Vice Presidential Debate
Senator Joe Biden (D) vs. Governor Sarah Palin (R)Thursday, 2 October 2008
Available for download via iTunes in Video: 2008 Presidential Debate Podcast
Touted as the night when Senator Biden would show "Sarah Barracuda" what a real predator was, the 2008 Vice Presidential debate was, in reality, something altogether different. Here are some basic observations and thoughts on each candidate and the moderator, Gwen Ifil.
Senator Joe Biden
Ask anyone who spends much of his or her time on any particular subject to reduce that knowledge to ninety second soundbites and that person will likely become exasperated even trying to find a place to begin. Senator Biden has a repuation for delving entirely into a subject, and several times last night he resorted to either referring viewers to research points on their own (generally by going to one of the two party's campaign websites) or outright declaring that there was not sufficient time to go into something.
It was not unlike the way that George Lucas made his recent Star Wars prequel trilogy. Lucas put on the screen what he felt was, in many cases, the minimum he could get away with showing and expected fans to supplement their viewing experience by reading the assorted novels and comic books that are dedicated to secondary characters and plotlines. The problem, of course, is when a character arc or plot point is mostly developed off-screen but its payoff is on screen. The only ones in the theater who cared were the ones who waded through the "Expanded Universe" materials; everyone else was generally oblivious to why something said or done to this person or that person even mattered.
Still, Senator Biden was able to articulate his campaign's positions fairly well. His poise and demeanor suggested that he was quite sincere when he said that it was a pleasure to meet Gov. Palin, and there seemed to be some resistance on his part to really give her a political thrashing, much to the consternation of the audience that tuned in for just that. Instead, Biden gave us the high principled, experienced debator who shunned those opportunities to play to a vicious audience.
Governor Sarah Palin
Opening last weekend's Saturday Night Live was a sketch in which Amy Poehler (as Katie Couric) interviewed Tina Fey (as Sarah Palin). At one point, Poehler/Couric pointblank asks Fey/Palin, "Would it be fair to say that when you're cornered, you become increasingly adorable?" That moment was unavoidably brought back to mind as Palin bounded through the debate, smiling and winking to punctuate every other sentence--even the attacks on Senators Obama and Biden. The enthusiasm was undeniable, and quite welcome in a political climate too often dominated by the Dick Cheneys of the world. Gov. Palin was expected to prove herself completely in over her head last night, and while there are nits to pick, she acquitted herself nicely.
Throughout the first half hour or so, Palin was remniscient of the cheerleader in high school debate class. Part of the class just wants her to fail because she's not expected to do well, part of the class is amazed that she seems to know what she's talking about to any degree and the rest of the class is just staring. Because, you know, she's a cheerleader. Gov. Palin did not demonstrate a mastery of any particular topic, but she succeeded in her main objective and that was to come across as competent (enough) and likable. She directed her statements at the "Joe Six Packs and Hockey Moms" of America, and succeeded in identifying herself as from that segment of the population.
Much was made prior to the debate that the moderator has authored a forthcoming book about Senator Barack Obama. Her questions were mostly softball questions for both candidates; they were like the questions dating games ask interviewees. "What's your ideal night out?" "What do you find romantic or sexy?" "What would a guy have to do to impress you?" The political version are questions like "What is a longheld belief you've had where you have changed your mind?" or "What would you say is your achilles heel?" In fairness to Ifil, the VP position is not as pertinent as the President; all voters really look for in a VP is the sense that, if it came down to it, we could live with him or her for a couple of years.
She did try to resurrect Jim Lehrer's question of what impact the bailout plan would have on delivering campaign promises. Perhaps Ifil felt this was the question journalists most wanted answered, or that by getting an answer out of either Biden or Palin she would get to rub it in Lehrer's face later. It was a waste of time when Lehrer would not let go of it with Obama and McCain, and an even greater waste of time when Ifil tried to pass off asking it of last night's debators as though she were pursuing some great point that these four debators have conspired to evade.
Fans of Political Drinking Games
Download the Vice Presidential debate via iTunes.
Sarah Palin Rules
Take one shot for each time she calls John McCain or herself "maverick"
Take one shot for each time she tells Joe Biden she "respects" him or his family
Take one shot for each time she responds to charges that her party's way of doing things is to blame for our current woes by saying "You're focusing on the past"
Joe Biden Rules
Take one shot for each time he says he "loves" McCain
Take one shot for each time he uses the phrase "sound the alarm" (any tense will do)
Take one shot for each time he invites either Palin or the audience to go to his neighborhood
Warning: Do NOT try to take shots between those called for by the rules in the early part of the debate because you're not getting drunk fast enough.