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I just finished watching the “highly anticipated”, first & only, Vice Presidential Debate between Joe Biden & Sarah Palin last night. Ratings for the debate were expected to be higher for this one than any other of the entire campaign (and they were). Why? Because everyone wanted to see if the Alaskan governor would make a fool of herself on national TV by saying something ridiculous or exposing just how unqualified she is for the job of Vice President.

As the big day approached, I knew most Democrats were in for a bit of a disappointment. There was no question that the McCain camp would prep Palin for the debate day & night for a week. They would of scripted for her an answer to every major issue and tell her to “turn on the folksy charm” (they even clearly tried to script some “zingers” for her, like “Say it ain’t so, Joe“, “Waving the white flag of surrender” and rehash Reagan’s “There you go again”, which were so clearly scripted, the lines fell completely flat). They also set the debate format to all but eliminate any direct exchanges between the candidates, thus ensuring Palin never had to go off script and answer a question she hadn’t prepared for.

An example: At one point in the debate over the Iraq “war”, Palin repeated the oft used tagline, “Senator McCain knows how to win wars.”

Really? McCain fought in Vietnam, which ended with us turning the government over to the Communists. Since then, he has not had a role in a single major conflict. And whether his “Surge” in Iraq will result in “victory” is yet to be determined (more on that question another day). So just what “wars” has McCain ever won that makes him such an authority on the subject? Had the candidates of been allowed to address each other directly, Biden could of immediately interrupted with “Name one.” Then we might of seen another “Couric” moment with Palin falling back into “pageant mode” (as she so often does), where, rather than just say, “I don’t know”, she desperately tries to make up an answer, fill the dead air with as many buzz-words as one can think of, try to bluff her way through it, hoping no one’s really paying attention. But alas, it was not to be.

One thing we did learn last night: another White House hopeful that likes to use the non-word “nukular” instead of “nuclear” (and another rambling non-answer):

Of course, despite the non-answers and never having to stray off script, Palin succeeded in not embarrassing herself or her campaign any further. Calls for her to “step down” for the good of the Party will be quelled, and there is no longer any question she’ll be on the ballot come November. (Yea!!! Whoohoo!!! We Democrats couldn’t be happier!)

But here’s another prediction, between now and the election, the McCain camp will continue to keep Palin on a tight leash. By simply exceeding expectations, Palin’s performance last night stemmed the bleeding that the McCain camp has suffered since Palin started with the embarrassing TV interviews, and allowing her to now hit the talkshow circuit would be flirting with disaster.

I am reminded of an episode of TV’s “Frasier” where brother Niles, with zero athletic ability, sinks a half-court shot during a Sonics basketball game to win a new pick-up truck. All the next day, Niles is the big hero, bragging about his accomplishment. His proud father becomes a minor celebrity at his pub, where he is treated to beers “on the house” for being the father of “Half-court Crane”. Dad brings Niles to the bar to show him off, who then embarrasses himself as well as his father attempting to repeat his feat on an indoor “hoop shot” table game in the pub. Suddenly, no more chants of “Half-court Crane” and the beers are no longer free.

(I’m also reminded of the scene from “Risky Business”, where Tom Cruise desperately struggles to stop his fathers’ Porsche from rolling off the dock and into the lake. The car rolls to a stop inches from the edge of the wooden dock, and Cruise breathes a heavy sigh of relief just before the pier collapses and the car falls into the water. This is the only clip of this scene I could find online. The McCain campaign is, at this moment, resting on the hood of last night’s debate, breathing a sigh of relief, praying the dock doesn’t collapse.)

The McCain camp isn’t about to risk “Half-court Palin” making a fool of herself between now and the election by setting her lose to answer unscripted questions, risking dastardly “gotcha” follow-ups like “Name one“.

Postscript: I’d like to point out that the fact that this debate was so highly anticipated tells me one thing: Obama is going to win this election (barring massive fraud or an unexpected tragedy on either side). Why? Because people didn’t tune in en masse to hear Palin give “insightful” answers, or to help them decide whether or not they should switch from Obama to McCain. No, they watched for one reason and one reason only: the chance of seeing a major Palin screw-up on National TV. If the audience that isn’t rooting for your candidate, they’re not voting for you in November either.