 and (B) not asking
any paraplegic state officials to “stand up,” as he did in Columbia, Missouri
in early September.

 

Predictably both candidates met these goals, but they were annoying in their
own ways. Biden smiled at inappropriate times, and his eyes often appeared
barely open. He dubiously compared the importance of this election to that of
1932 (why not just hold up a sign that said, “Bush = Hoover”?), and,
in an attempt to sound connected with regular folks — ie Great Lakes state
residents — only ended up sounding like the Beltway wonk that he is.
“Look, all you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or
go to Katie’s Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me where I spend a lot of
time and you ask anybody in there whether or not the economic and foreign
policy of this administration has made them better off in the last eight
years,” he said. “So walk with me in my neighborhood, go back to my
old neighborhood in Claymont, an old steel town or go up to Scranton with me.” Sounds great, Joe!
What time should we meet up, folksy o’clock?

 

Palin ratcheted up her shtick by pronouncing her words like a Fargo cast
member (“blunder” became “blender” etc.) and throwing out a
few zingers. (“Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards
again.”) For perhaps the first time in the campaign she sounded like
Hillary Clinton, by claiming she had been joking when she said she didn’t know
what a Vice President does. (She then noted that McCain has “tapped”
her, which may have won somebody’s bingo card.)

 

Much was made of her avoidance of moderator Gwen Ifill’s questions, with
good reason. When Biden spoke of letting bankruptcy courts adjust principle
costs for distressed homeowners and suggested McCain didn’t support the idea,
Iffill asked Palin if that was so. “That is not so, but because that’s
just a quick answer,” she said, jibberishly. “I want to talk about,
again, my record on energy versus your ticket’s energy ticket, also.”

 

Substance is never particularly important in a VP debate, and it was even
less important this time around; neither candidate had any serious answers or
dramatic policy ideas concerning the credit meltdown, but that’s because nobody
in the world
has any idea what the hell to do about this gigantic mess.
(White folks may soon no longer be able to afford their pea coats.) Similarly,
almost no one watching knew anything about Kosovo or Bosnia, so when Biden monologued on
them be was judged simply on his ability to appear knowledgeable and confident.

 

Both sides claimed victory – and I’m not talking about Democrats and
Republican, but rather cable news pundits, who immediately began giving those
at home IMAX-quality impressions of “spin alley.” Viewers are likely
more aware than ever of media bias this time around, however, and during the
debate Palin did her best to break down the fourth wall of the “mainstream
media.” The McCain campaign has done this throughout the camping, aping
what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity – ironically, the highest rated pundits in the media – have been saying for years. Though this line of reasoning
drives leftists/white people bonkers, it will likely be out of date by the next
election cycle. Cable news, for one, has become increasingly, admittedly,
partisan. Witness with the rise of MSNBC red-state-baiter Rachel Maddow, who
has won great ratings with her new show following Keith Olbermann, another
well-watched left-wing answer to Bill O’Reilly.

 

CNN now looks like the only stodgy, ostensibly impartial “mainstream
media” news channel left. That will probably change once MSNBC starts
beating them in the ratings – say, after Larry King dies next week (or
whenever). Perhaps, in the meantime, they should start calling
themselves “fair and balanced.”

 

 

 

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