Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Andrew Halcro: I've debated Palin and I know the pitfalls.

Andrew Halcro has debated Sarah Palin more than two dozen times and he has a warning for Joe Biden. Her lack of detail in debating is actually her greatest strength.

On April 18, 2006, Palin and I sat together in a hotel coffee shop comparing campaign trail notes. As we talked about the debates, Palin made a comment that highlights the phenomenon that Biden is up against.

"Andrew, I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers, and yet when asked questions, you spout off facts, figures, and policies, and I'm amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, 'Does any of this really matter?' " Palin said.

While policy wonks such as Biden might cringe, it seemed to me that Palin was simply vocalizing her strength without realizing it. During the campaign, Palin's knowledge on public policy issues never matured – because it didn't have to. Her ability to fill the debate halls with her presence and her gift of the glittering generality made it possible for her to rely on populism instead of policy.

Palin is a master of the nonanswer. She can turn a 60-second response to a query about her specific solutions to healthcare challenges into a folksy story about how she's met people on the campaign trail who face healthcare challenges.
All without uttering a word about her public-policy solutions to healthcare challenges.
However, I take some solace from the fact that, no offence to Andrew, a person comes under more scrutiny when running to be Vice President of the United States than when running for public office in Alaska.

Indeed, she gave a perfect example of the technique Andrew is describing when she was asked what papers she reads by Katie Couric. Her answer:

Asked what newspapers and magazines she reads, Palin - a journalism major in college - could not name one publication.

"I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media," she said at first. Couric responded, "What, specifically?"

"Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years."

"Can you name a few?"

"I have a vast variety of source where we get our news," Palin said. "Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, 'wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?' Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America."

Now this answer might be acceptable in an Alaska election, but on the national stage this answer simply didn't cut the mustard and she was almost instantly going viral on YouTube as a laughing stock.

There are different standards for different kinds of elections and I think this is proving to be Palin's undoing. She's perfectly acceptable for the jobs she has, until now, occupied. But she is simply not ready to be VP. Although, Halcro did have some very good advice that Biden would do well to take.

So what does that mean for Biden? With shorter question-and-answer times and limited interaction between the two, he should simply ignore Palin in a respectful manner on the stage and answer the questions as though he were alone. Any attempt to flex his public-policy knowledge and show Palin is not ready for prime time will inevitably cast him in the role of the bully.

In that respect I, reluctantly, agree. Biden shouldn't attempt to show her up as incompetent, he should let her do that for herself. Simply answer the questions and allow her to give her answers. The difference between the two will, at that point, become glaringly obvious.

Click title for Andrew Halcro's article.

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