The Big Vice-Presidential Debate: Palin’s Running on Fumes, Not Real Fuel
Reactions to the Debate
CBS News reported on the debate, where vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden clashed on the financial crisis, foreign policy, energy and taxes in a nationally televised debate on Thursday night. Palin committed no major mistakes, but CBS News chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer gave the edge to Biden. “I thought Sen. Biden had a very good night,” Schieffer said. “Time and again, Gov. Palin would choose not to answer the question.” A CBS News instant poll of Americans who watched the debate also showed Biden to be the winner by a margin of 46-21 percent. About one-third thought the debate was a draw.
A CNN national poll of people who watched the vice presidential debate on Thursday night suggested that Democratic Sen. Joe Biden won. Poll respondents gave Sen. Biden the edge over Gov. Sarah Palin in the ability to express views. The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. said 51 percent of those polled thought Biden did the best job, compared to Palin’s 36 percent.
At The Atlantic Magazine, Andrew Sullivan felt that Joe Biden’s sobriety and authority and call for fundamental change is both reasonable and solid. “It will resonate, I think. As you can read, I began this debate feeling that she was steam-rolling him. She was. But it was a steam-roller coming at you on fumes, not real fuel. She doesn’t have it. Maybe one day she might. But not now. Biden’s concluding remarks were very, very strong. There is no contest here.”
And from abroad, The Guardian (UK) reported that Biden gave the far superior debate performance by any objective standard, of course; far superior to pretty much any recent debate I can call to mind. But of course that may not be the relevant point: Palin didn’t fall apart, and until discussion moved to foreign policy, at any rate, her relentless strategy of talking only about tax cuts and energy policy, peppering her lines with plenty of folksiness, seemed to serve her well. From the Iraq section onwards, she sometimes seemed to be clinging on by her fingertips.
Fred Kaplan reviewed the debate from a foreign policy perspective in Slate Magazine. His conclusion was that Palin still know nothing about foreign policy. He proposed that Palin be judged as we would a presumptively seasoned and competent political leader. By that standard, on issues of foreign policy, she was outgunned by Sen. Joe Biden at every turn.
And more than Sen. Barack Obama, who could have answered some of Sen. John McCain’s charges more forcefully in last week’s debate, Biden made no effort to muffle his fire. When Palin called Obama’s plan for a phased withdrawal from Iraq “a white flag of surrender,” Biden shot back that the plan was identical to the policy of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
When Palin repeated her charge that Obama was “beyond naive” in calling for negotiating with adversaries “without preconditions,” Biden explained what the phrase meant, then noted that it was supported not just by the five former secretaries of state who recently co-authored an endorsement of the idea but by our allies, with whom Palin had just said we needed to work together.
When Palin recited McCain’s line about applying the principles of the Iraqi surge to Afghanistan, Biden (correctly) noted that the U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan has said the surge wouldn’t work there. (By the way, it does not bother me at all that Palin referred to Gen. Dave McKiernan as “Gen. McClellan.” We all make mistakes like that now and then.)
Finally, when Biden said the Bush administration’s foreign policy has been an “abject failure,” and proceeded to list the many ways in which that was so, Palin’s only reply was to smile and say, “Enough playing the blame game.” If Obama and Biden talk so much about change, she added (as if this were really a clever point), why do they spend so much time looking backward? To which Biden replied, with uncharacteristic pith, “Past is prologue.” And so it is. At another point, he noted, “Facts matter.” And so they do.
Joe Biden gets the first laugh of the night, calling the McCain-Palin health care plan “the ultimate bridge to nowhere.” Watch:
Biden Mocks Palin’s Bridge to Nowhere
Palin’s “Cute Act” Flops Bigtime
For much of tonight’s debate, Sarah Palin avoided any spectacularly obvious stupidity and Joe Biden steered clear of any casually offensive statements. Then came “Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” an attempted cute catchphrase deployed by Palin that not only failed spectacularly but which was also followed by a cascade of other dumb attempts at adorability. The Republican vice presidential nominee then looked increasingly like the end of Tina Fey’s most recent impression. She winked! For the second time in the night! She called her own joke “lame” and tried to laugh at it. And then she said Joe Biden’s wife would be rewarded in heaven because she’s a teacher. That would be Senator Biden’s second wife, after his first wife and year-old daughter were killed in a horrific car accident and are, in fact, now in heaven. Whoops. At the conclusion of the video below, Biden becomes very emotional when he touches upon the issue of his first wife’s death.
Sarah Palin’s Failed “Cute Act”
Hockey Mom’s Across the Nation
In Palin’s 90 minutes on the stage Thursday night, she left the firm impression that she is indeed ready to lead the nation, presiding with an unnerving mixture of platitudes and cute, folksy phrases that poured from her lips even when they bore no relation to the questions asked. “Let’s commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms across the nation,” she proposed in response to a question about the mortgage crisis.
Head of Skate: Hockey Mom’s Across the Nation
Palin Disintegrated as the Debate Wound On
In The Atlantic Magazine, Marc Ambinder observed that to practiced ears, Palin memorized and repeated talking points and Biden responded to the questions and argued. Palin dodged questions and seemed vague; but then again, for those whose only impression of Palin has been the one Tina Fay performed on Saturday Night Live, she cleared the bar. Biden seemed a little unsure how tough to be at the beginning of the debate; by the beginning of the final third, he hit his stride. As the debate wound on, Palin seemed less agile when it came to constructing sentences and answers. Lots of key phrases, weird placement of conjunctions, so the gist of what she was saying was there, but it wasn’t terribly clear.
At one point late in the debate, Palin’s words seemed to flutter all over the place like mourning doves frightened at the feeder. Many of her sentences were plainly just not English; they were just collections of words strung together just to prompt a strong reaction, floating ands and prepositional phrases (“with that vote of the American people“). One of the prime examples from last night’s debate:
“A statement that he [Obama] made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like Ahmadinejad who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first.”
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