Palin vs. Stockdale, who wins the debate?

Who would win a debate between Sarah Palin and Admiral Stockdale? (I mean Admiral Stockdale as he was in 1992 when he actually debated. Obviously, the current Admiral Stockdale would have a huge advantage, being dead and all.)

Ask me on Friday morning.

Seriously… I think Palin would have the edge. She looks better and seems perkier, FWIW. Both don’t/didn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the drawer, though.

Well, Stockdale should win, because he should have won the VP debate in 1992. In all honesty, Stockdale was one of the smartest and most qualified VP candidates of the last twenty years (OK, not the deepest pool, but still): a war hero, a Vice Admiral, a university president, a fellow of Stanford University.

But Stockdale made a fatal mistake, one that Palin isn’t making: he never formally prepared for the debate. He didn’t practice or take mock questions, didn’t have his handlers tape him and then go over his strengths and weaknesses. In retrospect, that was likely hubris–surely, he must have thought, I’m ready to face this, I stood up to the Viet Cong for 7 and a half years, what can a moderator do to me?* He was wrong. Dennis Miller famously claimed that Stockdale committed the unforgivable “sin” of looking bad on television. Maybe so, but if any idiot can look good on TV with preparation, surely an intelligent person can do the same with preparation. The sin was not preparing.

Prepared Stockdale vs. prepared Palin? Stockdale wins handily IMHO. Even now I’m sure Biden’s handlers are telling him, “Let her talk herself into knots. Don’t let anyone see you as the bad guy…let her gaffes be the ones on tomorrow’s morning shows.” The old military strategist Stockdale would be well aware of the importance of letting your enemy make its own mistakes, and the philosophy professor Stockdale would appreciate that silence has a value that words don’t. Unprepared Stockdale vs. prepared Palin? Well…it wouldn’t be pretty. Could be a question of who gaffes last.

*McCain to his credit didn’t fall into that trap. Although I didn’t think he won the first debate with Obama, I think his preparation was generally good: he had solid talking points and kept with them. I just don’t think his talking points made any headway.

Admiral Stockdale’s son wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal recently about the disastrous debate in 1992. It’s basically a defense of his father’s legacy and explains exactly how a man who was considered extremely intelligent by all of his peers appeared so terrible in those debates. Gore and Quayle came to the debate after many many weeks of grooming by handlers, Stockdale had not long been Ross Perot’s Vice Presidential candidate–in fact he was a reluctant candidate in the first place and primarily agreed to the position because Perot had done a lot of work to support American POWs while Stockdale was a prisoner in Vietnam.

Stockdale wasn’t a professional politician by any means, he was camped in an RV outside the debate hall prior to the debate and had the guidance of a single coach; whereas Gore and Quayle were much better prepared and coached. It’s mostly a failing of third party campaigns in general that you’re just not as well organized.

It is unfortunate that most Americans only know Stockdale as the “crazy guy” from the 1992 Vice Presidential debates, he really was one of the most admirable Americans of any generation.

While a POW in Vietnam, when he found out that he was going to be paraded in the streets by his captors his slit his scalp to disfigure himself, when they told him they’d just put a hat on he beat his face to a pulp with a stool. He gave his meager food rations to other prisons who were starving when he himself was starving, and he remained a source of leadership and defiance to the other prisoners during the entirety of his captivity (so much so that the Vietnamese eventually segregated him and some of the other captives who were in leadership positions.)

He also never really felt bad for himself after the 1992 debates, his son always wanted to make a public defense of his father and explain his situation, but his father never wanted him to–his son didn’t do it until recently (as Stockdale died in 2005.) He basically accepted that if you put yourself into that kind of arena you could end up embarrassed.

So Stockdale can defeat any opponent…if he’s prepared?

Well, his middle name was Bond…James Bond Stockdale. Maybe he should have gone to Q for some gadgets beforehand.

I think Stockdale’s biggest mistake was his opening line: “Who am I? Why am I here?” I know it was meant to be humorous, but coming from a crusty old fart like him, it probably made people think he was half-senile.

If you say so!