Political Deformity

A Handshake of Carbon Monoxide

Palin’s Interview Report Card

So the first part of Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson just aired, giving fresh meat to the pundit class. Here’s how I think her performance fared in a few key areas.

Poise: B-

Okay, this may seem pretty inside baseball, but bear with me here: Palin’s body language made it clear that she’s not ready for prime time. She began the interview surprisingly calm, but as Gibson–who seemed amusingly underwhelmed the entire time–asked tougher questions, Palin began to get tense. Nothing overt or over the top, but she began to slouch a little bit; she leaned forward too much, her hand gestures became almost comically expressive, like she was trying too hard. Check out this screen grab I pulled from abc.com and see if you can get a sense of how Palin slowly scrunched down into defense-mode:



I’ll grant you that the difference in body language isn’t all that much visually, but when coupled with changes in her tone, I got a pretty striking picture of a candidate who was trying a little too hard. The number of times she awkwardly inserted a “Charlie” across her responses was jarring, as well as its placement, like in between her giving the same answer twice. It came across as a very clumsy attempt at projecting intimacy, not unlike John McCain’s use of “my friends”–except even more mechanical. On the other hand, it’s also possible, that, as as my roommate hypothesized, her random mentions of Charlie was delay tactic so she could by time to regurgitate her talking points. Either way, it was awkward.

Something else that Palin seems to do–judging from this interview and one she did for CNBC before her candidacy was announced–is run off at the mouth. It’s an odd sort of babble, different than Joe Biden’s, which is usually focused on weird personal anecdotes. No, Palin’s chatter is usually her attempt at actually answering a policy question: she manages to talk a lot about the issues and yet say very little. At one point, a frazzled Gibson says that he’s lost “in a blizzard of words” when Palin attempts to answer a question. Say what you will about George W. Bush, but there was at least some correlation between his knowledge and the length of his responses to tough questions: he didn’t know much, and he usually expressed his ignorance pretty succinctly. Palin, not so much.

Staying on Message: B

One thing Palin did pretty well at was staying on message. Almost every answer was repeated twice, word for word, and her language got pretty strident.

But there’s a problem with relentlessly pounding the same lines for every question: if you don’t do it with ease and confidence, you can give off a vibe of desperation instead of certainty.

Think about it: if you asked me whether or not I thought the U.S. should have invaded Iraq, and my only response was: “Yes, Saddam Hussein was a dangerous man,” it matters a lot how I say it.

I can (a) insist it cooly and calmly, as though it was an eternal truth or (b) I can spit it out nervously, over and over. Dubya perfected (a): when he talked about terrorism, or any other issue for that matter, he spoke in sound bites, and they were delivered with a matter-of-fact tone that suggested–rightly or wrongly–that Bush really did see the world as black and white and didn’t actually care if you had any holes to poke in his position. Obviously, this has proven to be an incredibly dangerous mindset, but presentation-wise, it comes off as conviction: Bush only had one thing to say because it’s what he really believed.

But tonight, Palin was much more of (b), and that’s problematic. If you repeat the same position too shakily–full of tics and hand gestures and akward references to your interviewer–you don’t project conviction, but rather panic, as though you’re beating a dead horse because you don’t know what else to say. We like one-trick ponies if we think their persistence is a form of courage and fortitude; we’re less crazy about folks who say one thing because that’s all that was in the script.

Knowledge of the Issues: D

She didn’t know what the Bush doctrine was; wants to go to war with Russia and give Israel a blank check to start World War III; she rabidly insists that energy policy is the only important issue in foreign policy; and she thinks that the Iraq war is a mission from God.

I didn’t give her an “F” only because she never ventured away from relatively straight, limited answers to Gibson’s questions, and I need to save something for those times when she actually speaks freely about her positions on the issues.

All in all, the short clip we saw tonight wasn’t the catastrophe I was hoping for, but it did signal that Palin’s not going to be able to navigate substantive media and voter scrutiny as easily as she was the self-selecting audience at the RNC.


September 11, 2008 - Posted by | Media Coverage, Sarah Palin | , , , ,


  1. Excellent analysis. Kudos to you.

    Comment by colleenlambert | September 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hey, thanks Colleen…I appreciate the kind words!

    Comment by Young Male | September 12, 2008 | Reply

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