Looking back now with a few hours of sleep (and time to shake off the effect of multiple shots of Yukon Jack, gosh darnit, what else?), it's time for a little contextualizing and analysis. Or at least a feeble attempt:
Sarah Palin? Well, she performed about as well---and as poorly---as I expected. The overall impression I took away from her was of a precocious high-schooler mimicking an adult politician in a debating class, with a flirtatious smile and a self-conscious wink thrown in to remind the voters that she's really not like Joe Biden or Barack Obama or the rest of these career Washington pointyheads, but just a regular gal from small-town America who still has a firm grasp on those simple small-town values that have made her a walking success story. And if this election was occurring in, say, 1980, or even 1988, the unspoken message behind the suggestive body language ("I'm just like you. He isn't") might resonate more broadly beyond the conservative GOP base. But after eight years of Jerry Bremer and Al Gonzales and Heckuva Job Brownie, do most Americans really want to put their trust (again) in the old 19th-Century ward-heeler's credo that just about anyone, from any walk of life, can perform just about any job in government as long as their politics are right, and education and expertise be damned? And while Biden didn't pounce on her "government should get out of the way" mantra, one has to wonder if that blustery bit of recycled Reaganism hasn't grown hopelessly stale after three decades of near-constant abuse. "Government is the problem" may still rouse the rabble where the piney woods grow thick and the caribou run wild, but in most other places Out West---like out here in California, where we're simply wondering where the water is gonna come from for the next 30 years---the Sagebrush Rebellion ended years ago.
Biden, in retrospect, was very, very good---if there was a candidate on the stage who surpassed my expectations last night, it was he. Merely listening to him on the radio is insufficient---one has to watch him on the stage to see a confident yet relaxed figure who's thoroughly versed in the issues, yet who refrains from needless lecturing. He kept a lid on his temper, looked deferential without seeming patronizing, refrained from any obvious gaffes, and treated Sarah Palin very much as an equal, to his credit. A performance befitting a gentleman, in other words. When he choked up at the end, recalling the trials of raising young children as a single dad in the aftermath of great tragedy, it betrayed a genuine sense of humanity and warmth that frankly made all of Sarah Palin's gratuitous winks and grins and "you betchas" look and sound like the hollow, self-serving bullshit signifiers that they are. I think, more relevantly, it reminded the viewers, however indirectly, of the value of experience as a teacher of life lessons, and of the perspective one gains from suffering the stings of cruel fate. Palin's response? A tone-deaf paean to boilerplate Maverickyness. The only thing missing was the theme music for Up With People! You could almost hear the groans in the audience.
Gwen Ifill, however, was simply awful. The wingnuts clearly rattled her cage beforehand, her questions were mostly bland and innocuous, and Palin---both to her credit as a shrewd judge of human frailty, and to her discredit as a candidate lacking command of any major issues---seized on it by essentially running roughshod over the debate rules, even proudly (arrogantly?) boasting by the end that she wouldn't answer the questions Ifill asked but rather the questions she wanted to answer. Which in every case came back to energy and Alaska and drilling for more oil. When you really strip her agenda down to the essentials, she's a one-note wonder.
And if there's any justice in this world, Katie Couric should have a safe, secure anchor job for the next 20 years.
Did any of this change the political calculus last night? My initial reaction was, not very much, and the first batch of overnight polls would tend to confirm it. Sarah Palin fans, such as Pat Buchanan, were enthralled. Everyone else? Not so much. The Republicans were behind last night, and they're still behind now---and as Ezra notes today, they're losing on the issues, not on the personalities.
And besides, Palin's still stuck with McCain for a running mate.
P.S. For those of you who are still a little unsure of the significance of this posting's title, click here, and all will be revealed. Res ipsa loquitor.