I often find myself rooting for a complete debate meltdown. Mostly I don't even really care who does the melting. There is lots of talk about the power of words in my line of work, and the thought of seeing words actually destroy someone before my eyes and a national audience has an evil appeal.
I figured Thursday night's vice-presidential debate might be the best chance I would ever have to actually see it happen. Sarah Palin was atrocious, in my view, but I can't argue with the consensus: She lost the game but beat the spread.
Two moments sent something close to a genuine shiver down my spine. One was when she picked up a Sean Hannity talking point attacking Obama for suggesting that airstrikes in Afghanistan kill civilians. I heard Hannity feed her the talking point in an interview with her on the radio Thursday (the interview was recorded Wednesday). Hannity has been pounding on that talking point for a while, but it's never been clear to me why what Obama said upsets him. Does he think it is untrue? Does he think that presidential candidates shouldn't speak unhappy truths? Because anybody who thinks airstrikes don't hurt civilians probably thinks that brain surgery is best performed with a hatchet. If you can't deal with the reality of wars, don't start wars.
But there it was Thursday night, big as could be, from Hannity's mouth direct to the mouth of the person who wants to be the second-most important American voice on foreign and military policy. A truly chilling moment.
The other chill was a response to her answer to the question about the constitutional status of the vice presidency. It seemed obvious to me -- didn't it to you? -- that she had absolutely no idea what the question meant. I could see the gears churning: Republican = good, Cheney = Republican, Cheney = good. Her lame answer should appall all Americans, especially conservatives who claim to take the Constitution seriously.
One side note: I made my journalism students watch the debate and write a live story afterward. They were pretty unimpressed by both candidates. The excitement I thought I detected about Obama on campus last spring seems to have gone. He has become just another politician. Regrettably, perhaps, that also is what has made him suddenly so electable.