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 Monday, October 06, 2008

Providence Journal Editorial: Palin the Implausible

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Whether Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “exceeded expectations” in her Thursday debate with Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden depends on what one’s expectations were. If the expectations were that the Republican vice-presidential nominee would writhe in incoherence as she had in earlier interviews with Katie Couric, then, yes, she exceeded them. She survived the evening.

If the bar of expectations had been raised to substantive discussions of the issues, then her improvement was negligible. Clearly, she has spent time learning to pronounce “Ahmadinejad” and “Kim Jong Il.” She mentioned these leaders’ names — of Iran and North Korea, respectively — several times, presumably to demonstrate a grasp of foreign-affairs.

We were not won over by her irrelevant populist rifts and appeals, the “betchas,” the “darn rights,” the references to Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms or the “kids’ soccer game on Saturday.” We were certainly not amused by her divisive pitting of energy-producing states against East Coast politicians, who by the way, have every bit as much right to oversee federal lands in Alaska as do Alaskans living next to them. (The state is a vast recipient of federal pork, by the way.)

Whether her cutesy aw-shucks performance appealed to voters who haven’t already chosen sides in this election, the polls will eventually show.

Senator Biden was hardly on fire, but he did come off as a competent legislator. Agree with him or not, his intimate knowledge of legislation and federal policy, be it on taxes, health care and Wall Street, is obvious. He was thoroughly coached as well, and that meant directing most of his arguments against the Republican at the top of the ticket, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Governor Palin was given wide berth.

We regret discussing the “sport” of the debate, because it underplays Mrs. Palin’s lack of historical, economic or political understanding of the issues America faces in these perilous times.

One doesn’t have to go to an Ivy League college, or college at all, to amass this knowledge, but it isn’t something you can pick up in a week of clever coaching. And you have to be a big reader, not just a talker.

Governor Palin has never seemed a very plausible vice president to us. That she could go 10 rounds with Mr. Biden and remain standing certainly reduces some of our shock that she is in that position.

But it is not enough to make us drop our serious reservations about her fitness to be the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency.

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