Pinker on Palin

In case you missed it yesterday, in the NYT:

SINCE the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, two opposing myths have quickly taken hold about Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. The first, advanced by her supporters, is that she made it through a gantlet of fire; the second, embraced by her detractors, is that her speaking style betrays her naïveté. Both are wrong.

Let’s take the first myth: Governor Palin subjected herself to the most demanding test possible — a televised debate. By surviving, she won. As the front page of The Daily News of New York screamed this morning, “No Baked Alaska.”

But as a test of clear thinking, the debate format was far less demanding than a face-to-face interview — the kind Ms. Palin had with Katie Couric of CBS.

Why? Because in a one-on-one conversation, you can’t launch into a prepared speech on a topic unrelated to the question. Imagine this exchange — based on the first question that the moderator, Gwen Ifill, gave Ms. Palin and Senator Joe Biden — if it took place in casual conversation over coffee:

LISA How about that bailout? Was this Washington at its best or at its worst?

MICHAEL You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America’s economy, is go to a kid’s soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, “How are you feeling about the economy?”

Lisa would flee. (This was, in fact, Ms. Palin’s response.) In a conversation, you have to build your sentence phrase by phrase, monitoring the reaction of your listener, while aiming for relevance to the question. That’s what led Ms. Palin into word salad with Ms. Couric. But when the questioner is 30 feet away on the floor and you’re on a stage talking to a camera, which can’t interrupt or make faces, you can reel off a script without embarrassment. The concerns raised by the Couric interviews — that Ms. Palin memorizes talking points rather than grasping issues — should not be allayed by her performance in the forgiving format of a debate.