Archive for October 2nd, 2008

The Second Palin Bounce?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Neurotic Democrats love company.

And, clearly, I am far from alone this afternoon among Democrats fearing this headline tomorrow: “Should Obama Dump Biden From Ticket?”

John Neffinger, who is something of an expert on how a politician’s non-verbal communication impacts their electoral success, sees a potential “Nightmare VP Scenario” for Democrats. “Biden Beware!” he writes. Here’s the nut:

Not only do standard debate questions work in Palin’s favor, she’s also helped by a regimented debate format, because unlike in the wide-ranging interviews she has flubbed, there is usually much less room for follow-up questions to try to pin her down. Put all this together and you see it was no fluke that Palin did well in her gubernatorial debates.

So what would happen if Palin did okay, or even a little better than okay, in tonight’s debate? First of all, relative to prevailing expectations, it would be a triumph. The story would be how well Palin did, which could get people thinking maybe they had underestimated her, which could imply maybe they had underestimated McCain. Given the attention this matchup will receive, that might even be enough to nudge the momentum back their way.

But Palin won’t be alone under the lights: Joe Biden and Gwen Ifill will be there too. When you imagine their reactions, the scenario gets even more interesting.

First of all, Joe. Biden is a smart guy, and I like him a lot, but there is a reason he has never quite made it out of the middle of the pack of presidential contenders. He often seems to want to wow people, and tries a little too hard. He puts on a show, saying things like “Ladies and gentlemen…” and flashing his great toothy grin – sometimes even grinning when he’s talking about war and terrorism and suffering. As many have recognized, this could prove disastrous: if he goes after Palin, he risks coming off as overbearing, obnoxious, a high-handed know-it-all.

Gwen Ifill, meanwhile, has problems of her own. Turns out, she has a book coming out, about the African-American experience, with Obama’s name in the title. This is unfortunate, and, certainly, it opens her up to questions about potential conflict of interest.

She is fast becoming a part of the story tonight. She can count on the fact that she will be harshly criticized if she’s perceived as holding Palin’s feet to the fire; and she’ll be similarly criticized if she doesn’t.

The McCain campaign is trying to cow her, and it just may work.

For my money, she should have recused herself.

Meanwhile, the NY Times had an interesting op-ed this morning, featuring questions that a number of people would ask tonight, if they were sitting in Ifill’s shoes. I really like this first grouping:

It is 9 a.m., and the president is traveling abroad. A terrorist attack on the United States occurs. You have 10 minutes to prepare to move to the now famous bunker at the White House to deal with the incident. Whom will you take with you into the bunker? And, once there, what do you do in the first hour?

You hear all the arguments presented to the president concerning a decision he must make regarding spending for a major national program. The recommendation from the cabinet and staff is clear, but you disagree with them strongly. How and where do you express yourself, assuming you elect to share your views with the president?

— CRAIG FULLER, the chief of staff for Vice President George H. W. Bush from 1985 to 1988

My impression is that Palin doesn’t have the wisdom to answer these kinds of questions in a meaningful way. And that Biden might not be able to resist throwing out an Encyclopedia of not-entirely-relevant knowledge, losing us all in the process.

Let the games begin.