Tonight millions of viewers will watch the highly anticipated debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, and we’ll explore another facet of the cult of the amateur – whether eloquence matters.

Sarah says we need an American in the White House who represents “Joe Six-Pack.” But can’t a vice president represent Joe Six-Pack and also speak in complete, coherent sentences? Take a look at “Sarah’s Grammar,” posted by my fellow blogger Andromeda Romano-Lax. Then consider Sarah’s response when asked by Katie Couric whether she disagreed with Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v. Wade:

“I believe that individual states can best handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in in an issue like that…I would think of any, again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level, maybe I would take issue with.”

This isn’t a random sentence plucked out of context to make her look bad. Her entire response had the same woeful construction. Joe Biden had it easy because he had an actual answer to the question: he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision on the Violence Against Women Act.

It’s not just the pressure of the national stage that reduces Palin to gibberish. Consider her response, reported in today’s ADN, when asked during a gubernatorial debate to explain how she would pay for new health programs:

“Proper role of government is providing the tools that those in the private sector aren’t able to gather themselves, and critical health care will be a priority. I will cover that as your governor, I will make sure that we are fulfilling our constitutional, mandated provisions there, that are laid out for us. Again, education, basic solid infrastructure, public safety – in public safety is health care, so it’s a matter of priorities.”

Confused? Me too. Her thoughts aren’t clear, complete, or coherent. They’re a far cry from eloquent. Any English teacher can tell you why. When people don’t know what they’re talking about, they speak and write in circles. To cure this kind of doublespeak, you have to go back to the drawing board, think through your ideas, and make sure you have something to say.

Tonight’s debate will be style versus substance. Sarah’s style is limited to poise, looks, confidence, and sarcasm. I suspect Sarah would say eloquence is for elitists.

The public will have to decide if they want leaders who actually know what they’re saying. The best way to tell if they do will be to examine how they say it.

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