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After the past week or two, it seemed if some people were expecting Sarah Palin to fall on her face tonight on the way to the podium, to stammer unintelligibly for 90 straight minutes, to contradict every single position John McCain has ever taken, to refer to moderator Gwen Ifill as “Aretha,” to admit she can’t find Alaska on a map, and to suddenly being licking her microphone.

And so — shock of shocks! — Palin did none of those things in tonight’s VP debate, so she must have “won”! Or at least, she must be showered with positive punditry because she didn’t drag the entire McCain-Palin ticket down in a gigantic fireball that would have even made The Huffington Post feel a tinge of empathy.

After the performance Palin had put on recently in the company of Katie “The Intimidator” Couric, there was certainly a well-warranted feeling that Palin might finish the job tonight and kill the McCain campaign once and for all.

Come on now. We all know how debates work. When you’re stumped by a question, you brush it off and go back to the talking points — the ones you’ve had weeks to practice. Obama does it, McCain does it, Biden does it and tonight, Palin did it. You can’t quite get away with that in a one-on-one sit-down. That’s why Palin’s run-ins with Couric have been so disastrous. But debates simply aren’t set up to allow those kind of calamities.

So of course Palin surprised us or exceeded expectations. Or didn’t qualify for ward-of-the-state status with her debate performance. This was essentially the immediate post-debate analysis offered on NBC by the likes of Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw. Geraldine Ferraro even came along to say she was pulling for Palin not to screw up and was pleased to declare she hadn’t. (Ferraro acknowledged that Biden made stronger policy arguments — how f’ed up is American political discourse when this is basically an aside?)

What no one seemed to talk about right away — perhaps out of fear of being accused of piling on the poor woman, or perhaps because they were so breath-taken by Palin’s demonstration of being able to repeat talking points — was the fact that Palin’s presentation was, while not the catastrophe many may have been expecting or hoping for, nevertheless shaky and at times uncertain and at other times clearly coached and rehearsed.

Biden had his wobbly moments too — curiously, particularly right after he appeared so strong in rebuking Palin’s “the surge will work in Afghanistan” suggestion — but not as many as Palin’s, and his delivery was miles ahead. Palin seemed nervous, a bit clunky in making what were frequent and abrupt transitions from one topic to another one, and unquestionably in less command of her material than Biden was of his.

The problem here, since as I said above we need to be worried about policy, after all, is not so much that Palin didn’t have the polish that Biden seemed much more able to display. The problem is that when Palin was at her best, she was also at her most vague. Doubtless her coaches knew what kind of stuff sounds best and most natural out of the lipsticked mouth of that great arctic pitt bull. Keep it general, keep it fluffy, keep it “Joe Sixpack.” Talk about your family, about “small-town” stuff, and freedom and shining cities on a hill and of course, praise the hell out of John McCain. All that is easy stuff compared to getting down and dirty with tax policy, foreign affairs, military strategy or constitutional theory. Little wonder, then, that Palin mostly tried to steer clear of such wonkish territory and kept coming back to the “glittering generalities.”

Biden came armed with facts and data and mostly had solid command of them. Palin tried to toss voting-record mud at Biden and Obama only to see a fair bit of it deflected back. Soon enough she realized she probably wasn’t going to win an argument over the nuances of Senate votes by regurgitating someone else’s talking points to a man with nearly 36 years in Congress.

Certainly instant debate analysis from the talking heads is something to be wary of (Obama-McCain I was universally declared a tie only to have public-opinion polling suggest otherwise, to Team Obama’s pleasure; and already, there’s good news for Obama-Biden after tonight’s debate), but that doesn’t lessen the frustration of witnessing the media air their confusions and ingorance on live television for the world to see.

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Welcome to what we hope is the first in many roundtable discussions about the goings on in the hilarious world of American politics. While a few of our contributors are indisposed for this first installment, 4 of Bandit Pulpit’s most obnoxious personalities are here to give you the business concerning John McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign as the mushroom cloud that is our economy continues to cast a shadow over Wall Street and Main Street.

With that being said, heeeeeeerrrrrrrrrreeeeeee we go!

Karl Trollve

It’s brilliant! True grit and leadership! It’s “country first!” Mac’s the only candidate in this election who really knows the economy! It’s a game-changer!

It’s a ploy! A stunt! The man’s in over his head and wants to dive deeper! Barney Frank is right — he’s trying to swoop in and take credit for something that’s already getting done! Of course he wants to cancel the debate — the economy is the last thing McCain wants to talk about — not just ever, but especially right now! It’s Sarah Palin times 10!

Phew. Ol’ Karl’s head is spinning. The McCain “suspension” (I use the quotes because he still gets wall-to-wall coverage without having to spend a dime on campaign ads; he’s off the trail but very visible; he’s not running but right in your face; on and on) is all the above things and more. This is the ultimate test of the spin-doctors and opinion-peddlers. May the shrewdest and most cunning win!

This is Karl politics, and it makes me proud. Don’t wage the war on facts and objectivity — the battle is to be fought and won in the realm of perceptions. Who looks and acts presidential? How does this feel? (Oh, and don’t forget: Who would you rather have a beer with? I know that might seem irrelevant in our current crisis, but trust me — it’s the ultimate presidential litmus test, even when your guy says he doesn’t actually drink.)

I’d be inclined to admit it’s a dangerous gambit to lay your fate upon the perceptions of the masses. Because, remember, the people are dumb. But that’s the brilliance of Karl politics — the more transparently cynical and can’t-pass-the-smell-test a ploy is, the better chance it has of leaving the populace drooling over themselves and begging for more.

John McCain, The Original Maverick. The Conquering Economic Hero. Cue “Hail to the Chief.”

Rofl Blitzer

McCain suggesting that presidential campaigning be suspended is just another gimmick dressed up as “putting country first.” I’m putting this move in the same category as picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. It is political theater. Nothing more than a stunt designed to dupe voters into thinking McCain is some über-patriot who will sacrifice whatever is necessary for our amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties.

My opinion is that McCain sees himself sliding in the polls and, suspending campaigning “for the good of the country” is the easiest way to stop the bleeding. Points to Obama for calling McCain on this say boldly saying “we can do both.” I would much rather support a candidate who can handle multiple things at once rather than someone who can only focus on one serious issue at a time.

David zomGergen

Surreal. It’s the only word I can think of. I have a hard time imagining John McCain “rushing” anywhere, let alone to save the economy. One can only wonder if history will look back and say “If not for John McCain the United States would have been helpless to resist the coming destruction of their financial markets.” It somehow falls short of “If not for Superman the world would surely have fallen into chaos at the hands of the evil Brainiac.”

I write this in the wake of David Letterman’s 2 night tirade on McCain canceling his appearance, a fair amount of clever comparative editing on behalf of the Daily Show, and a lot of general reflection on the news coverage regarding the financial crisis.

For me the most adequate point came from Letterman’s scathing critique. In short: If you have to leave the campaign trail to tend to important Washington business, fine. You leave your VP in charge and you leave your campaign running. The notion that you suspend your campaign and delay debates (through which the American people will arguably get their first glimpse at pseudo-unfiltered dialog on the issues upon which you will be ELECTED)…strikes me as absurd and disrespectful to the American people and to the democratic process.

Let’s have a little less political theater and a little more content. This nation IS in a crisis no doubt, on many fronts. That they need leadership is beyond question. In light of that we need information, we need direction, vision, and intelligent dialog regarding those issue which will define the next 4 years and much farther beyond, NOT another press conference of political posturing with LOTS of talk and LITTLE meaning.

Rush Limblog

This whole “suspending the campaign” move reeks. Every move the McCain campaign insists is genuine is just the opposite. All McCain and his advisers want to do is derail the news cycle that continues to expose his deficiencies as a candidate when it comes to the economy. The same policies and pleas for deregulation that McCain has been calling for have gotten us into this mess… Go ahead and add that on top of the fact that an advocacy group run by Rick Davis (McCain’s campaign manager) called Homeownership Alliance has been collecting lobbying fees from Freddie Mac since 2005, and you have a campaign disaster… But you see, this disaster is all self-inflicted. McCain is the one who insisted that the fundamentals of our economy are still strong, that deregulation is the only way, and that Obama’s thin connections to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are worthy of attack while insisting that his campaign manager has no ties to either company.

The same goes for you too, Johnny Mac.

The same goes for you too, Johnny Mac.

McCain wanted to slow down this campaign and postpone the debate because he knows that he would get torn apart and his numbers would continue to plummet… Regardless of the fact that the debate is supposed to center on foreign policy and national security, it is inevitable that the economy would be brought up. There is NO reason for McCain to go to Washington during the bailout negotiations other than to skip out on the debate and artificially boost his already horrible economic credentials. Even tonight, reports are coming out that McCain is sabotaging the negotiations with the help of the Bush administration, hoping to draw them out so he can have a reason to not debate Barack Obama on the issues. The fact is that McCain cannot win on the issues… The only chance he has to win is to continue to distract this country from his disastrous flaws and shortcomings; use dirty tactics like THIS or THIS or THIS (proof positive that McCain is a total d-bag); or hope that white America is still scared by brown skin and funny sounding names.

Suspend the campaign? Fine by me… Just don’t expect us to buy that this is anything but a bailout for your campaign.

A Rofl Blitzer Production

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