Republicans can now remove their hands from their eyes. Gov. Sarah Palin shared a stage with Sen. Joe Biden and for 90 minutes skirted the edge of the abyss but avoided the plunge. Luckily for her, their debate Thursday night avoided serious civics -- no questions about Supreme Court rulings and only the briefest exposition on what constitutes the vice presidency. She did nothing to arrest her slide from phenomenon to embarrassment, but her conservative supporters, many jumping ship in recent days, can take solace that she correctly pronounced the names of several world leaders.
In avoiding catastrophe, she was aided by Biden, whose looping answers drifted along a current known only to him. His best friend was the clock.
If these two candidates -- aided and abetted by the singularly inarticulate work of moderator Gwen Ifill -- combined to produce one of the worst debates in modern American presidential history, they did at least reveal the goals of the participants, as Palin reached for folksiness and Biden appealed to the cerebral. "Darn right we need tax relief," said one. "We have a different value set," said the other. Guess who said which?
In one sense, both of those efforts were authentic. Palin has every right to be considered an everywoman; no one can deny how average she is. And Biden is entitled to some claim on intellect; he's spent many years in Washington arguing complex issues, to mixed results. But both stepped on their message. Palin's attempts to seem regular drew so heavily from her script that she revealed more about her handlers than herself. And Biden's syntax made it hard to credit him with anything approaching genius.