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!

TAKING A 10% CHANCE ON CHANGE

Chris Shays is the only Republican congressman left in New England, after the good people of Connecticut ousted the other two remaining faux-moderate GOPers tasked with representing their blue state. Shays is so committed to having it both ways that he recently aired an ad promising “the optimism of Barack Obama” and “the straight talk of John McCain” (maybe he can update it to tout Joe Biden’s statesmanship and Sarah Palin’s love of tax cuts and mooseburgers). But as the campaign of Chris Shays’ opponent – non-profit leader Jim Himes – reminds us, while Chris Shays has cast some votes with the Democrats, he doesn’t like to do it when it actually counts: Out of the closest third of the votes in the House, he votes with the GOP 89% of the time. Folks who think believe Connecticut can do better than a “catch-and-release” Congressman can contribute to Jim Himes’ campaign in this perpetually-close district here.

(Full disclosure: the research here is my brother’s baby – which I guess makes me its uncle)

YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY

Jimmy Carter has apparently issued another non-endorsement endorsement of Barack Obama, this time saying that while he “has not yet announced publicly,” after June 3 “a lot of the superdelegates will make a decision…announced quite rapidly,” and then “it will be time for her to give it up.” In other words: I haven’t made up my mind, but “my friend” is planning to endorse Obama soon, and when he does Hillary Clinton should concede…Of course the main difference when Carter ends the suspense and makes a “public” endorsement is that that’ll be a plum opportunity for John Hagee’s friends to call Obama an antisemite.

Speaking of hiding your love away, Senator Byrd endorsed Obama a few days after Hillary Clinton’s big-though-ultimately-insignificant win in his state. Which is funny only because I don’t think anyone doubts that Robert Byrd knew whom he supported before the West Virginia primary, and West Virginians are presumably the Democrats most influenced by a Robert Byrd endorsement. But Byrd and/ or Team Obama must have concluded (correctly) that an Obama endorsement before the WV primary only would have helped Team Clinton by raising expectations for Obama and drawing attention to the state (as well as maybe making Byrd look bad). Which just goes to show yet again how twisted election coverage is.

This was also probably the first time in a while that Robert Byrd’s seen his former KKK membership touted as a political asset. Maybe Joe Biden can help his veep chances by resurrecting his boast about Delaware being a slave state.

META IS AS META DOES

Am I the only one who’d be more interested in hearing Joe Biden talk about his grand foreign policy strategy than in hearing him talk about how he’s talking about a grand foreign policy strategy? Or how nobody else is talking about a grand foreign policy strategy?

To be fair, he does helpfully remind us that countries do things that affect each other. I guess that’s where that Foreign Relations Committee experience really shines through. And he lets us in on another aspect of his foreign policy strategy: everybody knows that Joe Biden is really, really tough.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON DEMOCRATIC DEBATE NUMBER THREE

Is it just me, or was the difference between the questions asked and the questions answered more pronounced in this debate than the previous ones? Maybe because the questions asked the candidates to speak about the extent of racism in America or its role in exacerbating social ills. Maybe the most marked contrast was when the candidates were asked why Blacks with high school degrees are less likely to find jobs than Whites without them; most of the answers were about how to get more Blacks high school degrees.

The order of the candidates led to the delightful spectacle of Chris Dodd making funny faces every round about having to follow Mike Gravel saying something about how craven and nasty everyone else on stage was. And it gave Barack Obama repeated chances to echo John Edwards, one time even saying he was finishing his sentence – does that mean he doesn’t take Edwards seriously as a threat at this point?

The biggest revelation of the night though was that Joe Biden organizes rallies for Black men to tell them they can be manly while wearing condoms. When I say progressive masculinity, you say Joe Biden! Where’s YouTube when you need it? Someone should name a line of condoms after the guy.

BAYH BAILS

So Evan Bayh has decided he’s “just not the right David” to take on the supposed Goliaths in the race for the Presidency. Apparently, membership in 160 facebook groups just isn’t enough to build the networks of support to win a presidential campaign. Either that, or Bayh got out of the running for fear his campaign would face a steady drumbeat of questions about his facebook membership in both the “Moderate Democrats Caucus” and the “Liberal News” group, or about his supposed simultaneous membership in the College Democrats of Arkansas, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Montana, North Carolina, South Caraolina, Massachusetts, Oregon State, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota, Hamilton County Indiana, New York, Oregon, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana U, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Vermont, California, Tennessee, and “Worchester and Central Massachusetts” (where he’s 25% of the membership). Or maybe it was his claimed affiliation with the Party’s Hispanic Caucus, Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, “Young Democrats” chapters across the country, and the North Carolina Association of Teen Democrats that was destined to raise eyebrows under the microscope of a Presidential campaign. Thus the race loses the only candidate who could say he was opposed to the Facebook News Feed from the beginning.

And, on a more serious note, we see another nail in the coffin of the scenario where the primary is dominated by Clinton and someone running well to her right (sorry, Joe Biden).