Last night I turned on the Tube, and was about to switch channels away from one of those ubiquitous Entertainment Celebrity “News” shows, when I saw a teaser about the vice presidential debate. Curious, I left it on, and after several features about actors and people Famous For Being Famous whose names I but dimly recognized, there was a lengthy segment about Sarah Palin’s debate prep, including clips from the Couric interviews, and the usual maddening sexist crap from “experts” about how she should dress and style her hair. There may have been one reference to Joe Biden as her debate opponent, but Joe certainly didn’t get any sartorial or grooming tips.
The experience brought home to me the simple fact that Sarah Palin is not a politician, or a potential Vice President of the United States, but a Pop Culture Celebrity (ironic, to be sure, given the McCain campaign’s mockery of Barack Obama as a celebrity). And this creates problems for both tickets. John McCain is now something of a prisoner of his running-mate, with considerable evidence suggesting that Palin’s high visibility is affecting the whole ticket far more than Veep candidates typically do. Meanwhile, Joe Biden, who has been heavily advised to make the focus of the debate McCain rather than Palin, is struggling against the reality that a lot of people tuning in want to see him take on St. Joan of the Tundra.
And there will apparently be a whole lot of viewers, as predicted by (to reinforce my earlier point) the Hollywood Reporter:
Talk about must-see TV. Maybe the first McCain-Obama go-round wasn’t as widely watched as expected, but Thursday night’s vice presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden looks to be everything that their running mates’ was not.
After a series of interviews with “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric that raised eyebrows and blood pressures from all sides of the political spectrum as well as Tina Fey’s caricature on “Saturday Night Live,” there is growing evidence that Palin will be a big draw when she and Biden meet for the only time beginning at 9 p.m. ET at Washington University in St. Louis. The fact that it’s being held on a Thursday, one of the most popular nights for TV, almost certainly will help in the way that a low-rated Friday night didn’t for John McCain vs. Barack Obama.
“A lot of people are anticipating this to be almost a ‘Saturday Night Live’ live,” said Tammy Vigil, an assistant professor of communications at Boston University and a co-author of the upcoming book, “The Third Agenda in U.S. Presidential Debates.” “The entertainment value on this debate is going to be huge.”
Great. Just what this country needs right now.