Reader Mail

Picking Up the Pieces

A special Reader Mail section on Sarah Palin, the pressies, and J. Peter Freire's "The Barracuda Bites Back."

10.6.08

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MEDIA AND HOCKEY MOM SQUARE OFF
Re: J. Peter Freire's The Barracuda Bites Back:

"I'll have a hard time buying the line that Palin's a disaster until someone qualified enough to interview her does so."

Good thing for you she won't give us that chance.
-- Cliff Smith

Great article on media techniques for advancing their own agenda through their interviews.

Your case for establishing a sound approach was clearly demonstrated in Carl Cameron's interview with Gov. Palin on Friday following the debate. I believe he accomplished exactly what you were suggesting. It would be interesting for you to compare the two and determine which had the more informative content.
-- Francis Shill

I love and respect Sarah Palin, and hope that when John McCain goes down to defeat she can be salvaged for future campaigns. She mopped the floor with Senator Biden last night. If anyone was on "talking points," it was Senator Biden with his tired Washington rhetoric, phony smile (doesn't he look like Charlie Tuna when he smiles?), and demonstrably false "facts."

That being said, Sarah (and all the pundits) missed Joe's most breathtaking debate gaffe. You may recall that at one point in the debate, Senator Biden pointed out that Senator Obama had also been concerned about sub-prime mortgages and the situation at Fannie and Freddie, so concerned that he expressed those concerns to the Secretary of the Treasury! What? A senator of the United States didn't warn the people, and work with his colleagues in the Senate to try to solve the problem. No, he had a chat with the principal. This was when Senator McCain was warning the people and was sponsoring a bill to rein in Fannie and Freddie. Sarah should have pointed out the differences, noted that in her neck of the woods people say you should lead or help or get out of the way, and ask who was the leader and who was the talker.
-- Stephen Zierak
Kansas City, Missouri

The article by J. Peter Freire, "The Barracuda Bites Back," claiming that Gov. Palin was the winner of the debate flies in the face of every poll, including that conducted by Fox News Network, that shows that Sen. Biden won by a decisive majority. Oddly, much of the vapid discussion that filled cable news on the day following the debate was about the discrepancy between the take on the debate between "inside the beltway" journalists and other assorted talking heads and the rest of the American people. Considering that the "inside the beltway" gang has come up with such terms as "lunch bucket democrats" it is hardly a shock that Freire et al are totally clueless about the performance of Gov. Palin in the debate.

Gov. Palin's behavior during the debate only reinforces the notion that she is unprepared to serve as the Vice President. Her refusal to answer questions, her use of what were clearly memorized talking points, and what has been described as her cocktail waitress winking at the camera are not what anyone would expect of a potential leader of the free world. Can anyone imagine Margaret Thatcher or even Hillary Clinton winking at a camera. In addition, Gov. Palin's use of folksy language and the ongoing droppin' of the terminal "g" is a total sham. Review any of the debate videos of Gov. Palin in the Alaskan gubernatorial debates, and you will notice a total lack of folksiness and the consistent use of proper pronunciation. We saw similar at-will use of folksiness in then candidate George W. Bush.

Wake up, smell the fraud, and quit pretending that Gov. Palin is anything more than fully unqualified. Would the situation be different if a candidate of such limited abilities were Obama's running mate?
-- David Smith
Scottsdale, Arizona

Liberal media say Palin is vague but what about Obama? Obama isn't only vague but evasive. What can be more vague than 'Change,' 'Yes We Can' (do what?), or 'Hope' -- or 'the audacity of hope?' What is so audacious about procrastination? Real audacity is about taking action based on strong action. But, the liberal media tag Palin with vagueness while Obama's much greater vagueness has been elevated by the liberal media as sacred wisdom. It's really nothing but New Age politics, a blend of Hollywood Kitsch, MTV, socialist agit-prop, and flaky spiritualism.

Obama doesn't want us to know about what he really did as a young man and as a career mandarin politician. He doesn't want us to know about his ties to radical preachers and intellectuals. He doesn't want us to pry into his dealings with Tony Rezko and other such crooks. He just wants us to see his image as projected on the silver screen -- or TV screen as the case may be -- with the aid of the liberal media.

We know that the unscripted Obama stammers a lot and mutters a lot of uhs and ahs. But, notice that news programs edited all that out and showed only his good moments. Worse, the interviewers allowed him to answer the same question over and over until he was satisfied. It was like allowing an actor to do multiple re-takes on a movie set. And, Stephanopoulos even corrected Obama when he said his religion is Islam. But, people like Gibson and Couric not only asked snotty and condescending questions to Palin, but obviously chose the worst moments of the interview to string together. When they approached Obama, they assumed he was the smartest man in the world, the most honest man in the world, and the most able candidate in the world. So, they didn't feel a need to OUT the real Obama. They simply assumed he's The One, and fawned over him. But, Gibson and Couric approached Palin as though she's a dummy, a nitwit, and stupid child. So, the premise of their questions were condescending, elitist, and snooty. Their attitude was, 'she's not one of us(urban sophisticates).' This is rather funny when the majority of TV journalists have been chosen for their looks than for their actual intelligence or talent. Take Couric for instance. Gee, do you think her looks had something to do with her getting that gig? And, she sucks at it, by the way.

Now, there's nothing wrong with asking tough questions to Palin, but why only her? The media have been acting just like Oprah. Remember that Oprah pushed for Obama but refuses to invite Palin on her program -- though she has no problem inviting Rap thugs and vain Hollywood celebrities on her show. The only solution to this is two-fold. More conservatives must go into journalism, or conservatives must come together and set up more conservative mainstream news sources.
-- Polly Ticks

When I saw Sarah Palin look into the TV camera, flash her cosmetic eyelashes, and say so sincerely, "change is coming, and John McCain is the leader of that reform," I could almost believe her. Except I wasn't born yesterday. I've seen McCain fight to remove government regulation and oversight for 26 years, which has dumped us in the financial firestorm that is now melting our economy.

Senator Biden reminded debate viewers that the so-called "maverick" voted for George Bush's budgets, which piled up over $3 trillion in debt. McCain voted for Bush's exclusion of 3.6 million children from the S-CHIP health care plan. He supported Bush's war in Iraq from the beginning, and voted billions of tax breaks for the most wealthy corporations and CEOs.

But even if Palin really does believe that McCain would bring change, he couldn't do it single-handedly. He'd have to use many of the same Republican operatives and lobbyists that are so deeply entrenched in Bush's administration. These are the birds he's flown with all his career, from Alaska to Arizona, to K Street in D.C.
-- Bruce Joffe
Piedmont, California

I wish Governor Palin had presented a biting comeback to Senator Biden's "Fairness" doctrine to justify the government's robbing from the rich (those who earn more than $250K), keeping 67 percent for service charges, and giving to the "poor" (those peasants of Sherwood Forest will vote to keep the Sheriff of Nottingham in power). Something along the lines of: "When a career politician mentions 'fairness,' make sure that your wallet is still in your pocket."
-- David Shoup

The issue last night is not whether Sarah Palin is an embarrassment. It has to do with whether she is qualified to be Vice President, and the most important issue there is her readiness to serve as President.

There are tens of millions of hockey moms and real Americans out there who could appear on stage and read cue cards or memorized notes, be charming and folksy, and show they are in touch with issues facing people every day.

That does not mean they are qualified to be Vice President.

Last evening Sarah Palin gave no indication, on any question, that she had more than surface knowledge from cramming. There was no nuance, no thoughtfulness, and any of her responses would have run into serious trouble given a modicum of follow-up questioning and discussion.

Joe Biden offered this. See his response to the role of the Vice President versus Sarah Palin's, and very simply ask yourself who grasps the position more clearly.

Otherwise, you are participating and contributing to the dumbing down of America, that turns elections into a Survivor Like reality show.
-- Charles Baum

You write: "It's puzzling to see, however, that the moment a person does walk onto the stage with that genuine, down-to-earth flair, she's dismissed as gimmicky and stupid."

She is dismissed as gimmicky and stupid because she is gimmicky and stupid. Down-to-earth flair can't conceal ignorance. You give the common man no credit.

Palin is gifted with phenomenal memorization and beauty pageant skills, but your use of the adjective "genuine" to describe Palin's "flair" is oxymoronic.
-- C.B. Gilman
Tucson, Arizona

She was chipper; she was smiley. She dodged the questions she couldn't answer, and she stayed on message. And, gosh darn it, she sounded sincere. Sarah Palin would be a perfect Presidential Press Secretary. Too bad she got bumped up to a responsibility she's not ready for.
-- Bruce Joffe
Piedmont, California

Pete Freire does a fine job recapping the Palin -- Biden debate from several nights ago. The Governor strode out looking confident and fashionable and, after a slightly slow start, took on Biden and applied some serious body checks to him.

"Gaffe-Master" Joe (sounds like a third-rate rapper) then proceeded to pile on the mis-statements, fumbles and outright lies during the course of the debate. Now, most of these have been covered at length in other places (see Amanda Carpenter at Townhall.com, Investor's Business Daily and Michael Goldfarb of the McClain -- Palin campaign), and some have been real doozies. Biden mentions inviting anyone to join him for a beer at Katie's Restaurant in Wilmington, DE, a place that's been out of business for years, and also spoke of talking to people at his local Home Depot. In spite of the fact that the huge, glowing orange building that houses the business is virtually impossible to miss, I
doubt Biden would recognize one if he drove his car through it.

But the monster of them all, right up there with his "President Roosevelt came on TV after the 1929 Stock Market Crash to speak to the American people," was his statement that the U.S. and France kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, and that he and Obama both want to move NATO troops in there to "fill the vacuum." The only vacuum that exists is the one between Biden's ears. Mind you, this is the expert in international affairs that the Dummycrats have decided that the inexperienced Obama needs as a partner in the campaign. The next stop I want to see from Biden is a spot on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" Jeff Foxworthy and the kids would have a field day with this one.

To his credit, the good Senator from Delaware did give out his own name correctly...I think.
-- Jim Bjaloncik
Stow, Ohio

Count me as one who, because of Palin's performance last night, cannot and will not vote for John McCain after all. The moderator I feel is standing in and asking questions for the American people. Palin decides she doesn't need to answer those questions and actually has the gall and arrogance to come right out and say so. Add to that, the fact that she looked down and had to read every answer to whatever question happened to pop into her head. You felt she did a great job last night? You can try to fool your readers but you can't be serious. She scared the living hell out of me. Although I find myself in complete disagreement with most of Obama's positions, he will now get my vote because of my terror at the thought of this woman possibly being in charge of my country. Country first indeed.
-- Paul Zarnikow
Madison, Wisconsin

I believe you raise some good points regarding interviewing of candidates and how they sometimes are not questioned rigorously enough, as in your example with Couric and Biden. However, I would also point out Hannity at Fox News threw quite a few softballs to Sarah Palin when he interviewed her. These things seem to always work both ways, even if not acknowledged by the right or the left.

What I do question about your article is your characterization of how a politician should be interviewed. You seem to assert that an interview is somehow different than being questioned, or "quizzed" as you put it. I believe an interview of a politician, especially one who is going to be very close to an opportunity to run our country, should ask questions of foreign policy, economics, etc. And when a candidate does not respond when asked a specific question and rather talks in generalities, that candidate should be questioned again until they actually answer the question with specifics.

I would agree this problem exists on both sides of the political/media spectrum and too often politicians get away with not answering questions. The presidential race is not a likability contest, and the notion that interviews should treat them as celebrities, rather than treating them like they are interviewing for a job, which they are, is ludicrous.
-- Travis

Your assumption that Bill Clinton was not asked about foreign policy in 1992 in completely incorrect. In 1991 and 1992 Bill Clinton regularly answered any and all questions about foreign policy. He was found to have a very firm grasp of complex foreign policy matters.

That the managing editor of a major magazine of political opinion thinks the president of any country -- let alone the World's only superpower -- need not know "foreign policy stuff" shows what an upside-down World we now live in.
-- Guynemer Giguere
Brooklyn, New York

Great article. Insightful.

Another point on reporters like Couric and Gibson is how they skip blatant catastrophes of Obama from the Debate.

Obama made some huge mistakes and gaffs that pundits let him pass on.

For example, Obama spent 3 minutes pounding on John McCain about how Kissinger supports Obama's decision to meet without precondition with the four world's leading henchmen, including Pres. Ahmadinejad.

McCain fought back, and told Obama the truth about what his 35 year close friend Kissinger said about that point.

Pundits not only gave the points to Obama; but, took away points from McCain for being correct. Then, they neglected to hold Obama's feet to the fire when Kissinger himself called in and told the world that there was no way he would ever advocate Obama's position, and that Obama's position was naive and dangerous.

Tell me, sir. If McCain made that gaff, or is Palin made that gaff, how many newspapers front pages would those headlines be on, and for how many days? And, if Palin made that gaff, how many pundits would be calling for her resignation, or simply for her to be burned at the stake?

Obama made a half dozen gaffs like that, yet, liberal pundits and newspaper magnates put him as the winner and refused to consider his dangerous naivety!

How can someone win a debate when they are just plain wrong? Doesn't the fact that Kissinger went out of his way to tell the world that Obama was so far wrong that his ideas were destabilizing and dangerous to the world mean anything?

I thank you for your pursuit of truth.
-- Ed Nemeth
Sacramento, California

It has been interesting watching the conservative bouncing ball concerning Sarah Palin. George Will and David Brooks revealed their assessment of the governor when they criticized McCain for naming her as his running mate. Conservatives Kathleen Parker and Kathryn Lopez simply called for Ms. Palin to step down. Laura Ingraham, in a moment of candor, identified Will and Brooks as members of an "elite," one of the apparently worst epithets a conservative can hurl. Bill Kristol, who is famously wrong on nearly everything, called on the McCain campaign to let Sarah be Sarah. Last night, in the debate, she was. The polls I've read this morning have done nothing to undermine Kristol's reputation for being wrong. J. Peter Freire tells us that the problem with Palin's interview with Couric was not the governor's lack of information, but the interviewer's lack of "reportorial know-how."

All of this would be very amusing if we were not in the middle of a major economic crisis, the gift of an administration that believes government is always the problem and never the solution. With the credit markets in turmoil, Wall Street and Main Street are looking to government for a solution. We are left to wonder if there are enough competent government leaders around to save the day. Our president has proven not to be. Georgie, you're doing a heck of a job!

Last night, Sarah Palin called for strict government oversight of greedy Wall Street while insisting that government must get out of the way of business. Is she intentionally obfuscating the true McCain policy position on oversight and regulation or is she simply so ill-informed and confused that she doesn't have a clue where her campaign stands? When it comes to knowledge of the economy, remember that McCain has already punted. If, heaven forbid, she had to, could Palin lead us out of the mess in which we find ourselves? Who would advise her? Phil "this is a psychological recession/we are a nation of whiners" Gramm?

Am I worried about Palin being one heartbeat away from the presidency?

You betcha!! Wink, Wink. I end with a "shout out" for Ms. Parker and Ms. Lopez.
-- Mike Roush

One common-sense statement made by Governor Palin about the Fannie and Freddie fiasco that didn't get much notice was her gentle, chiding reminder that her folks always warned against living beyond one's means and this was a part of the problem. Palin was obliquely laying blame on the borrowers.

I was part of a conversation on an elementary school ground last week with mommies ranging from 25 to 35 in age and I remarked that people who assumed mortgages they had no realistic hope of paying are as culpable as the lender. One said. "Easy for you to say -- you own a nice home that's probably paid for."

I said "Let me tell you about my first "home" in 1946. I married at 18, left a huge home in the best neighborhood in Dallas, surrrounded by the grounds we called our yard, which seemed like a city block by today's standards, came to southern California where my recently discharged Navy Lt. husband planned to attend college on the G.I. Bill.

Tom Brokaw referred to these fellows as the Greatest Generation. Well, the Greatest Generation had wives who learned the hard way to live on whatever salary the wife could command and $121 a month "G.I. money" from the government. Each December, a letter would arrive stating that there would be no $121 for the month of December and "other arrangements should be made." Our "other arrangement" was usually a 14 cent box of Kraft Dinner.

There was no housing post-war. Had there been houses, there was no money for a down payment. So we drove to San Diego, bought a "house trailer" as they were called in 1946. The one we could afford was twenty seven ft. long and we lived in it for the four years my husband attended UCSB in Santa Barbara. Where did we get the money for the trailer? We sold his '41 Plymouth coupe and bought a Model A Ford for $100. The sale of the Plymouth got us a down payment on the trailer. I will remember forever the monthly payment on that trailer -- $86.38.

My mother came out to visit when we had just moved into our new home five months before we left for Santa Barbara. We had a "space" at the beach in Oceanside, which rented for $3 a week. No extra charge for the slugs on the wall in the community showers. In those days trailers were not plumbed and had no bathrooms. In fact, they had nothing. You bought a block of ice for a little icebox. You bought butane for the stove. We were lucky to live near a beach grocery store. We got our ice home before it melted.

I thought living on the beach in a trailer was high adventure. My mother thought it was some kind of breach of promise. She was outraged that I had married this naval officer who said his parents owned a ranch -- well, they did, but it wasn't our ranch and he was no longer a naval officer. Besides, you don't live on a ranch in Fallbrook and go to school in Santa Barbara.

When we got to Santa Barbara we were lucky to get a trailer park space under a lovely old Moreton Bay Fig tree and the bathrooms had no slugs on the wall. Later on a LUXURY trailer park opened up. It had cinder block bathrooms with beautiful brand new plumbing fixtures at each space. Our first private shower and toilet after three years of marriage.

Trailer parks in 1946-1952 were populated by college students and retired folks. It was a good mix. The fellows helped the geezers with the heavy lifting and the old ladies taught young wives to cook. All the wives worked, except those who had children. None of us wanted our husbands to work, as it delayed graduation. My husband was a "reader" for two professors, which helped.

When my husband graduated in 1952, they had a cutesy little mock degree they called the Ph.T for wives. It meant "pushing hubby through" Mercifully, we had already left for SF and I didn't have to endure that embarrassment. Hal had been awarded a scholarship to Stanford for his Master's, which is what pointed us north..

We had by now managed to upgrade our transportation -- although I drove that Model "A" from Santa Barbara to SF. I had learned all about throttles, not flooding the carburetor, retarding the spark, shifting and praying that my husband, driving ahead in an old DynaFlow Buick -- shooting amber lights -- would not get too far ahead of me. The little "A" had no horn. Hal had installed a wolf whistle and I had to pull a string to make it whistle. OK on campus but inappropriate for freeway driving. Often misunderstood by truckers who didn't know I was signaling my husband ahead.

Once, I don't know where we got the money, but I wanted to hear George Shearing at a hotel in L.A. So we drove down in the Model "A" and when we got there, there was a doorman and someone to park your car. Hal said we would park a block away and walk. I thought it would have been fun to see if the valet fella could drive it. Poor Hal. Too proud for whitewash, too poor for paint. We parked a block away and walked. During the performance a waiter tipped a tray and things went crashing down. Shearing, who was blind, said "We must be in Scotland, I just heard a Glasgow." When nights out are rare, you remember the details.

Nine years into my (now ) 62 year marriage, expecting my first child, we bought our first home -- 3 bedrooms, 1 bath -- for $12,750. Suburb of SF in 1954. New baby -- no phone lines. Had to walk a block to a phone booth for months before Pac Bell made residential phone service available. We had a two-party line in 1954! Contrast that with the luxury of first home buyers today! Phone jacks in every room. Cell phones in every pocket. These are the homes that taxpayers are going to help the helpless in getting their mortgages re-jiggered so they can stay in the house they shouldn't have bought in the first place.

Several decades and four homes later, I have that "nice home" that is the envy of the woman on the school ground who thinks I have led a life of privilege. Well, I have. I have been privileged to learn how to manage money, to know what I can afford and to know how to do without what I cannot afford..

I realize this is too long and too deadly dull to print and it really isn't meant to be, but Palin's remark recalled a time when 27 ft. of living space was not considered cruel and unusual punishment. We had a new trailer. Some had beat-up, used ones. And, although it is irrelevant to today's consumer society, it was the way many made it through school. And through life.

Another random thought -- all of the mommies at my grandson's school may envy my "nice home" but they all drive SUV's that far out-price my 2004 Malibu hatchback. Which probably means that they have never had to drive the equivalent of a 1932 Model A for four years.
-- Diane Smith

In her debate performance last evening, Sarah Palin was clearly somewhat successful in portraying herself as the common man's common-sense alternative to Joe Biden's elitist, liberal, and intrusive, big-government agenda. In doing so, I fear that she likely diminished McCain's chances in the forthcoming election.

The contrast was clear, but barely so: Joe Biden espouses the furtherance of big government involvement in individual lives; Sarah Palin espouses a more federalistic, Reagan-like "get the government off the backs of the people" approach to governance. Unfortunately, while the children of the "Greatest Generation" could find some merit in Reagan's minimalist government message, their children, I believe, cannot. Leftist input into our education system has been successful to the point where an entire generation of young Americans now actually fear living lives where the onus of responsibility lies primarily with themselves. They lack the self-esteem necessary to live independently and fear the traditional American values of self-reliance, self-determination and the acceptance of personal responsibility for their lives. Indeed, they not only want, but in many cases demand, that the federal government provide support to them. Whether they be the citizens of New Orleans, farmers, Wall Street tycoons or simply those who over-extended themselves and resultantly find themselves on the verge of loosing their homes, many now whine unabashedly if faced with the prospect of suffering the consequences of their actions. Like spoiled children throwing a tantrum, they criticize the government incessantly for not adequately catering to their ever-increasing demands. The rest of us, unfortunately, are insidiously coming to realize that the federal government is now literally brimming with political leftists, all of whom are only too happy to accommodate the wishes of self-indulgent thinkers by legislating away our constitutional freedoms, confiscating our wealth and redistributing it to those who clamor the loudest.

To me, the most telling (and frightening) aspect of the vice-presidential debate was the insight it provided into the political power of the American Left. It demanded homage from Mrs. Palin and she paid it. While clearly the more conservative choice, she at one point literally groveled at the feet of the leftist National Education Association and it's cronies in the Department of Education, promising them ever-more of the wealth which the rest of us create. Likewise, she used the left-wing phraseology of "working towards the common good" without adding a concise addendum that the conservative approach to effecting this goal is through reducing taxation, diminishing the size of government and enhancing individual liberty. Indeed, during the entire debate, she sounded not a single clarion call to substantially downsize the federal government. However, is there any other logical solution, aside from cutting costs, to the problem of dealing with a government hovering on the very edge of financial collapse due to at seventy consecutive years of socialistic over-spending and profligate borrowing. Sadly, Mrs. Palin never once even mentioned the word "socialism," surely the greatest internal threat to our individual liberties, nor did she point out that the current financial crisis is due solely to liberal, "Great Society"-type legislation which ushered in the federal government's unconstitutional entry into the housing market. She placed the blame primarily on the free market as opposed to more accurately blaming governmental manipulation of it. Likewise, Democrat Franklin Raines and his consorts, who enriched themselves with tens of millions of the taxpayer's dollars while simultaneously resisting Republican attempts to effect oversight of their criminality, were conspicuously absent from Mrs. Palin's assessment. So, why is it that she didn't even try to forcefully seize the conservative mantle and, like Reagan, characterize herself as a true champion of American ideals and individual liberty? I think its because she's very smart -- smart enough to realize that America is no longer a place where one win election to national office if running on a platform of traditional American conservative values. How sad that America has finally fully de-evolved into a nation where those with an attitude of entitlement can use the apparatus of government to systematically extract wealth from their friends, neighbors and countrymen. Look down and say "hello" to socialism, folks. It's putrid waters are quite literally now swirling around your feet.
-- Thomas Donley
Remus, Michigan

"THE REASON Governor Palin has performed badly up until last night is, by all accounts, because she's been cramming for a test."

"...the idea of "letting Sarah be Sarah" is probably the best strategy (and Thursday night's debate is a perfect argument for it)"

I don't understand. How can you be "over-prepared" for the question, "What magazines do you read?" and why is it that Sarah can only "be Sarah" when she has note cards or a teleprompter in front of her?
-- Teri Gray

I agree with Mr. Freire that Sarah did well in Thursday night's debate. I was talking with a Barack Obama supporter the next day -- call her "Sally" -- and she gave a negative evaluation of Sarah's debate performance. I said that Joe Biden made numerous mistakes during the debate, and "Sally" claimed she could not vote for Sarah Palin because Sarah was too inexperienced. I then asked why she would support Obama, who has virtually no executive experience. Sally started talking about Obama's judgment, and I pointed out this was sexism, attacking the woman, who has had eight years of executive experience, while giving the inexperienced male a free pass. Instead of responding to that, Sally started talking about Bush, and I asked her what Bush had to do with Obama's lack of experience or his supposed good judgment.

Sally kept insisting Obama had good judgment so I asked what judgments he had ever made. She couldn't point to any examples. I brought up the fact that his first really big decision was his choice for a vice presidential candidate, and I said he blew it. The right decision would have been to choose Hillary Clinton, who would have unified the party and attracted undecided women to the ticket, but Obama chose Biden, who brings nothing to the ticket.

In fact, that's the reason Joe Biden can make so many mistakes and nobody cares. He brings nothing to the ticket. If he flubs it, it doesn't damage the ticket. It's all Obama on the Democrat side. It's different with Sarah Palin. She brings a lot of excitement to the Republican ticket, and a poor performance on her part would have damaged it. Not a few of us had jitters before the debate.

Finally, Sally admitted she supports Obama because of his policy positions. I said why she didn't say that in the first place. I don't have a problem with people who support candidates based on their positions. They may be wrong, but at least it's a rational view on how to decide which candidate to support. Merely supporting someone for their style, or looks, or charisma is how stupid people decide.

In fact, one of my pet peeves is Frank Luntz and his undecided voters. The fact is undecided voters are the stupidest people in America. If you can't tell the difference between Obama and McCain at this point, there's not much hope for you. And Frank is actually surveying these stupid people to see what they think, as if they ever think. No, they decide on the basis of style, looks, charisma, or for superficial reasons. That's why they're stupid. And yet it's these people the candidates have to appeal to in order to win an election. Disgusting.

My conclusion about the debate is that if McCain loses this election, it won't be over for Sarah. When the next Republican primaries are held four years from now, Sarah will be the top player in the field. While she did a lot for the Republican ticket Thursday night, she also did a lot for herself.
-- Vern Crisler
Gilbert, Arizona

I read with interest Peter Freire's article entitled "The Barracuda Bites Back." I am a conservative Democrat and a voter whom I believe McCain wanted on his side of the voting ledger this election cycle. Unfortunately, McCain and Palin are not getting it done for me. First, Gwen Ifill would have moderated the debate fairly regardless of her upcoming book, as had already been determined by the McCain campaign back in July. Palin's clearing of the bar that had already been set up for her on the bottom floor in the underground parking garage had nothing to do with Gwen Ifill holding back. Second, I find it offensive that somehow you believe Joe Biden felt he could not attack a woman. If any woman running for political office can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Did anyone object to McCain's condescending and contemptuous attitude toward Obama on Sep 26th. No, because they were perceived as equal sparring partners on the stage. The same obviously cannot be said for Palin and Biden, as for some reason Palin, the delicate flower, had to be handled with kid gloves. Finally, by Peter Freire's assessment, Katie Couric was the main problem in Palin's CBS interview and not Palin. Freire somehow believes Palin should be interviewed by journalists who will let Palin off the hook on matters of national security, foreign policy, the economy and Supreme Court decisions, and ask more questions about the car pools for hockey practice and how expensive milk is at Pick'nSave. Perhaps Palin will find such a journalist at her local middle school after she returns to Alaska on November 5th.
-- Theresa Seem
Glendale, Wisconsin

J. Peter Freire replies:
Don't know if McCain knew about the book beforehand, but it was very smart of them to have her moderate even after finding out about it. It ensured that she couldn't do very much "gotcha." I would recommend watching the Newshour interview with Obama, conducted by Ifill, available here.

In a later "Reporter's Notebook" feature (exclusive to their online edition), Ifill seems willing to replace "changing a position," with "evolving" it. I don't want to say she's biased, but at the least, she's susceptible to political doublespeak -- always a worrisome sign. (To be clear: I've enjoyed Ifill's reporting for years. I was just disappointed in this instance, and then in the case of her perceived flap).

As for Palin being a woman, I agree that it's an unfortunate public perception issue. But Biden clearly held back. I can't help but think part of that is because Palin's a woman. I think if he had tried to hammer her, though, it's clear she would have been ready and capable of fighting back. I think it's unfortunate we didn't get to see it, though.

As for your last point, it's not letting someone off the hook. I actually think that candidates of both parties would be better off if the reporters interviewing them showed some knowledge of their experience prior. I can't recall the interview where some intrepid reporter, for example, got into the nitty-gritty of Obama's Chicago political career. And if Obama makes some pledge on some political issue, it's only a pledge. In other words, show me the facts, don't show me some potential for ability.

While I think you and I obviously disagree about Palin's qualifications, I hope you can see more clearly precisely what I was picking out as a strange phenomenon in these interviews. Tim Russert was actually pretty good at this sort of thing, though sometimes he would lapse as well.

(For today's other Reader Mail, click here.)

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