ST. LOUIS Sarah Palin was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.
She not only kept Joe Biden on the defensive for much of the debate, she not only repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, but she looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.
She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g's.
"John McCain doesn't tell one thing to one group and somethin' else to another," she said. "Those huge tax breaks aren't comin' to those huge multinational corporations."
She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like "I betcha" and "We have a heckuva opportunity to learn" and "Darn right we need tax relief."
Biden was somber, serious and knowledgeable. And he seemed to think that debates were about facts. He had a ton of them.
Criticizing John McCain's health care plan, Biden said that McCain would tax health care and "then you're going to have to replace a $12,000 that's the average cost of the plan you get through your employer; it costs $12,000 you're going to have to pay replace a $12,000 plan, because 20 million of you are going to be dropped. So you're going to have to place replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you've just given to the insurance company."
Palin was a lot more direct in her attacks on Obama and a lot more simple. Criticizing Obama for saying he would meet with some foreign leaders who are hostile to the United States, Palin said: "Some of these dictators hate America and what we stand for. They cannot be met with. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous."
She also said: "An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment."
Sarah Palin accusing Barack Obama of being naive? Yep. And she was unabashed about it. And so what if Joe Biden has been in the Senate approximately forever and knows a lot more about a lot more stuff than she does? She doesn't care.
"You recently said paying taxes is patriotic," she said to Biden. "In middle-class America, where I have been all my life, that is not considered patriotic."
True, a lot of her statements were of the fortune cookie variety. "At end of day," she said, "if we are all working together for the greater good, it is going to be OK."
But a lot of people like fortune cookies. She said her strength to the ticket was "my connection to the heartland of America, being a mom, having a son going off to war, a mother of a special needs child." She said there were times she and her husband sat around the kitchen table wondering how they were going to make it without health insurance.
This led Joe Biden to his most emotional he appeared to choke up and one of his most effective moments.
"Look, I understand what it is like to be a single parent, when my wife and child died," Biden said. "I know what it is like to raise two kids alone. I know what it is like to sit around that kitchen table."
Then he said of Americans: "They are looking for help, they are not looking for more of the same."
It might have been his best line of the evening.
Palin made some flubs. Talking about America's financial crisis, she said, "It's a toxic mess, really, on Main Street that's affecting Wall Street." Isn't it the other way around? And she also got the name of a general wrong.
But if people thought she was going to look like a dumb bunny for 90 minutes, they were disappointed. She said what she wanted to say, and she was so relaxed she even winked at one point. Really! An actual wink during a national debate, when she said she was going to try to get John McCain to change his mind about not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Do people care about such stuff? Should all that down-home talk and body language really count? Joe Biden doesn't think so.
"Facts matter," Biden said.
Yeah? In politics? Since when?