Dahlia Lithwick and Emily Bazelon
Slate XX Factor Bloggers
Thursday, October 2, 2008 3:30 PM
Slate XX Factor bloggers Dahlia Lithwick and Emily Bazelon were online Thursday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET to outline each candidates' keys to victory in tonight's vice presidential debate and discuss other Election 2008 issues.
The Un-Hillary: Why watching Sarah Palin is agony for women (Slate, Oct. 2); How to Debate a Girl, and Win (Slate, Oct. 1)
The transcript follows.
Bazelon edits Slate's Medical Examiner and Jurisprudence columns and writes about law and family. Before joining Slate, she worked as an editor and writer at Legal Affairs magazine and as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate. She authors the "Supreme Court Dispatches" and covers legal issues for Slate. Her work has appeared in the New Republic, Elle, the Ottawa Citizen, and The Washington Post.
Archive: Past discussions with Slate authors
Emily Bazelon: Hi everyone -- thanks for joining us. Dahlia and I are looking forward to tackling your questions. The pre-debate debate! Here we go.
Malvern, Pa.: I am so confused by Sarah Palin I can't even stand it. How can someone who is obviously articulate in her own folksy way (based on her Alaska debate videos) come across as so vacant and inarticulate in the Kate Couric interviews? It's not that she should be an expert on every Supreme Court decision; even if she couldn't name one, she at least should have been able to put together a couple of sentences like "we're going to nominate judges who won't legislate from the bench or take liberties with our Constitution." In your opinion, which Sarah Palin is going to show up tonight? Also, if you got to ask her one and only one question, what would it be?
Dahlia Lithwick: Hi there Malvern, and thanks for the great question. My husband put the same query this way last night: "Dahlia how can you keep saying Pain is horrible at interviews but will be great at the debate? What? What?!" I think you are right that the Sarah Palin who shows up tonight will be very different from the one who tried to fake her way through the Couric interviews. I have seen video of her earlier debates -- she is good. She has 90 seconds to respond tonight, and there will be no cagey follow-up questions. I bet you see the gal who wowed them at the convention more than the one who gets spoofed on "Saturday Night Live." She is better in a crowd, better in a debate, and better against an opponent. If I could ask her just one question, it would be "who isn't a media elite?"
Boston: I don't think people should assume Palin is going to be terrible because of her Couric interviews, because my understanding is that they all were done on the same day. So maybe she just got knocked off her stride early on and never got it back. However, if she can't recover after a break in her stride, that seems like invaluable information for Biden.
Emily Bazelon: Agreed -- good call not to assume Palin can't handle the debate because she couldn't handle Couric. The TV interviews were open-ended. Couric asked good follow-up questions. The debate is a far more canned format. Palin should be able to stick to what she knows more easily.
On the other hand, the account in the New York Times of Palin's past debate performances offers some reason to worry on her account: "Ms. Palin often spoke in generalities and showed scant aptitude for developing arguments beyond a talking point or two. Her sentences were distinguished by their repetition of words, by the use of the phrase "here in Alaska," and by gaps. On paper, her sentences would have been difficult to diagram."
Hmm. Doesn't sound like this is her great strength. Here's the link.
Salt Lake City: If, as Politico is reporting today, Palin's strategy is to go on the attack against Biden, how does he respond without looking like he's weak or, alternately, looking like a bully? Personally, I kind of like the idea of (given the recent economic and congressional meltdown) of "taking the high road" so to speak ... such as: "in this crisis, the American people are less interested in a fight than in a clear description of plans to place us back on the right track ... here are mine -- describe yours." What do you think?
washingtonpost.com: Palin's new plan: Go after Biden (Politico, Oct. 2)
Dahlia Lithwick: Hey Salt Lake, and thank you for writing in. I think you are onto something about the attack-doggery. Seems to me that McCain's chomping away at Obama last week backfired, or at least the polls suggest the audience was unimpressed. That surprised me, I confess. I though McCain had won the debate. But you speak to a new mood in the country that is more and more fatigued by attacks. People are terrified about their wallets and their 401(k)s and their sons in Iraq. It's not clear a slam at community organizers will close the deal anymore. I would add that Obama's ability to "take the high road" most of the time seems to be paying off just now. That said, Palin likes to do scrappy. It's hard to imagine her doing anything else but going after Biden full tilt.
Minneapolis: Ms. Bazelon, I enjoyed your piece detailing the painful watching of Palin's wretched performance. Do you really think that Palin's performance in tonight's debate and the rest of the campaign will make a difference for female presidential candidates in four years? Has Clinton already broken the glass ceiling, or is Palin's nomination really making it less likely to have viable women candidates for the White House in the foreseeable future?
Emily Bazelon: Hey, thank you. Yes, I do think Palin's performance matters. Clinton definitely should have broken this glass ceiling, but that doesn't mean she did. She's one example of a female candidate for president who oozed competence, but until we have a bunch of other examples, she and Palin are an n of 2. That makes them both important to voters' perceptions. I'm not arguing that Palin can undo what Clinton accomplished, exactly -- but she can fuzz it up and create new room for doubt, or really new excuses for people who remain skeptical about a woman in the White House.
Main Street: Who do you think will be the primary viewers of tonight's debate -- those who don't like Palin and are hoping to see her fall on her face, or those who do like her and are hoping to see her score against Biden? I don't think there's really a middle ground at this point.
Emily Bazelon: I think the audience will be big for a vice presidential debate. For one thing, aren't we all expecting a little entertainment? If it's all dry and executed via boring sound bite, I know I'll be disappointed. Given that Palin's poll numbers are down, maybe there are more detractors out there, and certainly she has sparked a backlash of women and men who want to see her fail -- both because of her conservative policy views and her persona. But I'm sure Palin's fans will be tuning in to root her on. They are a loyal and energized group -- as excited about her as Barack Obama's swooners are about him.
Northern Virginia: To me, the buzz around this debate is akin to that of a NASCAR race -- half the people go for the racing, but the other half go in anticipation of a big wreck or two. I am very interested in seeing what each candidate has to say and how they say it, but I will admit -- part of me wants to see a wreck or two.
Dahlia Lithwick: You know, I am not even sure I know what a wreck would look like here. Having endured the brutally awful "I'll get back to ya" or Palin's anguished inability to discuss any Supreme Court cases, it's hard to imagine tonight being any more likely to produce a truly groan-worthy moment. That said, I am wearing a turtleneck in the event that I need to avert my eyes. As Emily noted in her piece, it never ever is pleasant to witness a car wreck. Any thoughts on whether women are more inclined to cringe in these moments than men?
Miami: Ms. Bazelon, you write: "Sarah Palin's murder boards have taken place in public. We've all watched her stumped and stumbling in her interviews with Katie Couric." You know that Ms. Couric's interview was totally hostile. No other candidate for national office has had follow-ups in the form of "name another -- this is your third and final chance, name another." That questioning is worthy of a third-grade school teacher abusing a student. You know that; no one can deny that. So, why do you ignore it in your article criticizing Palin? Look, you folks from Slate have dug yourselves one big hole. Can you really survive economically if all you do is pander to left-wing radicalism?
Emily Bazelon: I thought Couric was pretty restrained, actually. She wouldn't have asked Palin the same question more than once if Palin had answered it the first time. When she asked Biden about a Supreme Court case he disagreed with, he answered readily and fluidly. There are other moments in his interview that she could have pressed harder on -- I posted on Slate this morning about how his characterization of Roe v. Wade as representing "consensus" utterly puzzled me. But to me, the question that matters about Palin's interviews with Couric isn't whose fault they are, it's how we feel about a vice president who gives the kind of thin, not-knowledgeable answers she gave.
Anonymous: From Dahlia's article: "When Palin tanks, it's good for the country if you want Obama and Biden to win, but it's bad for the future of women in national politics." I really don't agree with this -- it may be bad for underqualified women in national politics, and thank god for that. "Pretty and spunky" shouldn't be enough when coupled with what seems like a one-dimensional thought process. I don't think Palin cares about knowing the details -- she is a frightening morphing of Cheney and Bush. She's a Decider taking direction from God and doing her damndest to keep her actions and communications out of reach from the public.
No one from the XX factor seemed to have any love for Hillary when she was running, but it would be a fantastic thing to see her debate Palin tonight -- we have no lack of competent women on the national political stage. I'm hoping this experience with Palin makes people appreciate the qualified women we do have. It was a cheap gambit to put her on the ticket, and let's all hope it fails. She will do women aspiring to that higher office no favors by being an incompetent first.
Dahlia Lithwick: Anonymous, I half-corrected myself on that front in today's XX Factor posting where I finally came round to observing -- as you do -- that Palin's problems transcend her gender, and that women are starting to understand that part of gender freedom is the freedom to suck spectacularly on the national stage. I agree it would be tremendous to see a Hillary-Sarah debate, but don't discount that some of Palin's toughest critics have been women too -- from Couric's sharp interview to Campbell Brown's "Free Sarah Palin" to Kathleen Parker at National Review Online, the smart competent women you are looking for have been on the front lines of diffusing the charge that attacks on Palin are all sexist.
Salt Lake City: I'm worried Palin is going to be cracking jokes and one-liners throughout the debate to distract people from the lack of substance in her statements. Should Biden laugh at her jokes? Should he try to be funny too (a scary thought, considering how often his foot is in his mouth)? Or should he try to be more serious and draw attention away from Palin's attempts to win our hearts?
Emily Bazelon: Dahlia is the author of the genius piece giving advice to Biden for the debates. I'll add my two cents: Biden should laugh at her jokes and generally try to come across as likeable and cheery. Palin does cheery well; he should try to match her. But I share your fear that if he tries to be funny, he'll step in it. I think his main task is to be substantive and serious without being condescending. It will be enough if he staves off disaster by avoiding a big misstep. He's not the main show tonight -- Palin is.
Potomac, Md.: Do you really think poll numbers will be changed materially by this debate, given that so many voters have formed opinions about Palin from the abysmal performance in the last month, and that Biden is such a known quantity already after both a long congressional tenure and presidential campaigns. Aren't we really just looking for good entertainment tonight, causing no real change the campaigns' standing?
Dahlia Lithwick: I agree that the poll numbers will go where they will go regardless of tonight's debate, although I imagine the hope is that while Biden is, as you say, a known quantity, Palin might burnish some of that sparkle she had in early September. Will it change the outcome in November? Probably not. But would a great performance from her allay the widespread sense that McCain's judgment is just horrible? I think so.
Washington: Just a comment: I think Palin is going to do just fine tonight. My prediction is that she will hammer at Obama (and apparently Biden) with pithy statements and well-delivered one-liners. Seems to me she is a savvy politician, and can get a little mean and dirty with a smile on her face, which makes it come across as not so mean -- just folksy and blunt. Full disclosure -- I don't like Palin, and Obama's got my vote. That said, I think Palin is likely to step up to the plate tonight. Unless, of course, Gwen Ifill asks those pesky, specific follow-up questions.
Emily Bazelon: Good points and smart prediction. Agreed that the follow-up question is what Palin most has to fear. I can see her performing the way you predict in terms of pithiness and one-liners. That's what I would have predicted after watching her initial launch and her speech at the convention, when she seemed smart, dogged, poised, confident. She needs to be that Sarah Palin tonight, rather than the defensive, straining, tense candidate we've been seeing in these TV interviews. Can she pull that off on the open terrain of a debate?
Arlington, Va.: In regards to Couric being hostile to Palin, what I found most telling was when Couric sat down with both McCain and Palin, and McCain chastised Couric. It really had the feeling of a parent-teacher conference about a less-than-stellar student. Palin sat there, silent, letting "dad" do the talking. It spoke volumes to me, and not in Palin's favor.
Emily Bazelon: I don't think that moment did either McCain or Palin any favors. I don't really understand why they sat for that interview. The best way for them to rehabilitate Palin's image is to stick to the sympathetic airwaves of conservative talk radio and TV. There, the audience is with them, and the scorn of the mainstream media is a plus. The drawback, of course, is that they need the center as well as the Republican base to win, and the center isn't Rush Limbaugh's big draw.
Washington: Emily, in your article "The Un-Hillary" you talk about the possibility of a new glass ceiling to replace the one with the 18 million Hillary cracks. ... What do you think, specifically, that new glass ceiling will look like? Is Sarah Palin's entirely flawed and insulting candidacy the last chance women will get to achieve executive office in the U.S.? Also, does Pelosi have an effect on this new glass ceiling? Given that she has been so ineffective and was blamed (wrongly in my opinion, but blamed nonetheless) for the failure of the bailout package, do you think they will give the speaker role to another woman anytime soon?
Emily Bazelon: That's such a good set of questions. You know, this is the problem with having so few examples to choose from. Each one -- Clinton, Pelosi, Palin -- looms so large in our consciousness. It's not fair to any of them, really. Sigh. It's more than I can bear, however, to think that we've seen our last woman presidential candidate or speaker of the House for a while -- that's such a stark conclusion to draw from the criticism of either Palin or Pelosi, or all of it combined. Two reasons to hope otherwise: However these women may falter -- and I agree with you that the attacks on Pelosi have been overblown -- they still are making the presence of women on the national stage into more of a norm. Also, there must be younger women and girls out there with a talent for politics who are watching them and thinking "I could do that -- I know I could."
Pittsburgh: Is there any way to criticize Palin's performances in her interviews (and, depending on what happens, in the debate) without falling into the trap about the media "picking on" Palin or somehow presenting "gotcha" questions? I'm a Republican, but I am so frustrated by my party right now (a very long story) and the way they are handing this election. To claim "gotcha journalism" for a question from a regular citizen makes no sense to me, but I don't see any way of refuting these arguments with logic given that every refutation is turned into another attack.
Dahlia Lithwick: Pittsburgh, you have just voiced my own frustration with this current campaign. This seize-the-victim race -- or what our wonderful John Dickerson characterizes as the fight for the greatest "umbrage" at every turn -- so completely has diminished the tone of the race. Everyone in the media is forced to pick their way thru the minefield of unacceptable words or ideas ("don't. say. lipstick.") and is left feeling silenced and angry. The public feels that the debate has been sullied by claims and counterclaims of victimhood and they are left feeling angry. And even the candidates are so sold on the Umbrage Express that they begin to claim -- as has Palin -- both that they will not talk to the media and that the media is silencing them. Can you imagine if we ordered pizza in this sad, roundabout, coded fashion? Is this any way to talk to one another about critical questions of governance? The good news is I think a lot of folks share your frustration at this narrow political conversation. Maybe we have hit maximum acceptable umbrage, and can retreat to sanity?
Washington: I'm no Biden fan, but I know there is a debate about the debate, on how he should act tonight. I personally think he should give short and clean answers. Talk about the good of the nation. Take zero shots at Palin, but focus on McCain. If she wants to get nasty while he's nice, that's fine. Let her talk as much as possible -- she is uncomfortable with quiet spaces.
Emily Bazelon: Focusing on McCain could make Biden seem like the grown-up taking on the other grown-up. On the other hand, if he ignores Palin entirely, that itself could seem dismissive or insulting. Plus he is, after all, running for the same office she is. So I think it's a tricky line to walk. Short and clean -- hard to argue with that.
I think it's all over: McCain abandons efforts to win Michigan (AP, Oct. 2).
Dahlia Lithwick: Wow.
Long Island, N.Y.: With the success of the media campaign to set expectations so low for Palin and so high for Biden, is it possible for Palin to lose and/or Biden to win? Feels like a brilliant set up to me.
Emily Bazelon: I hear you -- it's hard to imagine that Palin won't exceed expectations. If she strings together coherent sentences, she'll go a ways toward putting to rest the painful, grimacing silences in her TV interviews. It'll be up to us to remember that crossing a very low bar doesn't mean winning. I don't think, though, that Biden loses if Palin simply doesn't fall on her face -- it's more that anything like a tie will seem like a victory for her (unless we remember not to grade on a curve).
Montreal: I was excited to see maybe some personality, some mud-slinging, some cringe-worthy awfulness. "Like watching two children play with a loaded gun," as Milbank put it earlier. But it actually is going to be vapid, substanceless and mind-numbingly boring, isn't it? Two people stiffly trying to avoid saying anything. I'm right, aren't I?
Emily Bazelon: What a disappointment that will be! I'm holding out for a classic moment or two -- otherwise it'll be hard to stay awake!
Bloomfield, N.J.: I think Palin's assumed strategy of glittering generalities will work. Why? Because it worked last week for McCain. Time and again he repeated his talking points, even directly after Obama reasonably -- and at length -- defused and parried them. Could it be that Palin was picked specifically because she's so good at charging ahead with the canned reply, regardless of what the question was?
Dahlia Lithwick: Hiya, Bloomfield. Why is it you think McCain's "glittering generalities" worked? The post-debate polling I saw suggested Obama was the winner. You are right that the qualities Palin has brought to her scripted speeches and prior debates -- folksiness, narrative, zingers, etc. -- probably appealed to the McCain camp when they picked her. But I can't help but feel that they misjudged the mood of the country (or, perhaps more fairly, didn't plan on the financial crisis?) People are too freaked-out for glittering generalities just now. And especially generalities of the Palin variety, in which she uncorks the same sound bites over and over in response to a multitude of questions. The generalities lose some of the glitter with use, and start to sound a little shopworn. But maybe that's my own in-the-tankness speaking...
Philadelphia: I'm curious about what you think Ifill's strategy should be for the debate. Many have said that part of Couric's effectiveness is that as a woman questioning a woman, she canceled the gender bias noise around Palin. Ifill is also a woman (obviously -- and a fantastic one at that), but the dust-up about her upcoming book suggests that the McCain camp is attempting to insinuate that racial bias will cancel out gender neutrality here. I don't think Ifill should have to shift whatever her game plan is, but do you think she will? And if so, how?
Dahlia Lithwick: So far it looks to me that Ifill has kept her cool during this flap, treating it with some mild amusement and not much else. And it would have been a much bigger flap if folks hadnt known about the book for a while now. The worst kind of umbrage depends on an invented "gotcha" moment. That said, it will be hard for Ifill not to be aware that her neutrality is being disputed loudly in some corners. I wish there were some deft way for her to acknowledge it and move on. Mostly I imagine she will be the pro that she is tonight -- and I hope she won't falter on the follow-ups.
Chicago: It's a little late in the season to be asking this, but every time I see or hear Palin, I wonder why it's not Kay Bailey Hutchison or another qualified woman. Is there really a lack of strong conservative women, or is there something about Palin that I -- and much of the rest of the country -- is missing?
Emily Bazelon: There are other strong conservative women who McCain could have picked, though I don't think he had a list the length of an arm to choose from. I wonder, though, whether Palin beat out the rest precisely because of some of the qualities that now seem like potential liabilities -- not with the Republican base, but with other voters. She's perky. She's unthreatening. She's Puritan sexy, per this piece. And whether you like her or not, she's a fresh face. And she also has deep resonance among Christian conservatives. Rightly, I think, they take her as proof that John McCain means it when he says that he'll do things like appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of John Roberts and Sam Alito.
When you frame Palin that way, she does offer a pretty unique set of attributes. Several months ago our colleague John Dickerson predicted her as vice president choice after a process of reverse-engineering. Input a pro-life Republican woman with executive experience who is a Washington outsider with conservative bona fides, and the output is Sarah Palin.
Arlington, Va.: It seems that the way to shake up Palin is to put her off the carefully and narrowly crafted track the handlers put her on. Can Biden do this and not come off looking bad himself? If so, how?
Dahlia Lithwick: I really do think Biden will disserve himself if he sees his role as throwing Palin off tonight. I think he needs to let Palin shake herself up or alternatively to just look smart. He should act like he is debating a very smart fig tree, and mostly just ignore her. I know it's not very vice-presidential, but the alternative will be to look like a bully.
Detroit: During the primaries, I supported Hillary Clinton (FYI, I am a man). I received a lot of eye-rolls and/or looks of disbelief from my meat-and-potatoes male friends (Republicans and Democrats) -- they just couldn't believe I would support "her." Now those same friends don't have near the same level of distaste for Sarah Palin, even though they think she is unqualified for this nomination. Have you experienced similar differences in perceptions of Hillary and Palin? Do you think physical appearance is a contributing factor? I do -- and I think many men always will judge accomplished females, at least partly, through that filter.
Emily Bazelon: My own sense is that you're right -- Palin's physical appeal is pulling in male voters. That's what I take from those "Palin Is a Fox" posters. I'd like to think that your friends had thought-out policy reasons for dissing Hillary and embracing Sarah -- they think McCain-Palin are right on the war, on cutting taxes for the wealthy, etc. Or at least that those issues are what the choice will come down to for them in the end, come November.
Fredericton, New Brunswick: Yes we care up here, 'cause when housing slumps in the U.S. sawmills close in Canada! Are there safe words males like me can use to describe what we don't like about Sarah Palin in blunt terms, and the narrow- or shallow-minded politics she represents, without coming off as a bully, sexist pig or dinosaur?
Dahlia Lithwick: Hi Fredericton. I'd stick to words like "unprepared" and "parochial" in describing Gov. Palin and stay away from references to lipstick or pit bulls. You probably can infuse new meaning into the debate we are having down here about hockey moms. My sister-in-law is a hockey mom in Ottawa. I gather that largely means preparing pureed foods...
Philadelphia: "The drawback, of course, is that they need the center as well as the Republican base to win, and the center isn't Rush Limbaugh's big draw." Which is funny, because -- at least going by the center and moderate Republican people I know -- the Palin selection has sent them running to the Obama camp.
Emily Bazelon: Yes that's an aspect of the backlash I mentioned. When I did this chat soon after Palin's selection, a few women wrote in to say that they'd been Hillary supporters and had thought about supporting McCain -- but they were insulted by his choice of Palin as a ploy to win them to his side. I think if Palin had more moderate, centrist views, this could have played out very differently -- but not believing in evolution, or allowing for abortion for rape and incest victims ... these are positions that put you in a narrow slice of the American pie.
Rockville, Md.: Don't forget Geraldine Ferraro -- she, Hillary and Palin make an n of 3.
Emily Bazelon: True!
Minneapolis: Dahlia, do you think Sen. Biden should bring up how he raised his family as a single dad after the tragic death of his wife, especially if Gov. Palin gives him an opening like "the good old boys in Washington don't know what its like to raise a family"?
Dahlia Lithwick: Minneapolis, the truth is I tend to become very uneasy when candidates turn debates into a sort of Olympics of personal hardship. Maybe that is just the Vulcan in me, but unless Biden really is being clubbed senseless in the touching personal narrative department tonight, I'd probably advise him to tell stories of other peoples hardships, and be rock solid on policy and substance.
New York: Isn't a debate on this level like an intensive interview? At some point, the clever vamping has to give way to a command of the subject at hand. If Biden gives substantive answers and Palin provides only bumper stickers, that can't look good. Add to that the fact that the financial world looks to be tanking. Pithiness just isn't going to do it, I'm afraid.
Dahlia Lithwick: New York, I am not sure it's so much an intensive interview as a series of competing monologues (interrupted in this case by admonitions to "talk to each other," which will be ignored, as they were last week). Still, you are right that in times of crisis -- especially an economic crisis -- folks are hungry for real leadership more than bumper stickers. Palin has parlayed a lot of bumper stickers into a lot of debate victories, though. I wouldn't underestimate her ability to make a bumper sticker sound like reasoned analysis.
Midlothian, Va.: Emily, if you've read any of the history surrounding Roe v. Wade and the work Blackmun did, you'd understand Biden's answer reflects a deep understanding of the many factors at work in that decision. Roe was a consensus decision, in which Blackmun gave a little, took a little and came up with a rather awkward decision designed to create a consensus on the court. Powell did something similar in Bakke. Biden's answer reflects just how smart and intellectually curious the man really is.
Emily Bazelon: Well, sorry, I just don't buy it. At the time, yes, Justice Blackmun put enormous effort into crafting a compromise. Given that he won seven of the nine votes of the justices who were then on the court, in that moment he succeeded. (I wish he'd framed the decision in terms of women's right to equality instead of privacy, a word that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but put that aside for now.) My point is that beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Roe became the lightning rod we know it today. Biden could have cited polls showing that the majority of Americans don't want the ruling overturned outright, but I don't think we're anywhere near consensus as a country on the question of legalization of abortion, on second-trimester abortions (which Roe allows for) on parental notification, etc. Whatever its merits, I think there's a good historical argument that Roe fueled division by nationalizing a right that parts of the country didn't embrace. To talk now about it in terms of consensus just seems like wishful thinking.
The other thing that bothered me about Biden's answer was that he talked about the trimester framework of Roe as if it were still good law, which it's really not, in light of Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. The legal standard since Casey is whether a government regulation is an "undue burden" on a woman's right to an abortion.
Austin, TX: If the McCain camp was so adamant about choosing a woman for the VP nomination, why pick Palin when there are more experienced, better prepared women within the party? Why not Kay Bailey Hutchison, Olympia Snowe or Elizabeth Dole? They would come with their own individual limitations, but at least they would be familiar with such basic matters as Supreme Court History.
Dahlia Lithwick: Austin, that will be the enduring question when all this ends, no matter how it ends. Why pick a mediocre woman (albeit a mediocre woman with real political abilities) when you could have picked an extraordinary one? The answers don't look good for McCain. Either there was something about an accomplished, established, seasoned woman politician that got in the way of his Pygmalion complex, or he truly believed he didn't need any help at all on the ticket beyond a uterus. Either way I think he miscalculated, and the more women ask "why not Rice/Hutchison/Snowe" et al, the more that miscalculation seems to have backfired.
This has been great fun, and I hope we can do the Monday Morning Quarterback sometime soon. Thanks so much for reading and for pushing back at us!
Wooster, Ohio: I have to admit that I was a Palin fan ... at first. I identified with her on many levels -- I am the same age, have four children, am well-educated and have a great job. That all ended when she started her public interviews. What bothers me more than the fact that she did not know the answers to the questions being asked is how she answered them. I honestly believe I could have answered those interview questions better than she did, despite having absolutely no foreign policy experience (expect what I read sites like this).
I believe she is an intelligent woman, with the ability to learn and catch up on the things she needs to know for the vice presidency. It is much more difficult to teach someone how handle tough questions (whether or not you know the answers) -- some individuals are better at handling pressure than others. I think that is more important. It is much easier to learn foreign policy, than it is to take control of a "fight or flight" instinct. She appeared to take flight in those interviews, and we just can't have that.
Emily Bazelon: Here's a great comment that goes to your point, I think. Thanks, everyone -- great questions, and great fun chatting with you!
washingtonpost.com: Upcoming Discussion: Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser Analyzes the Vice Presidential Debate (washingtonpost.com, 10:30 p.m. ET tonight)
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