To be fair, Palin actually exceeded people's expectations of her. However, that can be chalked up to two factors. First, that the bar was set so low for her that all she needed to do was show up sober, which she apparently did. Second, the format wasn't extended long enough on any single issue for her lack of wisdom to become clear.
Biden didn't orate like I thought he would. I had heard various excerpts of him speaking before but he didn't live up to the fiery energy that I anticipated from him. He held his composure together, and was certainly less of a blatant liar than Palin. Still, the result was less clear than I had hoped beforehand.
That's all the overview I'm going to give. Now I'm going to move on a sort of play-by-play featuring some key statements that show the dumb. I'll pair them with my own take on the issue.
The first question is about the economy. Biden answers first.
If you need any more proof positive of how bad the economic theories have been, this excessive deregulation, the failure to oversee what was going on, letting Wall Street run wild, I don't think you needed any more evidence than what you see now.
"You want more proof? Too bad, you got all the proof you need."
I see this as a classic "oh shit" moment where Biden obviously couldn't think up anything to say to drive his point home. This is sad because he could have said any number of things like:
- "If tax cuts were all it took to save the economy, we wouldn't be having any economic problems right now."
- "The problem is that both McCain and Bush have surrounded themselves with economists that specialize in selling bad policies as if they were good. We've had banking crises in the past: The S&L crisis of the '80s, the Tech bubble of 2000 and 2001, and now the housing crisis which has been steadily getting worse for years now. In each case, it has been the same dishonest theories that have been used to sell policies that get a few people rich at the expense of everybody else."
- "If you look at the average American's budget, you'll see that the biggest chunk is going to be fixed payments. These are payments on loans, credit cards, medical bills, rent. Bush and McCain are trying to distract you, saying they'll cut taxes, but at the same time they're going to raise the price you pay for everything else. How many people would go bankrupt if the interest rate on their loan went up 1%? If they have surgery and get stuck with a $10,000 bill? If rental prices went up by $100 a month, how many more people would be out on the street?"
Palin's initial response to the economy question was pretty damn good. It featured masterful imagery. Pretty much the only people that wouldn't like it are people who have already made their mind up for Obama.
Then she says this:
John McCain, in referring to the fundamental of our economy being strong, he was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce. And the American workforce is the greatest in this world, with the ingenuity and the work ethic that is just entrenched in our workforce. That's a positive. That's encouragement. And that's what John McCain meant.
So, McCain spewed a bunch of weak B.S. in his debate against Obama about the American Workforce being strong. Palin saw fit to repeat it in patriotic fashion. If I was her, I would have probably wanted to spin this a bit differently. Her word choice, at least, could probably be better. For me, the phrase just entrenched conjures up that lazy guy who always argues during meetings. She finishes by saying, essentially, that McCain's economic strategy hinges on positive thinking.
Next we have that wonderful straight talk express dodging the deregulation question with Orwellian doublespeak:
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 also.Palin then transforms the deregulation question into a brag about her tax cutting record as mayor of a tiny-ass town in Alaska. Very impressive. She ends by saying "Look at campaign finance reform", which not only has nothing to do with the question OR what she had been talking about but was also pretty much itself an abject failure.
The debate moves on to talk about McCain's sneaky proposal to tax employer healthcare plans, which would most certainly take away much of the incentive for employers to have healthcare plans. Palin is asked to defend this policy and she tells a lie about the $5000 tax credit for healthcare being budget neutral. She makes some wierd statement about going across state lines. She doesn't really answer the question.
Biden's response is rather degenerate:
Gwen, I don't know where to start. We don't call a redistribution in my neighborhood Scranton, Claymont, Wilmington, the places I grew up, to give the fair to say that not giving Exxon Mobil another $4 billion tax cut this year as John calls for and giving it to middle class people to be able to pay to get their kids to college, we don't call that redistribution. We call that fairness number one.I realized after reading the above statement that he was referring to Palin's comments on Barack pursuing a "backwards way to grow the economy". Somehow, in the brain o' Biden, this became "redistribution". In reality, Government does redistribute wealth, but so does the free market. Neither is inherently more fair, since at the theoretical level a Democratic government is just as beautiful and elegant as an unfettered market. This point, being too subtle for the audience, was transformed into an unintelligible string of buzzwords.
Now the debate (OH MY GOD ITS SO LONG) goes through bankruptcy laws, climate change, carbon caps / clean coal (why does Palin seem to get easier questions?), and Gay Rights. Ifill says that the two candidates agree on Gay Rights, but of course they don't because Palin would not do anything to address the lack of rights for gays in the status quo, while Biden would pursue everything short of redefining marriage.
This brings us to the wonderful Iraq debate. There's talk about how great the surge has worked. Here we have Biden in a tight spot because he doesn't want to sound like he's disagreeing with Petraeus. Chances are that Petraeus is mouthpiecing and puppeting for Bush but that's not the kind of thing Biden can come out and say.
Biden comes back strong by painting the scene as one where Bush has acquiesced to the very timetable that he nominally opposed. McCain becomes the odd one out. I'm impressed by the sophistication and skill of the argument. Naturally it is disheartening when he later comments that:
...If an attack comes in the homeland, it's going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's where they live. That's where they are. That's where it will come from. And right now that resides in Pakistan, a stable government needs to be established.The mixture of highbrow and lowbrow appeals is rather dissonant.
Palin responds well by using the convenient statements of Petraeus and makes a good point about Nuclear Iran. Once again, she just can't seem to stop herself and continues on to the "meeting with foreign leaders" debate. This debate is, to me, a really dumb one. It deserves its own place in infamy because the candidates just can't seem to understand what the other is saying. Even though this is probably a side effect of the decisions that were made by campaign staff on how to spin the issue, it often takes conscious effort to recall the actual point of contention. Biden pounces on the issue because there really are a fair number of people (me included) who fear that McCain will start World War III and failed diplomacy fits into the equation nicely. Palin wants to make Barack look weak or suggest that he will make concessions that might allow rogue states to become greater threats. They are living in different worlds.
The discussion moves on to Darfur. I'm not really very happy with either side's response. This was really a chance to talk a bit and use time to sound like an expert since the topic is a bit less well known than Iraq. Biden may have assumed that we know more than we actually do.
The next question is about how the VP would differ from the Pres if the Pres died. I heard excellent responses from both candidates. Biden steps up to paint McCain as a third Bush term and Palin responds in a unique way:
Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future.This is a great example of how to lose a debate. She even goes on to tout No Child Left Behind, which is a high profile and problematic Bush policy. This is not the way to appeal to independents, and I suspect that it may alienate the base as well. Palin also makes a comment about Biden's wife getting her reward in heaven, but I think she was referring to his living wife and not his dead one.
The next point is about the powers of the Vice President. Palin once again raises some eyebrows when she claims she would be "independent". She even cites a precedent set by Cheney, which is sort of silly since Cheney isn't a judge or a court case. So, here we go, Biden smacks her down with a good rebuttal and clear description of what the constitution says. Personally I think he should have driven home some impacts about abuse of power, loss of civil liberties, culture of corruption, etc.
Palin goes on to describe how hard it is raising a family and being a woman. She says that she has been without healthcare. Somebody should fact-check that. Biden comes through on this point as well, demonstrating that he has suffered much harder times than her. His theme of "more of the same" really starts to hit home at this point.
The last question is a tricky one. It asks the candidates to say something that they have changed their mind on. For some reason, this fails to be a powerful rhetorical point, like it should be. The candidates both think up some rather small issue. The strategy in Biden's case seems to be to mention the supreme court because many people are anxious about McCain's judicial nominees. I'm scared to death about the future of the supreme court, since most environmental protections are held in place by shoestrings. Palin mentions wanting to cut taxes and spending even more. She definitely comes across as an extremist and to me it looks like she would collapse the government itself if she were President, but I suppose there are still a lot of people out there who just don't know what's going on. Here we had the chance for a truly heartfelt story that shows the growth and development of experience and judgement, a chance for the audience to grow closer to the candidates and in my view both blew it.
The closing statements are not noteworthy.