Avoiding the Facts: Sarah Palin at the VP Debate

Amanda McKeon

No one expects forthcoming and direct answers from their politicians; long, off-topic, and irrelevant responses with a dash of rhetoric have become the standard recipe of political language. However, Sarah Palin employed these norms in the most extreme of fashions during the recent vice presidential debate, abandoning attempts to articulate relevant responses in favor of language and answers intended to appeal to the constituency she describes as composed of “Joe Six Pack[s]” and “hockey moms.”

The debate began with a question that asked the candidates how they felt the bailout bill reflected Washington’s character. While Senator Biden addressed the question, Governor Palin completely ignored it and instead used her response as an opportunity to employ manipulative rhetoric and credited John McCain, the man who hoped to vote for a bailout bill, as the most instrumental figure in finding a solution to the crisis.

As the night continued, Governor Palin continued to evade giving a topical response to the questions of Ms. Ifill and the challenges of Senator Biden.

In response to Governor Palin’s charge that Senator Obama had voted to raise taxes 94 times, Senator Biden countered that “using the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes.” The senator also pointed out that Governor Palin had not responded to Senator McCain’s support for deregulation.

And how did Governor Palin choose to answer these charges? She said, in regards to taxes, she wanted “to correct [Senator Biden] on that again.”

Yet, her correction never came because she decided that she needed to speak instead to what she did as mayor and governor, stating, “I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.”

Apparently, to Sarah Palin, talking straight means avoiding difficult questions and discussing what she sees as her accomplishments as mayor of a town of just over 5,000 and governor of a state of not even 700,000. Then Governor Palin told viewers that Senator McCain was known for “pushing for even harder and tougher regulations”, in a weak attempt to obscure the Senator’s support for deregulation.

Apparently obfuscation also fits into Governor Palin’s definition of straight talk. More examples of the governor’s inability to speak to the substance of the debate cropped up throughout the evening. In response to Senator Biden’s discussion of mortgages and bankruptcy, Governor Palin, instead of even trying to refute the senator’s claims, decided she would rather talk about her energy policy.

Besides her selectivity in what she chose to respond to, Governor Palin also tried to garner support with affectations clearly meant to show she was like any other American. “Oh, yeah, it’s so obvious I’m a Washington outsider”, “doggone it”, and “darn” were just a few of the more obvious phrases and words that she spewed in her efforts at endearment. These utterances sounded forced, and the motives behind them were obvious.

Though Sarah Palin may see herself as a newcomer to Washington, her performance in the debate proves that she has been a quick study to the deceptive and calculated political rhetoric so prevalent in Washington. In attempting to sculpt an image of herself as different from the typical politician, she deviated from the substance of the debate and employed language that made her look the opposite of a consummate Washington outsider and recalled visions of another politician who mixed the humor and language of the “average American” with obfuscation — George W. Bush.