The writers can take the day off at Saturday Night Live this weekend, because comic relief won't be necessary. Mark Twain himself couldn't have provided better satire than the reality of last night's vice presidential debate. The face-off between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin had the surrealistic air of a movie that combines a human actor with a cartoon character. It should have been billed Joe Biden versus Betty Boop–or Biden v Boop, if you will. But I have to begrudgingly tip my hat to Ms. Palin, even if I have to mix my metaphors, because she was forced to face Zorro with a wooden sword, and due to her fancy footwork, she almost pulled it off.
I also have to give credit to the McCain campaign. They set the stage well to mitigate a pending disaster by complaining that the moderator, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill, may have had a conflict of interest because she wrote a book on a new generation of Black politicians that included a chapter on Sen. Barack Obama. Of course, they didn't make a big issue of it–after all, that would have precluded any journalist from writing a book that included any national politician during an election year–but they did make enough of it to possibly give Ms. Ifill pause before pursuing any of Ms. Palin's cutesy, non-answers with aggressive followup questions to probe her grasp of the issues beyond superficial talking points. Who said desperation can't inspire a stroke of competence?
The ploy allowed Palin the luxury of simply acknowledging that a question had been asked, then completely ignoring the content of the question, and then replacing it with a prepared talking point instead. At first Palin was perceptively nervous, not sure the ploy was going to work, but as the debate went on and she saw that she was getting away with, she became increasing confident, even bold, until she eventually announced, "And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also." After getting no objection from either Ifill or Biden, from that point on, it was off to the races–it was almost like having her trusty teleprompter again.
Thereafter, it was as though she and Biden were in different realms of reality. While Biden responded to the questions with a seriousness and a depth of understanding, Palin stood there being cute, winking at the camera, giving "shout-outs" to third graders, and responding to whatever talking point she chose to pull from the ether.
A lesser gentleman than Sen Biden would have advised her, the next time you avoid substance with one of your cutesy responses, I'm going to throw up all over this stage. But she probably would have simply looked at him and said, "I'm the mother of a special needs child. I bet you didn't know that, did ya?"
Another example of how Palin avoided having to deal with the substance of a question, was by giving a one sentence answer, then instead of substantiating her response with facts as one would expect, she'd go off on a flight of conservative philosophy instead:
Question: Has this administration's policy been an abject failure, as the senator says, Governor?
Palin: "No, I do not believe that it has been. But I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that.
"No, in fact, when we talk about the Bush administration, there's a time, too, when Americans are going to say, "Enough is enough with your ticket," on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game.
"There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration. But for a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that's where you're going.
"Positive change is coming, though. Reform of government is coming. We'll learn from the past mistakes in this administration and other administrations. And we're going to forge ahead with putting government back on the side of the people and making sure that our country comes first, putting obsessive partisanship aside.
"That's what John McCain has been known for in all these years. He has been the maverick. He has ruffled feathers. But I know, Senator Biden, you have respected him for that, and I respect you for acknowledging that. But change is coming."
Ah, what?!! Could somebody repeat the question, please?
We're bogged down in Iraq, thousands of Americans have been killed or sustained life-changing wounds, our military readiness has been all but destroyed as we're facing a second war in Afghanistan, our treasury has been ravished, we're facing the largest financial crisis in the history of mankind, and the country is deeply in debt to two of our most dangerous potential enemies, and how does she answer the question of whether or not the Bush administration has been an abject failure? She says, "Americans are going to say, 'Enough is enough with your ticket,' on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game." Through her eyes, Americans are not going to be disgusted with the McCain ticket for continuing to support Bush's failed policies, they're going to be disgusted with Obama, for pointing out that Bush was wrong.
Her response reminds me of a woman who's been caught committing adultery, then when her husband confronts her with it the next day, she tells him that he's going to destroy their marriage if he doesn't learn to stop dwelling on the past. The problem with that philosophy is if you never look back, you never learn anything; but the beauty of it is, you're never held accountable for your actions–and Republicans need that accommodation desperately, because if the American people ever start looking back, their through.
If the American people ever start looking back, they'll notice that the same policies, the same names, and the same corruption is recycled by the Republican Party every generation. On October 29, 1929 the Republican Party ushered in the Great Depression under President Herbert Hoover, and it took Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, to bail the nation out; then on October 19, 1987, under Republican, Ronald Reagan, the stock market fell 508 points due to the excesses of Reaganomics. Then, again, due to the continued freewheeling fiscal policies of conservative Republicans, between 1986 and 1989, spanning the presidencies of Reagan and Bush Sr., the FSLIC had to pay off all the depositors of 296 institutions with assets of over $125 billion.
Then in 1988 Silverado Savings and Loan collapsed, costing the taxpayers $1.3 billion. It was headed by Neil Bush, brother of George W. The investigation alleged that he was guilty of "breaches of his fiduciary duties involving multiple conflicts of interest." The issue was eventually settled out of court with Bush paying a mere $50,000 settlement.
Then there was the Lincoln Savings and loan scandal in 1987, involving John McCain. The scandal was very similar to the one that is currently playing out on Wall Street. He was one of a group of senators dubbed "The Keating Five" involved in a scandal by the same name.
In 1976 Charles Keating moved to Arizona to run the American Continental Corporation. In 1984, shortly after the Reagan era push to deregulate the savings and loan community, Keating bought Lincoln Savings and Loan and began to engage in highly risky investments with the depositors' savings. In 1989 the parent company, which Keating headed, went bankrupt, and it resulted in over 21,000 investors losing their life savings. Most of the investors were elderly, and the loss amounted to about 285 million dollars.
After having received over a million dollars from Keating in illegal campaign contributions, gifts, free trips, and other gratuities, the Keating Five–Senators John Glenn, Don Riegle, Dennis DeConini, Alan Cranston, and Sen. John McCain–attempted to intervene in the investigation into Keating's activities by the regulators. Later, they were admonished to varying degrees by the senate for attempting to influence regulators on Keating's behalf. Charles Keating ended up being convicted for fraud, racketeering and conspiracy, for which he received 10 years by the state court, and a 12-year sentence in federal court. After spending four and a half years in prison, his convictions were overturned. But prior to being retried, he pled guilty to a number of felonies in return for a sentence of time served.
So you see, Gov. Palin, looking backwards is a very important part of moving forward. That's also why we're so interested in "Troopergate", and we're looking so hard at you. So don't get too comfortable, because we'll be getting back with ya.
Eric L. Wattree