Let's go back to October 2, 2008 and revisit the Vice Presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. This is one of the most important and serious moments in the career of a politician. During this short time, the candidate must impress upon the American people that he or she is capable of assuming the duties of the President in the case of an emergency.
Now we get to meet Sarah Palin, a neophyte on the national stage, who had nevertheless helped John McCain obtain his first lead in presidential polling only a few short weeks before, after her selection, and again during the Republican convention. Seeing that lead evaporate, though, and then having a bit of an embarrassing time in an interview with Katie Couric, Governor Palin was charged with rebutting questions about her fitness and with appearing Presidential in the debate.
So, of course, her plan devolved into winking at the television audience. This may be an effective strategy during the interview portion of a beauty pageant, but after all, Palin was applying for a position that had seen the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Adlai Stevenson, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey and Theodore Roosevelt. She winked to the cameras at least five times.
Specifically, and to my point, there was a moment in that debate in which Palin was asked directly about her plans if the unthinkable happened and she became President of the United States. The moderator, Gwen Ifill, actually used the "heartbeat away" language for this question. Sarah Palin had a big grin on her face seconds into answering and then she winked at her TV audience at 1:06:40 of this video. Here's a screengrab of that wink:
I was listening closely to that debate and cringed as I had never cringed before regarding a politician's conduct on the national stage. I knew that the question was about whether her 72-year-old running mate might die during the next four years, and then I saw a big smile and a wink during Palin's response to the question. There was some hue and cry about Palin's winking, but, for example, CNN ran an article the next day omitting that detail, calling her "folksy" and noting:
On the question of the candidates' qualifications to assume the presidency, 87 percent of those polled said Biden is qualified and 42 percent said Palin is qualified.All Sarah Palin had to do was to act Presidential for a little under 90 minutes.
Mitt Romney had to act Presidential for a little over 9 minutes.
He failed, and a crap-storm of well-deserved flak for his statements on Libya and Egypt rained down on him. Romney only had to be Presidential for a little over 9 minutes, and, instead, he had had his "Palin Moment." (I would argue that he only had to seem "nominational" at his partisan convention, and that this was the first time he was called upon to act Presidential.) His statement deserved to be attacked because of the lies involved, the political attack without the facts during a time of mourning and alert, and because Romney had inserted himself into a delicate situation in a buffoonish way, not knowing what damage he might do.
Jed Lewison did a great series of articles on the front page showing how Mitt Romney had decided to smirk and gloat his way through a press conference about the deaths in Libya. Hunter sealed the deal in his own must-read, inimitable way in a piece entitled, "The Romney Smirk." I wanted to confirm the pictures Jed Lewison published of the Romney touchdown dance ... using screengrabs of the official Fox News video. Besides the following three screengrabs, there were other instances during the video in which Romney seemed to be enjoying himself:
Mitt Romney managed to one-up Sarah Palin in the ability to look un-Presidential on the national stage. In successive campaigns, Republican nominees have set consecutive new lows in demeanor and behavior in government. Here's an AP photo of Romney leaving the press conference yesterday: