Brooks sets a low bar

BROOKS SETS A LOW BAR…. It was just Monday — of this week — when David Brooks seemed annoyed with the Republican Party’s recklessness, lack of intellectual seriousness, and penchant for irresponsibility. He saw a party that has “confused talk radio with reality.” He said how “sad” it is to see the GOP “still think it’s 1984.”

His disappointment was apparently short-lived. Brooks watched last night’s debate, and he’s happy again.

Just as the midcentury psychologist Abraham Maslow predicted, Republicans watching the debate had a hierarchy of needs. First, they had a need for survival. Was this woman capable of completing an extemporaneous paragraph — a collection of sentences with subjects, verbs, objects and, if possible, an actual meaning?

By the end of her opening answers, it was clear she would meet the test. She spoke with that calm, measured poise that marked her convention speech, not the panicked meanderings of her subsequent interviews.

Really, she passed the complete-sentences test? Well then, let’s go ahead and put her in national office.

With a bemused smile and a never-ending flow of words, she laid out her place on the ticket — as the fearless neighbor for the heartland bemused by the idiocies of Washington. Her perpetual smile served as foil to Biden’s senatorial seriousness.

You know who else flashed a bemused smile, accompanied by a never-ending flow of words, like a fearless neighbor who had no use for the idiocies of Washington? George W. Bush, circa 2000. Don’t worry about qualifications, issues, or readiness — vote for the charm. That turned out great, didn’t it? I suspect there are probably more than a few Americans who believe we could do a lot worse than “seriousness” right now.

Where was this woman during her interview with Katie Couric?

Note to Brooks: Couric asked follow-up questions. Ifill didn’t.

On Thursday night, Palin took her inexperience and made a mansion out of it. From her first “Nice to meet you. May I call you Joe?” she made it abundantly, unstoppably and relentlessly clear that she was not of Washington, did not admire Washington and knew little about Washington. She ran not only against Washington, but the whole East Coast, just to be safe.

First, John McCain has been a Washington insider for three decades. Second, David Brooks is a fixture of the Washington establishment.

On matters of substance, her main accomplishment was to completely sever ties to the Bush administration.

I have no idea which debate Brooks was watching — he offered no examples to bolster his point — but this didn’t happen. Indeed, Joe Biden called her on this very point, and Palin had no response.

The race has not been transformed, but few could have expected as vibrant and tactically clever a performance as the one Sarah Palin turned in Thursday night.

This is bizarre, but at least Brooks didn’t think Palin was winking at him directly.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.