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Has Palin Out-Qualyed Quayle?

Dan Qualye was, rather unfairly in my view, a national joke.  From very shortly after George H.W. Bush picked a rising star senator from Indiana that few outside his home state had ever heard of to be his vice presidential running mate in 1988, Quayle became the butt of late night comics, “Saturday Night Live,” and other culture-setting institutions and became generally thought of as a not-ready-for-prime-time nincompoop.  People are still recycling the “you’re no Jack Kennedy” zinger that Lloyd Bentsen uncorked in the debates and the man’s supposed inability to spell potato is infamous if untrue.

But here’s the thing:  It really didn’t matter.    Bush-Quayle won in a landslide over Dukakis-Bentsen and, while they lost to Clinton-Gore in 1992, it had nothing to do with Quayle.

Sarah Palin appears to be this year’s Dan Quayle but with a twist.  She was instantly lampooned, including by McCain supporters such as myself, but then quickly made a huge splash with her acceptance speech at the Republican convention.  For a brief, shining moment, it became a Palin-McCain ticket.  She was tremendously popular and it looked like McCain had connected on his Hail Mary pass.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, though, and the pick is looking like a disaster.  She has embarrassed herself with poor performances in media interviews and she’s apparently lost even the Republican commentariat.  In addition to be lampooned two weeks in a row on the “Saturday Night Live” opening skit, she’s the butt of cruel jokes from late-night comics.  Andrew Sullivan passes on a particularly clever line from Jimmy Kimmel:

John McCain showed up without running mate Sarah Palin, which is a shame because she actually has a lot of experience with financial matters. You know, she lives right next to a bank.

Fareed Zakaria has delivered this brutal assessment:

Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president. She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska. But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national or international issue, and this is a hell of a time to start.

As Kevin Drum observes, “it’s definitely a sign that Palin’s jig may be up.”

Zakaria frequently writes astutely, but he’s something of an establishment weathervane, reluctant to state firm opinions unless he’s got plenty of company. So if he’s willing to say flatly that Palin is “utterly unqualified,” it suggests that the center-right establishment pretty unanimously agrees about this. I don’t know for sure that this will have a noticeable effect on the campaign, but when you add it to the growing list of conservatives who have taken similar stands (George Will, David Frum, Rod Dreher, Kathleen Parker, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer), it suggests that dismay over Palin may be reaching critical mass.

Indeed.   The only good news for McCain-Palin is that the expectations are now absurdly low.  Palin can “win” Thursday night’s debate with Joe Biden simply by coming across as something other than an absolute moron.  I’m not at all confident at this juncture, however, that she can clear that hurdle.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Fence says:

    Ditto on your last paragraph. My guess is that she’ll do OK given the low expectations, but she’s capable of supplanting Ford’s Poland gaffe in the all time rankings. Hopefully she won’t get any questions about how old the earth is, or how long she thinks it has left.

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  2. carpeicthus says:

    Fun fact: Quayle’s speech at the RNC was also very well-received by party faithful.

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  3. Floyd says:

    The media clearly has an agenda, and they are providing free air time to frame the issues and campaign for the Democrat Party.
    From SNL to L’il Bush, To Jon Stewart, [all masquerading as entertainment] the Media serve as the left’s “Ministry of Propaganda”
    If they aren’t, in fact, the “tail that wags the dog” then they certainly are that which is very close to the tail!
    Palin seems to have held up well, considering the onslaught to which she has been subjected.
    Even in the face of reports,chronicling her demise, supplied by the same Media which is hellbent on her destruction.

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  4. Alex Knapp says:

    The difference between Bush-Quayle 88 and McCain-Palin 08 is that Bush was riding the coattails of a popular president and was enjoying good economic times. At a time like that, a VP perceived as a “lightweight” isn’t as much as a liability as it is when you’re running under the incumbent party banner at a time of economic crisis.

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  5. [...] “The only good news for McCain-Palin is that the expectations are now absurdly low. Palin can ‘win’ tomorrow night’s debate with Joe Biden simply by coming across as something other than an absolute moron. I’m not at all confident at this juncture, however, that she can clear that hurdle.” – James Joyner [...]

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  6. Palin can “win” Thursday night’s debate with Joe Biden simply by coming across as something other than an absolute moron. I’m not at all confident at this juncture, however, that she can clear that hurdle.

    Maybe there’s some other definition of the word moron I am unfamiliar with. Otherwise, this is an absurd statement.

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  7. Eric says:

    The only good news for McCain-Palin is that the expectations are now absurdly low.

    Indeed. Looks like the McCain campaign is already trying to push that the deck is stacked against Palin.

    Guess they’re already getting ready to cry foul.

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  8. Moonage says:

    You over-estimate what she will be debating against. If Biden gives another one of his “Franklin reassured the nation on tv about the stock market crash” blurbs, Palin wins by default. I think even she is smart enough to know that all she has to do is stand there and look good and let Biden do all the talking. He will eventually hang himself if given the opportunity.

    It really perplexes me that learned scholars such as yourself are so quick to point out how bad Palin is, without any evidence whatsoever, while completely ignoring Biden’s almost daily gaffes. Why not compare Biden to Quayle in the same post? He’s trashed Obama, proven he’s clueless about modern history ( Roosevelt wasn’t president in 1929, and the tv wouldn’t even patented for another decade ), his political claim to “experience” was embarrassing himself so bad in his presidential campaign he had to drop out. I mean, this guy is a joke. But yet, he’s hardly ever mentioned. Sure, Palin’s not in the same league as Biden, but McCain’s numbers went up when he picked her, Obama’s went down when he picked Biden. That, is the Quayle factor. It’s not that he was stupid or completely inept, it was the reaction within the party that coined the meaning of the Quayle effect.

    In this race, that tile clearly belongs to Biden.

    ( Also, is it merely a coincedence that when using OTB’s spell checker, it thinks Obama should be IBM? If so, would that be for International Business Machines, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, or International Boys and Men? )

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  9. James Joyner says:

    Maybe there’s some other definition of the word moron I am unfamiliar with. Otherwise, this is an absurd statement.

    Note that I said “coming across as.” Palin probably has average if not slightly-above average intelligence. But she comes across as amazingly uninformed on even rudimentary public policy issues. By the standards of a vice presidential nominee five weeks away from an election, that makes her seem like a moron to an intelligent observer.

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  10. Eric says:

    Sorry about that. Link here.

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  11. John Burgess says:

    I’m frankly stunned that you’d consider Zakaria has anything useful to say on US politics. Really?

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  12. Eric says:

    From SNL to L’il Bush, To Jon Stewart, [all masquerading as entertainment]…

    So, Floyd, entertainment to you should be devoid of any political commentary whatsoever? We should all just be watching “The Andy Griffith Show” or “The Beverly Hillbillies”?

    I’m sorry, but entertainment has always included lampooning of celebrities and the powerful. Spare me the “liberal media” whine. You’d be laughing your butt off liberal figures were being lampooned.

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  13. Derrick says:

    I’m sorry, but entertainment has always included lampooning of celebrities and the powerful. Spare me the “liberal media” whine. You’d be laughing your butt off liberal figures were being lampooned.

    It’s funny, people like Floyd have so little perspective that they forget the cottage industry around Bill Clinton in the 90’s, hell even now. You can expect a Bill Clinton joke on Jay Leno, at least once a month to this day.

    Republicans seem to have this strong need to set themselves up as the victims, despite denunciations of the victim status of anyone else. Instead of just admitting that Palin is a failure to this point, it has to be a media conspiracy. Just ignore the fact that she can’t answer questions that a Model UN high school student could. MSM! MSM!

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  14. Jamie says:

    Hogwash.

    Palin’s detractors do nothing but prove the self-appointed intelligentsia on the left and right affection for the common (wo)man cannot survive actually meeting one.

    The condescension from from “intelligent observers” about Palin’s “average” or “above average” intelligent voter who identifies with Palin and could not care less what George F. Will or Charles Krauthammer thinks.

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  15. Herb Ely says:

    For the record, look at Terry Mattingly’s critique of the way journalists have covered the religious angle of the Palin story. As Terry’s website says, journalists don’t “get” religion. Some of the stories on Palin have amounted to journalistic malpractice. I’m not defending Palin as fully qualified to be President, just alerting your readers to be skeptical about stories claiming that she is a creationist, fundamentalist, etc.

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  16. rodney dill says:

    The problem is 90% hatchet job by the media. If the media chose to ride Obumble on his ‘potatoes’ he’d have to be renamed Spuds MacKenzie.

    …and that doesn’t even include this this gem.

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  17. Steve says:

    I’m sorry, but entertainment has always included lampooning of celebrities and the powerful. Spare me the “liberal media” whine. You’d be laughing your butt off liberal figures were being lampooned.

    I do laugh when liberals are lampooned. The point is though, they aren’t lampooned to the same extent conservatives are. IMHO it’s because when your mind set is liberal, your creativity is going to produce fewer liberal lampoons and a majority of conservative lampoons. After all, Russia being next to Alaska is a lot funnier than traveling to 58 states. I mean, its not that he’s “not smarter than a 5th grader”, he was just tired. And that would be OK if they, and the rest of you liberals, would just admit it instead of lying how “equal opportunity” the media is.

    Why don’t we see lampoons on SNL about our 58 states or the wrong president being in office for the 1929 crash? I think it’s because the writers, producers and actors don’t think it’s funny and therefore their audiance wouldn’t think it’s funny. Plus, it would hurt their candidate.

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  18. SeeingIsBelieving says:

    Here’s Quayle’s supposed inability to spell potato caught on tape (its about :18 in)…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZihMFYGM_o

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  19. In re: SNL–I have little doubt that the writers and the actors lean liberal, if not extremely liberal in some cases.

    However, the notion that they simply go out of their way to help the Dems is problematic. Think back to 2000, as it was SNL’s lampooning of the first Bush-Gore debate that put Gore’s sighing on the map. Indeed, the most memorable things about the 2000 debates were the SNL parodies.

    Further, their portrayal of Clinton was hardly positive.

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  20. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    Don’t you think that there’s a huge difference between slips of the tongue and incoherence? McCain’s reference to “Czechoslovakia” is a slip of the tongue. Obama’s reference to “57 states” is a slip of the tongue (he was half-right, though–that’s how many Democratic primaries/caucuses there were). Palin’s answer to the bailout question and the Alaska question weren’t slips of the tongue–they were badly phrased and revealed a lack of understanding of the question.

    Now, I don’t expect for politicians to know everything. However, I do expect them to, at the very least, be able to (a) recite canned talking points and (b) bs their way out of a question. Palin can’t do either. Her answer to the “what regulations has John McCain supported on the banking industry?” question SHOULD have been answered with a talking point. If she didn’t have one, she could have easily spun it to something like “John McCain has supported regulation when appropriate, as in Fannie and Freddie Mac, and also supported deregulation when appropriate. More regulation isn’t always a good thing, Katie.”

    That didn’t answer the question any better than “I’ll get back to you,” but it sure would have sounded better…

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  21. DMan says:

    Why is it so impossible for some people to admit how entirely unprepared Sarah Palin is for the national spotlight? At this point it is evident that it was a mistake on the part of McCain to select her as his VP candidate. Even for those who believe there is a massive liberal bias in the MSM, does the existence of such forbid the possibility that she is grossly unqualified?

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  22. James Joyner says:

    Here’s Quayle’s supposed inability to spell potato caught on tape (its about :18 in)…

    But the rest of the story isn’t on the tape. See that index card he’s holding? It contains the misspelling POTATOE. It was written by the kid’s teacher.

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  23. brainy435 says:

    “Spare me the “liberal media” whine. You’d be laughing your butt off liberal figures were being lampooned.”

    So the media isn’t liberal, and you can prove it by noting that they don’t lampoon liberals? Tell me we wouldn’t have seen SNL goofing on someone talking about having TiVo’d George Washingons Gettysburgh address during the war of 1812 if a republican had said something half as stupid as Bidens gaffe.

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  24. Triumph says:

    Benson

    Two comments:

    1) Typo: It’s “Bentsen”

    “Benson” was the Lt. Governor on a TV sitcom.

    2) I think it is inaccurate to make a comparison between Palin and Quayle.

    At the time that Bush, Sr. called on him to serve, Quyale had been a US Senator for nearly a decade and a two-term congressman before that. He was a veteran of the national political scene and from a state that was within the top 1/3 in population.

    Prior to entering national politics, Quayle worked in state government and was an attorney.

    Palin, by contrast, before she ran for city council in a thinly-populated and isolated Alaskan hamlet, was a sports reporter in a town 2,300 miles away from the nearest American major league sports franchise.

    Sure Quayle had some verbal gaffes, but there was never any doubt that he had the national experience to be the VP. That is not to say that more qualified candidates could have been found; but Quayle had national experience.

    To say that Palin is “this year’s Dan Quayle” is a discredit to Quayle. Palin is a joke. She is more like “this year’s Amy Carter”–except of course she could actually become President.

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  25. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Palin steps on the stage of of TV interview for a hostile host. That is a fact. Charlie Gibson edited (or some other Obamite) edited her interview to make her look inept. Inept people do not get elected Governors of states, period. Catie Couric never asked Obama any difficult questions outside of his well rehearsed talking points. Yet, you judge Palin by her performance on a stage where she may have expected some, even if just a little objectivity. Boy was she ever wrong. Just like on this blog. Joyce claims to support McCain, yet there is only attacks upon him, his running mate and the campaign. Not one article examining the association of Obama with Wright, Ayers, Rezko, ACORN ad infinitum. There was a major truth blackout during the 1930’s in Germany. A man was elected to office who was not very well vetted. History seems to be repeating itself. Notice who Axelrod looks like? Now imagine him with a much smaller mustache. Look like anyone?

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  26. Triumph says:

    Inept people do not get elected Governors of states, period.

    Uhh..there’s a guy named Rod Blagojevich you need to meet.

    Samuel Beach Axtell was pretty bad too, but he was appointed, rather than elected.

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  27. Tad says:

    Why is it so impossible for some people to admit how entirely unprepared Sarah Palin is for the national spotlight? At this point it is evident that it was a mistake on the part of McCain to select her as his VP candidate. Even for those who believe there is a massive liberal bias in the MSM, does the existence of such forbid the possibility that she is grossly unqualified?

    Amen, you’d think at least one person here could defend her on something better than this ‘the media did it’ crap. Not to mention that she’s been almost completely hidden from media attention at all. The woman is an embarrassment and she has no one to blame but her self, period. She’s completely responsible for her actions, you know you’re scrapping the bottom of the barrel when SNL makes fun of you using your own words.

    I disagree that she’d win the debate by not embarrassing herself. But I do agree that it’d be a huge step forward for McCain-Palin.

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  28. fredw says:

    Quale did not have one chance in 3 ( 33 % ) of becoming president by the death of the president.
    About 1/3 of 72 year old men die by age 80. This is based on actuarial tables for the average American of McCain’s age, not one in a high stress job that some have said ages men in dog years.

    ( I have trouble pasting links – so lets try this www(dot)ssa(dot)gov/OACT/STATS/table4c6.html )

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  29. DMan says:

    Ragshaft, Thank you.

    Conservatives often cite Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan for contributing to a Bush victory in 04. In the same vein, I’m happy to see you are doing your part to make sure Obama is elected this year. Keep spreading the word Ragshaft!

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  30. Moonage says:

    “About 1/3 of 72 year old men die by age 80. This is based on actuarial tables for the average American of McCain’s age, not one in a high stress job that some have said ages men in dog years.”

    I can assure you that 99% of US 72 year old men don’t get the medical services McCain gets either.

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  31. Tad says:

    Palin steps on the stage of of TV interview for a hostile host. That is a fact. Charlie Gibson edited (or some other Obamite) edited her interview to make her look inept. Inept people do not get elected Governors of states, period. Catie Couric never asked Obama any difficult questions outside of his well rehearsed talking points. Yet, you judge Palin by her performance on a stage where she may have expected some, even if just a little objectivity. Boy was she ever wrong. Just like on this blog. Joyce claims to support McCain, yet there is only attacks upon him, his running mate and the campaign. Not one article examining the association of Obama with Wright, Ayers, Rezko, ACORN ad infinitum. There was a major truth blackout during the 1930’s in Germany. A man was elected to office who was not very well vetted. History seems to be repeating itself. Notice who Axelrod looks like? Now imagine him with a much smaller mustache. Look like anyone?

    Ragshaft- Leaving aside your conspiracy nonsense about editing interviews, nazi interviewers, or some media black out that you somehow attribute to everyone except the McCain camp. I do appreciate how you interpret Catie Couric’s questions as anything above ‘softballs’. I for one appreciate a little honest interpretations and opinions from the blogs that I read. If you want hack there are plenty of places to find it.

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  32. MM says:

    “Tell me we wouldn’t have seen SNL goofing on someone talking about having TiVo’d George Washingons Gettysburgh address during the war of 1812 if a republican had said something half as stupid as Bidens gaffe.”

    There’s also a difference between lampooning someone who repeatedly tries to claim something ridiculous and someone who makes a mistake and moves on. If Obama were literally trying to convince people that there are 57 states, or Biden were attempting to sway the punditocracy that FDR was on TV in 1929, then that would be not only eminently mockable, but a seed for some pretty funny bits.

    If people weren’t legitimately trying to spin “Alaska is next to Russia” as legitimate foreign policy experience, it wouldn’t be the subject of jokes. However the McCain candidacy tried to sell that to the public and the public bought it about as well as they’d buy David Axelrod sending out a revised map of the US with more than 50 states on it.

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  33. fredw says:

    “I can assure you that 99% of US 72 year old men don’t get the medical services McCain gets either.”

    Read again – 99% of US 72 year old men are not in the single highest stress, high adrenaline jobs that exist.

    BTW – I would have been very comfortable with a Quale presidency; he was a bit awkward but was very qualified. I have lived in two small towns in the last 25 years both of which are about the size of Wassila. Both had real budget and management problems Palin did not face because of oil revenues and state assumption of local service responsibilities. Neither of these mayors are qualified to be president, and thet are all exponentialy more experienced then Palin.

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  34. anjin-san says:

    Palin steps on the stage of of TV interview for a hostile host

    Damn. You really can’t make this stuff up.

    Palin is a deer in the headlights with badasses like Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, but she is ready to deal with Al Queda, Iran, and all the others who are “hell bent” on destroying our way of life.

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  35. G.A.Phillips says:

    Maybe there’s some other definition of the word moron I am unfamiliar with. Otherwise, this is an absurd statement.

    I agree.

    Hopefully she won’t get any questions about how old the earth is, or how long she thinks it has left.

    Why not? I would love to hear what the Idiot Biden thinks, or how about ZERO, I’m sure he has a none comprehensible line of bullsh-t for his understanding, or how about you?

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  36. Eric says:

    Not one article examining the association of Obama with Wright, Ayers, Rezko, ACORN ad infinitum.

    That’s because there’s nothing there, Ragshaft. Of course, if you want to delve into these sorts of things, maybe we should examine McCain’s association with the equally objectionable John Hagee and with McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five scandal. What the hell, let’s also toss in Bush’s National Guard record. I never hear a peep out of you over those issues, no. Never a conspiracy or coverup there. But god forbid a liberal even look the way of someone who isn’t squeaky clean, then you’re all over them like white on rice.

    There was a major truth blackout during the 1930’s in Germany. A man was elected to office who was not very well vetted. History seems to be repeating itself. Notice who Axelrod looks like? Now imagine him with a much smaller mustache. Look like anyone?

    I was wondering when the great rightwing nuthouse bogeyman was going to rear its ugly head. Funny how everything always comes back to Hitler and the Nazis with you freaks. First of all, if your understanding of interwar Germany is simply as a “truth blackout,” then apparently you’ve been reading books only from Regnery Publishing. Probably large-type. Second, Hitler wasn’t elected; he was appointed by President Hindenburg. Lastly, so, when one looks from a distance with squinted eyes at Axelrod, he looks like… Hitler? Then you certainly must look like a horse’s a**, because only a horse’s a** would even suggest such a stupid comment. My recommendation to you is to concentrate on getting your facts straight and leave the witticisms for those with actual wit.

    We can always count on the rightwing nuthouse to violate Godwin’s Law. Thread over.

    Thanks alot, Ragshaft; this was otherwise turning into a good thread.

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  37. just me says:

    I think part of the problem is that it isn’t so much unfair of the media to hold McCain and Palin to the fire, but they have been rather soft on Obama and Biden-especially Biden-they haven’t scrutinized or held his gaffe’s in nearly the light they have Palin’s.

    But I am not sure it if fair to hold SNL to the standard of media. SNL uses the gaffe’s of the candidates, and I do think in many ways Palin has stepped into the poo that SNL is running with. And generally SNL is an equal opportunity spoofer. However, I admit now that I haven’t actually watched any of the SNL shows in years and have only watched the SNL linked skits on websites and youtube-but I think they are doing what they generally do-spoofing the stupid things candidates say and do.

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  38. anjin-san says:

    they haven’t scrutinized or held his gaffe’s in nearly the light they have Palin’s.

    What Palin has been committing are not “gaffes”, she is engaging in near incoherence, desperately trying to connect the dots between all the talking points that have been stuffed into her.

    Any public figure who speaks on camera often is going to make mistakes, and I think everyone is pretty forgiving of that, unless it is really a whopper.

    That is not what Palin is doing. Obviously the McCain campaign knows this, which is why they have pretty much turned her into a non-person.

    If she has a rough time at the debate, I predict a long fact finding trip to Diego Garcia…

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  39. rodney dill says:

    in Oregon, Obama pleaded ignorance of the decades-old, multibillion-dollar massive Hanford nuclear-waste cleanup: “Here’s something that you will rarely hear from a politician, and that is that I’m not familiar with the Hanford, uuuuhh, site, so I don’t know exactly what’s going on there. (Applause.) Now, having said that, I promise you I’ll learn about it by the time I leave here on the ride back to the airport.”

    I assume on that ride, a staffer reminded him that he’s voted on at least one defense-authorization bill that addressed the “costs, schedules, and technical issues” dealing with the nation’s most contaminated nuclear-waste site.

    I guess Obumble got a pass on this as he didn’t actually use the words, “I’ll get back to ya.” Just another in a long list of true gaffes

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