Sarah’s lifeline

3 Oct

Imagine the most terrifying, pressured and important moment of your life.

Now multiply it by 10.

That is something like what Sarah Palin must have gone through as she prepared for last night’s Vice Presidential debate with Joe Biden. The media and even fellow conservatives have attacked her relentlessly over the past two weeks. Palin’s spirited performance at the Republican Convention is now merely a footnote in what has become a comedy of errors and gaffes, culminating in a series of Saturday Night Live parodies by Tina Fey, one of which lifted its lines – almost verbatim – from Palin’s own mouth.

Yet last night, while not quite winning against an experienced opponent, Palin stood tall and delivered a par performance against all the odds. Yes she dodged the specifics, and yes she doesn’t have a clue about foreign policy, but she still managed to hold her nerve as an entire nation expected her to be sunk by Battleship Biden. This resilience and composure alone is reason to take her seriously. As John Dickerson pointed out on Slate, those “watching for a car crash were disappointed.”

Last night Palin played to her strengths: She embodied the folksy outsider determined to shake things up in Washington. Palin was barbed as she took a veiled shot at Michelle Obama, and liberal(!) with the emotive buzzwords that have defined the shallow McCain campaign.

Only the most die-hard Republican would argue that Palin actually won last night, but it may well have given her the momentum to continue in national politics if the McCain-Palin ticket is swamped by an electorate eager for change.

I have little love for Sarah Palin. I find her evangelical politics and anti-intellectualism repulsive. Yet I do admire her Reaganesque ability to talk directly to the viewer – catapulting the highfaluting language of Washington.

Anything can happen in politics. It’s unlikely that Palin’s handlers can keep her out of the media spotlight until the election. Indeed, another gaffe-filled interview or another skeleton exposed, and her Vice-Presidential hopes could be dashed once and for all. However, if Palin can survive the coming months intact, she may well be an effective political force in the future.

Last night, against all expectations, Sarah Palin earned herself a lifeline.

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