The Great Debate

Sarah Palin: An Exercise in Mediocrity

News coverage leading up to Thursday’s Vice Presidential debate had us all believing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to run for national office.

She proved us right. Palin did an impressive job at not doing much of anything, except being able to repeat talking points. The bar for Sarah Palin was set lower than for any other Vice Presidential candidate, and she barely stumbled over it.

The debate was wide ranging, and focused on domestic and foreign policy issues, putting Governor Palin in a situation she has been all too familiar with over the past few weeks: having to answer a question without knowing the issue. When speaking, Palin sounded desperate as she tried to fill her allotted response time, often reverting back to her connections with Main Street and referring to herself and John McCain as mavericks.

For instance, when the topic of the debate switched to education, Palin retreated into overtly cutesy defense mode, winking repeatedly and using her Fargo, N.D. accent to distract people from the fact that she didn’t really answer the question. Let’s look at one of her responses as evidence.

[The following was actually said in the Vice Presidential debate.]

Moderator: “Governor?”

Palin: “Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future.

“You mentioned education and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?

“I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more.

“I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he’s a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here’s a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

“Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards.

“No Child Left Behind was implemented. It’s not doing the job though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind. We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching. We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line.

“My kids as public school participants right now, it’s near and dear to my heart. I’m very, very concerned about where we’re going with education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.”

Moderator: “Everybody gets extra credit tonight. …”

So, what exactly did she say? First, she smarmily told Senator Biden to “say it ain’t so” because he kept using McCain’s track record in the Senate against her. Second, she gave a compliment (?) to Joe Biden’s wife. Third, she said that teachers need to be paid more without saying how. Fourth, she made a shout out and gave extra credit to third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School.

I’m sure they’re happy.

Lastly, she gave an uninformed opinion about No Child Left Behind, making vague references to the need to improve our teaching resources and educational standards without providing any specifics. She deftly managed to dodge her way through questions, smiling and winking her way through the debate as she attempted to prove that she was just like an average American.

Truth be told, I don’t want an average American to be one heartbeat away from the Presidency of the United States. I want a competent leader with depth and breadth of knowledge on the issues. Joe Biden put on a cool, commanding performance, giving reasonable and informative answers to the questions he was asked. Biden gets it.

He understands the role that government plays in America. A main issue with No Child Left Behind is that it’s an unfunded government mandate, requiring states to comply with federal standards without the funding promised to implement changes necessary to bring them into compliance with the law. As a governor, Sarah Palin should be aware of this, but she wasn’t.

Two years ago, Sarah Palin was a mayor of a city of less than 10,000 people — a population smaller than the number of students enrolled at MIT. She’s had less than two years on the job as Governor, with a record devoid of any notable accomplishments.

Joe Biden has been a U.S. Senator for 35 years, and was instrumental in securing the passage of important policy reforms, including anti-crime legislation in 1994, which put 100,000 more police officers on the streets and instituted a comprehensive nation-wide assault weapons ban. His experience showed as he stayed on track, displayed readiness to engage in tough debate, and laid out actual policy proposals.

Elections are about the issues and who is fit to govern. Looking at Joe Biden, I see a confident statesman ready to assume the helm should anything happen to Barack Obama. Sarah Palin, while expressing rudimentary knowledge on some issues, couldn’t seem to get past talking points and sound bites last Thursday night. While Palin was able to avert a total meltdown during the debate by staying coherent, it’s clear that Biden was the general in command, using rhetoric, knowledge, and experience to rack up another win for Obama.

Dan Yelin is a junior in the Department of Political Science.