Sarah Palin, a river of babble-on*

Tonight the nation finally gets to see Sarah Palin live and unplugged, presumably speaking unscripted.

The last three weeks have been mixed for her. On the one hand, she has drawn large and adoring crowds to rallies and meetings, being a bigger attraction than John McCain or Joe Biden. But despite this, her campaign has gone to extraordinary lengths to shield her from reporters. The two interviews she gave to Charles Gibson of ABC News and Katie Couric of CBS News were excruciatingly painful to watch, as you can judge for yourself from these excerpts from the latter.

Did that make any sense at all? Was there even a sentence in that mish-mash of words?

Ok, maybe that was a bad patch. Anyone can have an occasional brain-freeze. Let’s look at an extended clip.

Apart from some flashes of coherence, she again seems to free-associate, gets lost in run-on sentences, degenerates into childish language (“good guys” and “bad guys”?), and throws in a few non-sequiturs for good measure And what was all that about “It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to, to our state.”

Is she suggesting that Russian planes routinely violate US airspace over Alaska? Does the Pentagon know this? And are we dependent on the good people of Alaska to keep an eye on Russia and be the early-warning system? Jesus’s General thinks that Putin may be keeping a similar eye on Palin.

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Here is another extended segment from the Couric interview. It is not reassuring.

What is disturbing is that the kinds of questions Couric asked were ones that could have been predicted, so she should have had reasonable answers ready. There were no questions on obscure matters or that required knowledge of esoteric details. When unable to come up with even an incoherent response, Palin resorts to an exaggerated aw-shucks, I’m-just-a-country-girl shtick that is cringe-inducing.

The inability to be specific and to wander off into mindless generalities is very much on display here, where she is asked to name another Supreme Court decision she disagrees with other than Roe v. Wade.

After not being able to name a single case, she wanders into a thicket of words about the rights of states to decide issues and how she and McCain will change that. Really.

And again here, when she is asked what she reads to get her information.

After saying at one point, incredibly, that she reads ‘all of them’, she again avoided the question by switching it to an aggrieved implication that people who ask such things must be thinking that Alaskans are ignorant hicks.

She is clearly filibustering, emitting a cloud of words to hide her ignorance.

Palin seems to have been told by her advisors to hit certain talking points and she seems determined to do so whatever the question, come hell or high water. As a result her answers start to wander all over the map as she searches for ways to include each point and she ends up not knowing how to complete the sentence she started. She reminds me of some physics students who, when asked a question to which they do not know the answer, try to bluff their way out by using words like ‘energy’ and ‘entropy’, hoping that this will mask their lack of understanding and give their ramblings a veneer of reasonableness. The result is not pretty.

She is undoubtedly articulate and must have some political smarts to be able to reach the level of governor of a state. It is quite possible that she is both smart and ignorant. A lot of politicians are. But what is clear is that she does not know how to use ‘political speak’ to hide her ignorance the way most seasoned politicians do. She does not how and when to stop talking when she has nothing to say.

It is not that she does not know specific pieces of knowledge that is troubling. It is that she, like George Bush, does not seem interested or curious enough to have even thought about these things. She, like Bush, seems to work off some ideological template that spits out decisions and actions with little deliberation or thoughtfulness.

The reviews of her interview performances have been devastating (see here and here.) The campaign seems so nervous about letting her loose that they would not even let her talk to the press to praise her partner after the Obama-McCain debate (a routine duty for running mates), and instead had her watch the debate in a Philadelphia bar.

But she got into trouble the next day when in, response to a question from a bystander, she seemed to be supporting the position Obama had taken on Pakistan and which McCain had taken pains to criticize just the day before in the debate. Was she not even paying attention to the debate? McCain then had to embarrassingly disavow her comments.

By now everyone must have seen the devastating parody of the Couric interview on Saturday Night Live, made worse by the fact that on many occasions they used her actual words. Though Tina Fey got most of the laughs as Palin, Amy Poehler should get a lot of credit for her dead-on impression of Couric, faced with stream-of-consciousness incoherence, desperately trying to look as if it made some sense.

One of the best things about the first Obama-McCain debate was the more free-wheeling format that encouraged back and forth exchanges, though the candidates took some time to get used to it. It was much more like a true debate although McCain failed to exploit its potential by speaking directly to Obama, for which he has been rightly criticized.

It appears that the McCain camp wants to have a much more structured form for the VP debate, reverting to the ‘joint press conference’ format, with very little time for back-and-forth, presumably so that Palin will not have to improvise as much and can stick to scripted answers.

In these debates, part of the tactics is lowering the expectations of your own candidate as much as possible since ‘victory’ is measured (at least by the pundits) by how well you exceed them. The McCain camp has succeeded so well that if Palin just manages to speak in complete sentences, she will have done well, irrespective of what she actually says.

I think she will do a lot more. It is likely that she will come out with both guns blazing, armed with prepared quips and one-liners, trying to resurrect the convention image of the tough, spunky, fast-talking, barb-throwing, woman-of-the-people that so endears her to the party faithful. Whatever the question, she will fill the allotted 90 seconds or whatever by stringing together some tested applause lines.

As a result, she may well succeed in impressing some people.

It should be an interesting evening, though likely to lack much substance.

(* Idea for pun courtesy of that champion of snark Tbogg.)

POST SCRIPT: Bad Disney movie trailer

In an interview, actor Matt Damon said that the selection of Sarah Palin by John McCain was like the plot of a bad Disney movie. Now you can actually see the trailer of that movie.

Damon was also disturbed by reports that Palin thinks humans co-existed with dinosaurs and hopes she will be questioned about it, saying “I need to know if she really think that dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago. I want to know that, I really do. Because she’s gonna have the nuclear codes.”