Does the liberal senior editor of State, Dahlia Lithwick, secretly want the Democrat ticket to lose this year? You have to come to that conclusion when you read the complex mosaic of debate "tips" that she provides to Joe Biden including, get this, imitate the perpetually annoying Campbell Brown. This is just one part of an array of tips Lithwick provides in a Slate article condescendingly titled, "How To Debate a Girl, and Win." Lithwick starts out by sneering at Sarah Palin (emphasis mine):
Dear Sen. Biden:
You have a problem. In less than a month, you will face off against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a vice-presidential debate in St. Louis, and were you anyone but Joe Biden, it would likely be a rout. Last week, Palin proved herself a charming, confident, and gifted reader of speeches. But that doesn't change the fact that two years ago she was the mayor of a town of 6,000, crusading against dirty books at the local library. You are a six-term senator and chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee.
Lithwick has absolutely no doubt that Biden will win his debate with Palin but worries about how he wins it:
That's your problem, Joe. Everyone expects you to win the debate, and to trounce her on the substance. But the rules for debating Gov. Palin are different. If you lecture her, you'll be seen as a sexist bully. If you act too smart, you'll be seen as a sexist bully. If you condescend to her, you'll be seen as a sexist bully. So this longtime parliamentary debater (and longer-time female) is going to humbly offer you a few tips on how to debate a girl.
Heads up, Joe, because you have a lot to memorize, including don't act like you really are:
Sen. Biden, let's be clear. Great Supreme Court oral advocates will tell you that a flawless oral argument will never win a case, but a bad argument can lose one. You have a similar problem. If you engage, fight, bicker, or bluster, you can lose this debate. Think Rick Lazio. So my advice, in a nutshell: Don't lose it.
Your real problem with Palin is not actually going to be her gender. Assuming you don't gaze fixedly at her breasts or ask her to fetch you a coffee, you probably won't do anything truly career wrecking on the sexism front. Your real problem is that Palin is not a serious candidate. I don't mean to suggest that she is not a serious person or even a seriously impressive first-term governor with real potential to shake up national politics. Nor do I want to imply for an instant that Palin is not a serious competitor. I just want to state here what you will be unable to say out loud at the debate: That by every obvious metric—experience, knowledge base, decades of public service, policy experience, understanding of the world—Palin is an unserious candidate for the vice presidency of the United States. And as any college debater will tell you, it's far harder to beat a clumsy opponent than a good one. (That's why you do better in your judiciary committee hearings with John Roberts than with Alberto Gonzales.) But if you even hint that Sarah Palin may be opining on the Israel-Palestinian peace process with something Piper pulled off Wikipedia that morning, you will look like a snotty professor lecturing an undergrad. And if you look like a snotty professor, you will come across as a sexist bully.
There is no easy way to tell you this, Joe Biden, but the surest way for Joe Biden to lose a debate against Sarah Palin is by being Joe Biden. If you are windy, pompous, unctuous, or pushy, you will come across as patronizing and condescending—the guy who puts the "boy" into "old boys' network." If you flirt and smirk and flatter (Did you truly tell an Ohio crowd you thought Palin was "good-looking"? Did you really introduce us to your wife, Jill, by leering that she is "drop-dead gorgeous"?), you're going to sound like the creepy guy in the trench coat at the back of the porn theater. If you can manage to be your warm, amiable self, even if you're going batshit on the inside, you will do fine.
This reminds your humble correspondent of a scene from the movie, "The Madness of King George." It comes when King George III of England, who has been confined for madness, finds out that his son, whom he hates, is about to usurp his power from him. In order to prevent that from happening, King George must appear before Parliament to assure them of his sanity by SEEMING normal. When the crazed King George sort of pulls himself together (temporarily) just before making his Parliamentary appearance, he explains how he was able to manage it by saying, "I have remembered how to seem." In other words, even King George knows he is not really sane but has remembered how to SEEM sane at least temporarily. Fortunately for King George III, this required only a very brief appearance before Parliament. Unfortunately for Joe Biden, he is going to have to seem not to be the real Joe Biden for well over an hour under the glare of broadcast lights trying to remember Lithwick's debate tips such as treating Palin as a mere machine:
And that's why the best way for you to approach Sarah Palin will be to forget that she is a woman. Tell yourself that she is a machine in 3-inch heels that has been programmed to make you look brutish and aggressive. She will attack, and you will smile. She will make jokes, and you will laugh. Do whatever you need to do—take four Percocet, deploy Zen breathing techniques—to prevent yourself from attacking this woman. And do just as much not to pay attention to her. Even if she pulls out her breast pump during commercials, keep your eyes glazed over on the middle distance. No compliments. Don't say you like her shoes. Just the facts, Joe.
Lithwick goes through a plethora of other "helpful" debate tips that Biden will have to remember as he pretends not to be Joe Biden but here is her money quote:
Take a page from Campbell Brown's book and ask politely (and like you really want to know the answer and not just hear yourself say the question) what she learned while leading the Alaska National Guard into that war against Saskatchewan. But play to your strengths. Know stuff. Say it briefly. Don't accuse her of not knowing things. Just know more. An insanely successful college debate friend told me recently that the way he won against women was by always behaving like they were men.
Yup, that sure is going to be useful to Joe Biden. Completely alienate your audience by imitating Campbell Brown. Oh, and I don't want to alarm Dahlia Lithwick too much but here is an assessment of Biden by her liberal colleague, The New Republic editor, Jonathan Chait:
Biden looks as if he’s the product of a laboratory experiment designed to create the world’s worst presidential candidate.
But not to worry, Dahlia, now Biden is only a vice-presidential candidate.