Richard Stern is a novelist and emeritus professor of English at the University of Chicago.
It's 50 minutes after the vice presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. The losers were David Brooks, Mark Shields, and other commentators supposedly hired by television executives for intelligence, sensitivity, and ability to articulate clear-eyed responses and titillate viewers with their amusing and thoughtful reactions to political events. That these two regulars on PBS's "The NewsHour" failed to see that Sarah Palin's brassy, blind narcissism, chirpy ignorance, evasiveness, broken syntax, self-vaunting folksiness, and robotic falsity disqualified her for important public office should be their end as commentators. That they did not commend the essentially thoughtful, well- and widely-informed performance of Joe Biden should cancel their television contracts. The contrast between his intelligence and her stupidity, yes, stupidity, was too clear to be missed by all but blazing partisans.
Yes, this writer is partisan, but makes some attempt to accurately appraise what he sees and hears. That is more important than most causes. Otherwise, value systems will disintegrate and the boundaries between right and wrong, vice and virtue, truth and falsity will be destroyed. Brooks and Shields abandoned the standard to which they've given more than lip service. If their failure should help lead to the elevation of a foolish, almost willfully ignorant person and the defeat of a thoughtful, humane, and articulate public servant, I hope they marinate for years in what oozed from them tonight.
I've been proud that Brooks had been a student of mine at the University of Chicago. That pride has turned to ashes. As for Shields, it has been a minor pleasure to hear political insights he'd gathered over years of reportorial work.
No more. Working such special streets of punditry as "Who came up to expectations?" "Would Biden gaffe his way into headlines?" or "Would Palin again reveal the ignorance she showed on the Katie Couric interview?" this Tweedledum and Tweedledee of savvy politics failed to distinguish what was basic, namely which of these two candidates could head the American government. May they rot in Commentator Hell.