Sarah Palin has experience being a runner-up -- which will come in handy in November. Tonight she barely kept up. In advance, the commenteriat almost unanimously agreed on a false measure of this debate. Judging by "expectation" meant that pundits could conceivably award a faux victory if she was half-coherent and modestly informed after a cram session in Arizona. But voters apply an absolute standard, not a low water mark of expectations: With America facing two wars and economic disaster, Americans ask if a candidate is up to the job.

By any rational assessment, Palin wasn't tonight -- and hasn't been any time she's not reading a teleprompter. President Palin-- the nuclear button, recession, the health care crisis, global warming (which she doesn't believe in, as she believes in creationism) -- well, it simply doesn't compute. A part in Fargo, yes -- that office in the West Wing, no.

Everybody wondered how Palin would do. At least as important, or more, was that Joe Biden did a superb job. He deftly stopped Palin from distorting Obama's views. He won the tax cut argument-- Democrats usually don't. He won the health care argument; Palin just gave up. She wouldn't -- couldn't -- answer the questions; she wanted to talk about energy, which she's supposed to know something about, but she even lost on that . Often she didn't know or couldn't say what McCain's policy is. And on foreign policy, she must have been staring out the window when she sat down with Henry Kissinger. She "loves" Israel but can't discuss mideast realities in one inch depth. She can't even articulate basic conditions for the use of nuclear weapons.

Palin relied on topline phrases and had little command of facts. Why, she even memorized the name of the President of Iran. But it was mostly blah, blah, blah. At the end, the Obama-Biden ticket is far ahead on the big issues -- and Palin's a parrot repeating memorized phrases, not a plausible vice-president. Biden called her on it every time.

The last two Democratic VP nominees fell short in their debates; Lieberman was routed and never even fought back. Biden did the job for Democrats while Palin sounded like Kozinski's Chance the Gardener mouthing empty phrases. In successive sentences she said "there you go again" and "doggone." She talked about ordinary people; Biden eloquently showed he actually cares about the middle class. She was essentially phony and tin-eared after Biden spoke emotionally about his family -- and about raising his sons as a single father after their mother was killed and they almost died in an auto accident -- she spouted pol-talk cliches. He has a real emotional IQ; she sounds like an Ozzie and Harriett script (a reference which shows my age -- and a phony folksiness that reveals her inauthentic authenticity).

Today McCain pulled out of Michigan; the economic news worsened. The electoral map is smaller; the economy is smaller; and the odds on McCain are longer and longer. The press probably will give Palin credit for not falling down on stage. She couldn't deal with many of the questions directly or most of the facts, so she bloviated according to plan. She winked at us; the voters won't wink back at her. Pat Buchanan thinks she won. I think people still have a bullshit factor-- and that means she survived even as she met the low expectations she's created. McCain gained nothing; he was the loser -- in the first presidential debate, and the vice-presidential one.

By; Robert Shrum: Huffington Post