Friday, October 3, 2008

The Vice-Presidential Debate

Man! Did you see that debate last night? Whew, that was some exciting scene! Joe Biden and Sarah Palin sticking it to each other, finally giving the entire country the kind of political bloodletting they were craving in presidential debate number one! Just kidding everybody, I found this thing to be just about as uneventful as I predicted it would be but also as I predicted it seemed that both candidates succeeded in just not screwing it up too badly.

A word on the moderator, PBS's Gwen Ifill, before anything else: as you may have heard, she's writing a book about race and politics that includes Barack Obama which is slated to go on sale on inauguration day next year; so of course the entire right wing of this country started screaming and crying about how she couldn't possibly be fair and impartial and it seems that she was sufficiently cowed. She let Palin get away with not answering several questions and then failed to follow up as Katie Couric did in her interviews with the vice-presidential candidate; the more restricted format that the McCain campaign insisted on handicapped her as well but the consensus seems to be that she blew this one nonetheless.

The first part of the debate clearly went to Palin; she looked pretty good in her black suit and came out using her folksy, small town vernacular to it's full effect, even asking Biden if she could call him Joe as they shook hands. She didn't say anything very substantial on the economic crises except to repeat John McCain's lie that he meant the American worker when he said that the fundamentals of our economy are strong. Biden scored a good hit with McCain's history of deregulation being one of the central causes of the crises but he started out very dry and tired sounding, ostensibly because he didn't want to come off as a bully or condescending at the outset. Palin's opening answers were quick and quirky, making her seem very energized and eager but her litany of "hey there"s and "don'tcha know"s eventually began to feel too cheesy and trite for a serious debate and it started to look like she was just rushing through answers to get her talking points out.

One of the strangest points of the night occurred when Palin declared to Biden that she wasn't "going to answer the questions the way [he] and the moderator may want"; she then proceeded on several occasions to either ignore questions by the moderator or even to ask and then answer her own. She again declared that she didn't care what had caused global warming and that addressing the problem was not relevant to addressing the solution; yeah, who cares what caused the problem? I'm sure we've stopped doing any or all of that industrial pollution shit, right? And she totally dodged a question by Ifill over whether she supports all civil rights for gays as Biden and Obama do by saying that yes, she believes that all gays should be able to choose their own partners. What!? So no, she does not support equal civil rights for homosexual couples, regardless of what word one uses to define that relationship.

On foreign policy, Biden stated point blank on Iraq, "We will end this war" just before Palin spat out a prepared quip about "waving a white flag". He then makes the case for the central front in the war on terrorism being in Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than Iraq while finally stating the fact that Ahmadinejad has absolutely no control of Iran's security apparatus or foreign policy. She then started rambling about nukular weapons and how Iran should never have any capability on that front (by the way, it seems that she had to have the word "new-clear" spelled out phonetically in her speech to the Republican National Convention to keep from sounding too much like George W) while Biden called attention to the fact that Barack Obama was a co-sponsor to a bill that secured loose Soviet era nukes in Eastern Europe.

On education, Palin offered no firm policy proposals besides saying that we should place more emphasis on teaching and "ramp it up" as far as No Child Left Behind goes. When the debate turned to the issue of what the role of the Vice-President should be Palin said that the power of that office should be expanded (um, Vice-President "Torture 'Em All" Cheney anyone?) while Biden cited Article I of the Constitution, saying that the only power of that office is to break ties in the Senate and that Dick Cheney has perverted the Founders' intent of the office.

On a more human note, when Biden choked up speaking about the death of his first wife and their daughter in a car crash that left him wondering if his two sons would survive Palin followed with a seemingly inhuman lack of emotion as she launched into her talking points about McCain being a maverick, as if she were some unfeeling robot. When asked if they each had changed their minds at some point in their careers to make a compromise on a topic after learning something new about it, Biden related that he had come to terms with the fact that judges had to be chosen based on their interpretation of the law as well as their records on the bench. In a stark juxtaposition to that honesty, Palin related that she had "quasi-caved" on budgets that she personally disagreed with but to me that seems more like a negotiation rather than a compromise, especially after she conceded that she had never changed her mind over the fact and that she had never compromised on any policy in her career.

In their closing statements, Palin attacked the mainstream media in a seemingly random rant against having her words "filtered" despite the fact that she has been largely sheltered from the news media by the McCain campaign since her announcement as his running mate and ended her speech on a Republican-base pleasing note by quoting their infallible prophet, Ronald Reagan. Biden closed by decrying the last eight years under Bush and stating that while America has been knocked down of late that it's time for us to get back up together.

In short, there was no clear knockout blow in this debate, just like the first presidential; and just like in that contest, I suspect that last night's performance will not sway any already dedicated voters but might help any undecideds to settle on a horse. Palin started strong but her small-town platitudes and obviously rehearsed lines started to seem trite and wear thin as the night went on, as if it were all an act and she was reading from a script that the McCain campaign had fashioned for her; Biden on the other hand started slow but eventually found his stride and finished stronger and more confidently than his opponent seemed to. To sum up, I feel that while Sarah Palin survived this debate and may even have done better than the extremely low expectations set for her, Joe Biden pretty much won the evening on policy, for whatever that's worth. But to be honest with you, I expect this whole thing to have very little if any effect on the presidential race.

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