Vice Presidential Debate

Posted by Katherine | October 5, 2008 – 9:49 am
VP debate on TV
[Bright_Star / Flickr]

If you weren’t among the 70 million or so who watched the blockbuster VP debate live (not counting those who streamed it), you can see or read it here. By all accounts the night was primarily a referendum on Sarah Palin, so these comments focus largely on her:

The Conservative Manifesto isn’t sure the debate produced a clear victor, but it reconfirmed for him why Palin “has ignited such enthusiasm among so many across the country”:

I think it’s reasonable to assume both candidates misrepresented each others record and positions. Welcome to politics. But I think Palin hitting the “memorable” nail on the head gave her an edge over Biden’s much drier performance.

Another reason for my rating is that, in my opinion, Governor Palin did a terrific job of — as she has in the past — talking over the circumstances and directly to the American people. […]

Lastly, I think Governor Palin did manage to keep Senator Biden on the defensive.

Jasmine is a college student in Los Angeles. She had read a lot about Palin and Biden, but she’d never watched them speak before. Although the debate solidified her concern that Palin doesn’t “measure up” to what’s required of a potential commander-in-chief, she still gave her kudos for her performance:

I found myself impressed by her composure and rhetoric in a moment of extreme pressure and exposure to the public (particularly since she has been shed in a very negative light for the past few weeks in the press). Also, Palin has a very likable personality. She speaks in a conversational tone that can relate to the average American, and uses cute phrases such as “gosh darnit” that may appeal to certain people.

Susan the Bruce, a self-described “NH gadfly,” wasn’t so taken by the folksy talk:

Can’t you just see her meeting with someone like Putin, smacking him on the arm and saying, “Doggone it, Vladimir - there ya go again?” She could make Bush’s groping of Angela Merkel look like the epitome of stiff upper lip diplomacy.

Nor did publius, a law professor in Texas who likes things hot rather than sweet. He started off thinking Palin would “run away” with the debate but then descended into sugar shock:

Her schtick got old. Like her candidacy more generally, it was a sugar rush that fades quickly. It wasn’t so much that she had any truly trainwreck responses (though there was plenty of gibberish). It was that her mindless memorized cutesy lines and winks began to look like amateur hour in comparison to Biden’s command of facts and policy. […]

There was no single devastating moment. But the contrast was striking. She had nothing substantive to say on a whole host of issues — e.g., the constitutional role of the VP and McCain’s tax on employer-provided health benefits. It was all sound bites and snark. Those are fun for a while, but the reality soon became clear that she’s out of her league. I mean, she flatly ignored how many questions posed?

Many people commented on Palin’s ducking the questions. Ribbie, who loves music, books, and “making hillbilly chili” rounded up some examples:

Biden pointed out that John McCain has called for deregulation on countless occasions and even favors letting the free market take over the health care industry. Ifill asked Palin if she wanted to respond and Palin said, “I would like to respond about the tax increase….” and proceeded to do so. After Biden pressed the point that deregulation was one of the major causes of the market meltdown, Ifill asked Palin again if she wanted to respond, and Palin said: “I’m still on the tax thing…” even refusing to engage in the debate at hand saying: “I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record…” Her only response to McCain’s history of support for deregulation was to say that McCain has called for strict rules and cited his support for tougher laws on the tobacco industry and work on campaign refinance reform, neither having anything to do with the economic crisis.

Lots of people were unimpressed with both the debate format (restricted by the McCain campaign so that there would be very little actual debating) and by Gwen Ifill’s failure to point out that Palin was avoiding the questions. (Some linked Ifill’s reticence to the flap about her forthcoming book about Obama). Alchemy Today, however, thinks Ifill did the right thing:

Had Ifill been overly aggressive in pointing this out, we’d instead be hearing about how Ifill attacked Palin during the debate for avoiding questions. Most people aren’t stupid and they know when someone’s dodging a question and can read their body language when someone’s staring at notecards and reciting something that’s got nothing to do with Ifill’s question. Criticizing Ifill for not actively pointing this out during the debate, I think, underestimates (barely) the intelligence of an average, undecided debate viewer. Had Ifill interjected, the story would’ve been: Palin exceeded expectations and usually knew what she was talking about, but occasionally was chided by the moderator for straying off topic, maverick that she is! Instead, the story is: Palin exceeded expectations but sometimes avoided issues and gave unrelated answers on questions that Biden showcased the depth of his knowledge. There’s only room for two characters in a story about a debate, and I’d much rather it be about Biden and Palin than Ifill and Palin.

On to some specific points raised in the debate. The Christian blogger at Blue in Green: Meditations on Faith and Culture took issue with Palin’s lack of concern for the causes of global warming:

I won’t lambast her position on the causes of climate change, though she is demonstrably wrong. My point is simple logic: How can you “affect the impacts” if you aren’t willing to consider the causes? This is not about differences of opinion. It’s about coherence and rational argument. Without this, there is no basis for constructive problem-solving.

A lot of people pointed to Palin’s answer about the power of the vice president as a frightening sign that she’d stretch Cheney’s elastic interpretation. Bill Heffner from San Diego, a railroad and fly-fishing enthusiast, saw only confusion on Palin’s part:

She actually said nothing at all, other than displaying a considerable lack of knowledge of what the constitution actually says about the office of Vice President. Her personal pronouns need a little work; who is the “we” that will “do what is best” etc? To paraphrase Joe Biden that, ladies and gentlemen, is babbling.

Nicegreekboy admits that Palin outperfomed his low expectations but still thought that Biden won — even beating Palin at one of her strengths:

Biden’s response about being a single parent, particularly a single father, essentially beat Sarah Palin and the GOP at their own game. Accuse him of play-acting all you want; I’m not about to question a man’s grief, no matter what side of the aisle he’s on. But beyond that, this one moment may have won over woman voters more than anything the Obama-Biden campaign has done so far. More than “oh my God, he cried!” it shows women that Biden understands what it’s like to be a parent, and he understands how hard it can be to make ends meet, especially in the wake of tragedy. This was the most effective moment in his attempt to connect with the middle class, and Palin’s response didn’t help her.

Finally, a critique of the critiquers. Griffin likes to give humorous, cynical advice to politicians. He also, apparently, likes to give the punditry a piece of his mind:

[T]he media’s post-debate analysis had to be the most condescending display of lowered bar cheerleading in American political history. […]

Listening to pundits praise Palin’s substance-less performance last night was like watching a Little League game where the small kid who always strikes out steps up the plate, finally makes contact with the ball, and the crowd goes wild. No one cares that the kid just grounded out to the pitcher. […]

And that’s great for Little Leagues– hell, I was that kid– but when it comes to a grown woman who could potentially be the President of the United States in less than four months, all this lowered expectations cheerleading is pathetic, condescending, and let’s face it, sexist. Any man who got up on stage and so obviously dodged questions he hadn’t studied for, stuck so closely to rudimentary talking points, and whose goal was clearly not to communicate but to survive would have been torn apart.

If you want to find an alternative to “lowered expectations cheerleading,” try the blogosphere. Of course that, too, offers up many forms of sexism.


  1. One Response to “Vice Presidential Debate”

  2. Let’s face it, the guys have had (literally) thousands of years… and while they have done well making tall buildings and gas guzzling V-8 automobile engines, they have pretty much failed in the economic and world peace department. I’m all for letting the gals have a shot. Even if their political leanings don’t exactly jibe with your own, they can hardly do any worse than 230+ years of testosterone inspired policy.

    By Redoubt on Oct 7, 2008

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