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Conservatives Scrambling to Make Excuses for Palin

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From almost the moment John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, we’ve heard the media are out to get her. Because, you know, the media hate average people. How dare they expect the anointed one (Republican model) to make a case for herself or to prove she has the base of knowledge necessary to be a heartbeat away from the President. How disrespectful.

As the legions of professional and amateur spindoctors gear-up for tonight’s vice-presidential debate, we’re getting some pre-battle spin. For instance, I’ve read Palin is a victim of that disreputable Katie Couric who asked “gotcha” questions. Never mind that those questions were so softball that an average college student could have answered them without breaking a sweat.

I’m also reading a lot about debate moderator Gwen Ifill, who may have a conflict of interest. Turns out, Ifill is publishing a book about the ascendance of a new generation of black politicians. The book covers Obama and even uses the senator’s name in the subtitle. The argument is: if Obama wins, Ifill’s book will sell more copies. Therefore, she can’t be trusted to moderate a debate.

This is a great bit of pre-spin because 1) the situation is a little fishy and 2) it doesn’t require anyone to make absurd claims about Palin’s performance to date. It just creates the room necessary to excuse a bad performance because we all knew in advance that the moderator was out to get her. It doesn’t even matter that Ifill has an exemplary record as a journalist and moderated the 2004 vice-presidential debate without once seeming biased (at least in my mind).

By tarring Ifill with the “biased” label before she’s even asked her first question, Republicans are making the debate seem “fixed” before the results are even in. If Palin fails, it’s Ifill’s fault. If she succeeds, she not only proved her mettle but she overcame a huge disadvantage. See how wonderful she is?

Ifill probably should have let someone else do the debate tonight, if only to avoid the appearance of bias. But I trust her to be fair. This pre-debate spin is just an attempt to salvage Palin’s reputation before she irrevocably ruins it with a bad debate performance. Maybe she’ll surprise us and turn in a brilliant show. But when being asked to list a few Supreme Court cases or being asked your position on the Bush Doctrine qualifies as a “gotcha” question, I can’t expect her to impress me tonight. And neither can her supporters – that’s why they’re doing everything they can to delegitimize the debate before it even happens.