TV debates: what Sarah Palin knew

Lessons for Brown, Cameron and Clegg? You betcha.

In the next issue of the New Statesman, Dominic Sandbrook has a terrific essay on the televised leaders' debates, What Ronald Reagan knew. His hook is Reagan's folksy, charm-laden, policy-lite performance against President Jimmy Carter in 1980 -- "There you go again" and all that.

If the actor-turned-president Reagan is a role model, what (if anything) can Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg hope to learn from John McCain's one-time running mate, Sarah Palin? Well, two things.

First, lower expectations to such an extent that anything other than a complete meltdown will be seen as a triumph. According to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's account of the 2008 presidential race, Game Change (aka Race of a Lifetime), "McCainworld was ecstatic" after the 2 October debate. "Palin had not only survived, but fought Biden to something like a draw," they wrote, though not everyone saw it that way.

Second, avoid tricky words. Again, we're grateful to Heilemann and Halperin for this account of the Republican's debate prep:

Over and over, Palin referred to Obama's running mate as "Senator Obiden" -- or was it "O'Biden"? -- and the corrections from her team weren't sticking. Finally, three staffers, practically in unison, suggested, Why don't you just call him Joe?

And that's exactly what she did. As the two would-be VPs greet each other, you can just hear above the applause Palin eagerly asking Biden: "Hey, can I call you Joe?"

By the way, you can join the New Statesman team for some live blogging on Thursday night's debate.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

Show Hide image

New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.