The fix was in. There’s no other way to explain the disconnect between Sarah Palin’s performance in last night’s debate–which made me cringe so much that my forehead started to cramp–and the post-debate analysis, in which everyone in punditland agreed on the happy Hollywood ending: Sarah Palin has redeemed herself. Seeing pundits all agree about this was terrifying.
What I saw in the debate wasn’t the hyper-confident, polished, prom-queen bully from the GOP convention, but a woman desperately in need of beta-blockers: a nervous, wobbly-voiced contestant in a County Fair amateur show trying her darndest not to forget her lines. I was sure that her performance had McCain kicking his dog and calling his wife unprintable names, and that Palin would be announcing her withdrawal from the race “for personal reasons” by breakfast time.
You expect Fox News to spin Palin as positively as possible: as soon as the debate ended, Brit Hume grimly announced, “She seemed perfectly comfortable, she seemed to get more confident as the debate went on, and she certainly does not seem to have committed any of the gaffes or deer-in-the-headlight moments for which she’s been criticized in recent interviews.”
Switching to CNN, the blame-America-first network, Campbell Brown, hero-for-a-day among the HuffPo crowd for throwing a hissy fit over Palin, returned to tamed form, repeating Hume’s mantra almost word for word: “I think the big picture is there were no major gaffes here, so I don’t see it–and I’m not going to be the judge here, the polls will show it–that this isn’t going to be a big game-changer.” It was a frightening, pod-people moment, as if her executive producer were standing behind the camera holding Brown’s contract in one hand and a pistol-shaped lighter in the other. The Laura Bush lookalike not only lined up behind Palin, but she even adopted Palin’s distinctive Okie diction: “You know, she seemed to do very well with the plain-spoken language, and he [Biden]–when he started talking about amendments or whatever–kind of lost people a little bit.”
David Gergen, the embodiment of pundit centrism, hopped aboard the Palin-Is-Redeemed Express, although his face had a kind of pained, Stalin show-trial look as he spoke: “Give credit to Sarah Palin. It was the Sarah Palin of the early part of the campaign. She was spirited, she came out strong.”
Most depressing of all, Rachel Maddow, the only meat-eating progressive out there, gummed the Alaska governor in one of the most hilarious displays of self-censorship I’ve witnessed: “I think that Sarah Palin certainly did participate in the debate, and did stand along Joe Biden, and she did stay true to character,” Maddow said. “In terms of substance, she did meet expectations in not being able to keep up with the specifics.”
There’s only one explanation why TV pundits were reading the same lines: the fix was in from the start. The redemption narrative was already built in. America needed this redemption, if only to take the edge off of the massive bummer that is 2008. This is the year that America became a Loser Nation: the economy doomed, the empire in full retreat and–until last night’s orgy of delusion–the hope of Main Street and Joe Sixpack turned out to be a total zero facing off against a lightweight like Katie Couric.