I don't think that Sarah Palin did badly in the debate tonight. But at the same time, I do have to say that I'm not particularly impressed with her overall performance over the last few weeks. Certainly, I'm not as optimistic about her as I was in this post in August. As in August, I'm only modestly concerned about her lack of experience (though it would be better to have a Veep nominee with greater foreign policy background, as I pointed out at that time). But I am somewhat disturbed by her apparent lack of knowledge about various important issues.
I'm not going to go through the litany of her various gaffes. They have been extensively documented elsewhere. Taken individually, many of them are probably defensible - explicable by her getting tongue-tied or having a bad day or other random factors. However, the sheer number of them does suggest that she really does lack knowledge on some of these issues and that the gaffes are not just aberrations (or at least that many of them aren't).
As I have said before, my main reason for viewing a McCain-Palin victory as the lesser of evils in this election is that it is the only way to maintain divided government, which I view as an important obstacle to growth in the size and scope of government; it is particularly important given the extensive big government agenda outlined by Barack Obama, which he will be able to implement with the help of a strongly Democratic Congress. I also still think that Palin is more libertarian then most other major-party politicians, though she certainly ran away from that with her populist rhetoric in tonight's debate (probably for tactical reasons).
At the same time, ignorance about major domestic and foreign policy issues is a negative for a leader who, if McCain wins, will be within a heartbeat of the presidency - a presidency held by a 73-year old man whose health could deteriorate. No president can actually be an expert on the full range of issues faced by modern government; there are far too many of them. But it is important for him or her to have a basic knowledge that on some important issues Palin seems to lack. Palin probably has the ability to increase her knowledge. Ignorance, as I have often pointed out, is not the same thing as stupidity. She is a capable politician who has been successful in previous offices. However, other things equal, I would prefer a VP who doesn't require on the job training.
I don't think that Palin's weaknesses on this point should be decisive in choosing whom to vote for this fall. There are too many other vastly more important issues. Even when I was more positive about Palin than I am now, I still said that her "presence on the [Republican] ticket" made it only "marginally more appealing" to me. However, because I did give a more positive assessment of her in this space in the past, I thought it would be appropriate to share my revised views. At this point, what was once in my mind a marginal positive is at best a wash; her libertarian tendencies are to a large extent offset by her apparent ignorance on various key issues. Among other things, that ignorance would make it more difficult for her to influence policy in a libertarian direction in a McCain-Palin administration.