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Joe, and Sarah Six-Pack

"I want to talk about, again, my record on energy," she said when asked about bankruptcy.

Biden grew frustrated. "If you notice, Gwen, the governor did not answer the question."

Replied Sarah Six-Pack: "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, indeed, she stared into the camera, largely ignoring Ifill, Biden and the audience.

On occasion, she unilaterally revised policy for John McCain, as when she said Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons." At other times, her answers defied comprehension, as when Ifill asked about her trigger for using nuclear weapons. "Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period," she answered.

Iffy, but not the alarming sort of answers she gave Couric on CBS. Then, Palin couldn't identify what newspapers or magazines she reads, couldn't cite a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with other than Roe v. Wade, or any regulatory effort McCain had supported. Asked to name a favorite vice president, she cited Geraldine Ferraro.

In the canned debate format, Palin's platitudes held up better than under Couric's follow-up questions. "Oh yeah, it's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider," she said with a shy grin when Ifill asked about putting troops in Darfur. "And someone just not used to the way you guys operate." Asked about the possibility that she would assume the presidency if the president died in office, she found herself saying, "I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C."

When Ifill said she was changing the subject to foreign policy, Palin tilted her head to the side, gave a slight shrug and made a wary grin. Still, even then, she was able to fill up all 90 seconds of her allotted response time. "Um, your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq," she told Biden in a playground taunt. "You guys opposed the 'surge.' "

Smiling through entire sentences, she was relentlessly folksy and unafraid of the trite. The credit squeeze, she said, is "affecting Main Streeters like me." On Middle East policy: "I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel."

Predatory mortgages a problem? "Darn right," she said. Tax relief? "Darn right."

Ifill asked Palin if there were any campaign promises she would have to scale back because of the financial crisis. "How long have I been at this?" Palin shot back. "Like, five weeks?"

When backed into uncomfortable terrain, such as defending the Bush administration's economic record, she exploded into cliche and non sequitur: "Say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again pointing backwards again. . . . Now doggone it, let's look ahead." Before finishing her answer, she mentioned her "brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third-graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate."

"Everybody gets extra credit tonight," the moderator assured Sarah Six-Pack. "We're going to move on to the next question."

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