October 03, 2008

Okay, I tried to watch it. Tried really, really hard. I made a phone date with my long-distance love to view the debate “together.” I arranged my schedule around it. I even—and let me emphasize this—passed up a free circus ticket.


Around 8:45, I went down to the room where two months and 14 pounds ago I set up an elliptical trainer and a flat screen with Dish Network. I ran through the Guide function six times—flipping through 999 reruns, infomercials and titles of porn flicks—but saw no sign of the VP debate. There were several channels that promised “MILFs,” but I was pretty sure they didn’t feature Gov. Palin.


“That is impossible!” Miss Texas drawled through the phone. “Put on CNN. No… put on Fox,” she said, with that slight sadistic twinkle that keeps me coming back for more.


“I don’t get Fox. Or CNN, it seems….”


Or, as it turned out, ABC, CBS or NBC. Not one of them is apparently part of my 150 channel-package. Of which 147 are pretty much wasted, since I only allow myself TV while I’m exercising. (My inner Pavlov offers my mammalian brain a tasty chunk of Purina Journalist Chow for spinning that squirrel wheel….) And the only shows I watch are old episodes of “Law & Order: SVU,” “Mad Men,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Since I get my news from NPR and right-wing crank Web sites like this one, I guess I’d never noticed the missing networks. In fact, since I’m fessing up, the first time I’d ever seen Katie Couric in action was on the Youtube video linked from Antiwar.com of her grilling Gov. Palin.


“So much for the debate,” I said. “I think I’ll play Byzantium and conquer Venice.”


But the voice from Dallas insisted: “We had a date.” Of course, she was right. So I trudged upstairs and tried to download the software that lets you view Fox or CNN. No luck. (My error message said something about an Applet refusing to Strudel.) After 10 more minutes of my huffing and puffing as PBS moderator RuPaul introduced the candidates, I finally managed to get the thing streamed live from… BBC. So I sat in New Hampshire streaming a debate via London of an event in St. Louis, feeling very cosmopolitan.


And you know the rest. Whether you saw the thing or not. Of course, I was rooting for Sarah, as Elle Woods’ gal-pals from L.A. cheer her on through her first trial in my girlfriend’s favorite movie, Legally Blonde: “Oh look—a trannie moderator from PBS… and little voter people. Vote for Sarah!”


Really, I like her. She’s a smart, competent woman, and unlike the average creepy power-addict we find in Washington, she’s a normal American with the same blind spots as every high school principal, chief of nursing, or Mother Superior in the country. But Palin was in an utterly thankless position, set up to serve as the spokesman for a program that beggars description. Perhaps McCain’s captors in Vietnam were not real Communists but Zen Buddhists, and they taught him to think in Koans. Based on Gov. Palin’s answers, I’ve summed up McCain’s politics——in the following set of imperfect haikus:

corporatist free
market populist patri-
otic open borders

pragmatic ideal-
ist establishment maverick
Israel First

on Metamucil, laced with
Wassila crystal meth.


And there I hit a wall. My cognitive skills aren’t equal to the task of connecting all these dots. It’s like singing in Braille. I’ve fired up every neuron, but I can’t really suss out if McCain is trying to torture the country—or simply to put us through what “plebes” endure in their first year at Annapolis. Think of eight years of deficits, penury, war and open borders as “officer training,” without the Honor Code. If his policies differ from Obama’s in any important particular, it’s hard to say what, where, or why.


In lieu of anything substantive, poor Palin was reduced to repeating sound-bites, with the final syllables peeled off like the brown parts of an apple: “Well, Joey—I just think it’s doggone silly to go around flappin’ our lips about defendin’ America’s freedom, if we ain’t willing to sometimes kick a little patootie. Know what I mean?” If Al Gore sounded like everyone’s worst 2nd grade English teacher, Sarah Palin seems like the sweetiest, spunkiest arts and crafts instructor ever to appear in an After School Special.


I have to give her credit. Gov. Palin’s job really did involve lipstick and pigs. Poor Sarah looked as overwrought as a cosmetologist at a hog farm, and the whole thing was finally boring. Twenty minutes into the faceoff, I was playing computer solitaire, and Miss Texas was going off on the noxious brightness of Senator Biden’s teeth.


“Senator Obama and I have a plan for changing that…”


“I mean, did he just sleep with a mouthful of bleach for a month? What is up with that?”


“Actually, Governor, that’s not quite true….”


“And it looks like his hair plugs have grown in—just enough for him to do a comb-over. Omigod!”


And so on.


I was happy to see the loveable governor come off a whole lot better than she did last Saturday night with Amy Poehler. Don’t scoff—the SNL writers at one point gave up on parody and simply used whole sections of Palin’s answers to Couric verbatim. In fact, the whole Palin phenomenon reminds me of the press conference at a blue-collar fried seafood eatery in New Orleans in 1992, where Pat Buchanan groused that George Bush refused to debate him. I shouted from the peanut gallery: “Why don’t you debate Dana Carvey?” Pat chortled, but I was serious. Had he adopted my innovative idea, I am convinced, it would have changed American politics. We would not be where we are today.


Where there is no vision, the people perish.


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