BIDEN AND PALIN DEBATE

Matt Yglesias observed earlier this week that Sarah Palin tends to do fine in situations where she can pivot from the question to her own talking points and a cobweb of faux-folksy generalities. She does poorly when the questioner tries to get her to answer the original question. Katie Couric did this. Gwen Ifil didn’t. So Sarah Palin got to respond to a question on Bush’s Israel policy by chiding Joe Biden for talking about George Bush. She got to answer the gay rights question by talking about her gay friends – though she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. She got to handle the economic questions by rhapsodizing about her pretend middle class lifestyle (she must agree with John McCain’s definition of low-seven-figures income as middle class).

Watching tonight’s debate should make it clear for anyone who wondered why the McCain campaign wanted so badly to limit the time each candidate got to talk and the time they got to interact with each other. Palin had shown in the past that she could do a fine job with rules like this; it’s unfortunate that the competent job she did tonight will draw attention away from the ways she’s embarrassed herself over the past couple weeks. Overall, she came off as more polished tonight, but Biden clearly knew better what he was talking about. Biden let himself get somewhat frustrated and flustered, but I think he managed to stay within the lines imposed on him not to sound mean to Palin, and the moments where he vented some of that frustration (“John is no maverick on the issues that people sit around the kitchen table worrying about”) were his best.

For two people who were hold up much of the week practicing, both Palin and Biden had a surprisingly hard time speaking in sentences that someone could read on a page and actually make sense of. Palin kept saying things backwards – global warming causes human beings – while Biden would get partway through one thought and then switch over to a different one.

It’s really maddening that this format allows Palin (and McCain last week) to lie about her opponent, never respond to the refutation of the lie, and then continue repeating it later on.

Biden seemed a bit too concerned with touting his own record rather than Barack Obama’s – he defended his bankruptcy bill that Obama voted against, and towards the end when asked about their accomplishments as a ticket used up his time talking about what Joe Biden had done. He was compelling talking about his experience as a single dad but stepped on his own moment a bit by suggesting Sarah Palin was being sexist.

If Palin really wanted to respond to a question about bipartisanship by just naming the line-up of GOP Convention speakers, shouldn’t she have included George Bush and Cindy McCain?

Call me an East-Coaster if you like, but I think when Sarah Palin leapt on Joe Biden’s explanation of his war vote and attacked him for nuance she sounded nasty, and when she spoke for “America” telling “Government” by name to stop taxing us she did sound like Tina Fey telling Russia to “go shoo.”

Note to the media: Sarah Palin appealed tonight for vigorous fact-checking of what each candidate said. Don’t disappoint her!

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Short take on tonight’s debate:

The Democratic ticket won this one too, though not as decisively as the last one. Edwards had to prove he was a heavyweight, and he succeeded admirably. Cheney had to prove he was a human being, and he managed to come off as warmer than I’ve seen him (not saying much) and more gracious than the President’s performance (not saying much there either). That said, Edwards was not only more charismatic and more convincing, he did a better job of directly answering Gwen Ifil’s questions and, more importantly, those of the audience. His best line of attack, on foreign and domestic policy both, came in acknowledging that not only the challengers but the American people know better than to believe the Bush crew’s spin, and deserve better than to be shielded from the truth.

The Bush-Cheney Campaign continues to leave itself wide open to blistering criticism – more blistering than they’re actually getting – by stubbornly refusing to admit any mistakes, as if any contrition would make the house of cards collapse. How Cheney can tell the American people that he would conduct the Iraq war “exactly the same” way with a straight face is beyond me. So is why Edwards didn’t slam him even harder for it – or hit home harder on the shameful defunding of Homeland Security or the difference between the new jobs and the old ones we lost or the outrage of touting America’s record in El Salvador as a future model. And his answers on Israel and gay rights were expectedly frustrating.

But altogether, Edwards spoke clearly and resonantly, fought hard, and thought on his feet. Whereas Cheney projected strength and enthusiasm sometimes and at others seemed tired, disinterested, or just at a loss for words. And since when was it the Republicans who saw a career in government as the more patriotic choice? Whatever happened to Gingrich’s crew of “citizen-legislators” who supposedly hated Washington life so much they promised they’d sleep in their offices rather than get apartments? Lastly, we definitely won the closing statement this time (unlike Thursday) – Cheney’s “Vote for us or get blown up” just didn’t match Edwards’ exhortation to national greatness.