Driving across town today, I caught a segment of Michael Medved’s radio show. Medved, the conservative critic, decided that it was important to attack Caroline Kennedy’s first media appearance. While it wasn’t hard to critique her style of 140 plus “you know” statements, it was interesting to hear him call the left’s defense of her “hypocritical” because of their attacking Sarah Palin’s interview quality. Medved just doesn’t seem to understand the great irony of his own criticism.
Substance vs. Style: Palin vs. Kennedy
While Medved insists that Palin never had an interview as bad as Kennedy’s because she said “you know” over 140 times, he misses a key distinction: Palin simply didn’t know the information, whereas Kennedy simply showed a lack of polish in her speaking style by including “you know” in her answers. While it is awkward and certainly undermines her points, it is in no way comparable to Palin’s interviews.
Sarah Palin was simply not ready for prime time on the national stage and it showed. From my teaching of college debate, I find the best example of this that I can think of in levels of debate. A person new to debate sees their first arguments and writes answers to them. Most often, they are repeating the arguments of the varsity debaters but they don’t understand the arguments and often don’t understand how they apply well.
Sarah Palin’s interviews showed something similar. When asked about the economy, she answered with a very generic health care and tax cut argument that didn’t really answer the question. When Katie Couric asked specific questions and she had her answer down, it sounded acceptable until Katie asked a follow up question where Sarah simply repeated her previous answer. Both indicate the same behavior as the novice debater trying to learn the pre-written answers and where they apply. Bottom line: Sarah didn’t have the substance; she didn’t know the information and was trying to learn pre-scripted answers. Kennedy simply had a problem with style considering that none of the conservatives are attacking what she said, only how she said it.
Talk radio hosts say so much that they don’t expect people to remember what they said way back when or to have it on tape to expose them. I certainly don’t have any of them on tape. However, I do remember listening to Medved and others on the right defend President Bush’s lack of speaking polish and called the left elitist for attacking then candidate George W. Bush’s rough speech and making up of words. They spent countless hours talking about how Bush spoke like an American, not a polished speaker. They proclaimed he had substance, just not the substance that liberals wanted.
Today, they rant about polish. Today, they rant about “you know” counts. And yet, they don’t rant about what she actually said. The very same thing they defended President Bush about for eight years is the very same thing that they attack Caroline Kennedy for: being an unpolished speaker.
One has to wonder when the right wing radio hosts will figure out that their audience grip may be firm over 25% of the political world, but it is events like this that undermine their hold on the other 25% of the right as they start to see their hypocrisy exposed and they start to see that their constructed reality doesn’t match the reality of the average American.
Caroline Kennedy had speaking problems that any speaker who has taken a decent speech class or been to toastmasters wouldn’t have problems with. However, Medved’s, and right wing talk radio hosts criticism of Kennedy is hypocritical to say the least. It is also a nitpicking distraction to change headlines from the beating they took in November as they try to stop the momentum. They might be better served to actually address the problems of their parties instead of these petty attacks that make them look trivial in a time for big ideas.