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Debate Night Cowardice from McCain and Palin

September 27, 2008

Friday's first presidential debate may well be best remembered for the unique combination of cowardice displayed by the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Unlike Barack Obama, John McCain couldn't look his opponent in the eye during the contest. And unlike Joe Biden, Sarah Palin wouldn't look into television cameras after.
McCain's childish refusal to even acknowledge Obama's presence immediately struck commentators doing the event post-mortem. On MSNBC, Richard Wolfe noted that McCain "curiously couldn't look Obama in the eye." In the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson pointed out that McCain's "aggression came with a smirk and a sneer." The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, too, observed that the Republican literally couldn't face the man he repeatedly tried to attack:

"McCain did not filter himself, letting his frustration and contempt for Obama show; he wouldn't let himself look at the challenger."

Of course, many will write off the 90 minute display of petulance as just McCain being McCain, this time wrestling with his demons in front of 100 million people nationwide. Regardless, that "McCain seemed contemptuous of Obama" (to quote Robinson) was sadly expected, a display attributed perhaps to McCain's arrogance, impatience and legendary temper.
But Americans at least got to see McCain's temperament - disturbing as it was - on their screens last night. Sarah Palin was nowhere to be seen.
As soon as Obama and McCain finished their match-up in Mississippi, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden appeared on almost every network. The omnipresent Biden made Palin's absence from the airwaves all the more glaring.
That Governor Palin was a no-show was inexcusable, but not surprising. (That she merely watched the debate in a bar in Philadelphia only makes matters worse.) After all, the handful of times the stealth candidate emerged from her undisclosed location has proven disastrous for the Republicans. While her appearance with ABC's Charles Gibson was merely embarrassing, her interview with CBS' Katie Couric was a catastrophe. The GOP's fear and loathing was best captured Friday by Kathleen Parker of the reliably Republican National Review. Palin, she said, was "out of her league" and should drop out of the race.
Discretion, so it said, is the better part of valor. Sadly, in McCain's case, he showed no discretion at all. As for Palin, her cowardice was clear; she didn't show up at all.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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