Friday, October 03, 2008

VEEP Debate Scorecard

My quick take on VP debate (click graphic on the right to enlarge):

Governor Palin surpassed the abysmal expectations after the Couric debacle, but was too canned and at times, I thought, disrespectful to Senator Biden/Obama in her tone and attitude. Some call her "spunky," but I found her a bit arrogant and lecturing last night, as well as incredibly fake. While she can clearly deliver a talking point, she obviously does not have a solid or deep grasp of the issues, particularly when forced to think on her feet beyond the talking points and memorized lines. The weirdest part of the debate was when she would simply ignore a question and blatantly jump to some other, unrelated, talking point she had memorized or had on notes in front of her. Really strange. And some of her mannerisms, like winking at the camera, were laughable, I thought, and not exactly presidential. The most interesting thing, from my vantage, about Palin was the decision to speak directly to the camera for most of the debate and to play up - ad nauseum - her "Jow Six Pack-ness." It was probably a good decision, given the alternatives. Yet, I found the "you betcha's" a bit annoying after awhile and not exactly what I am looking for from a VP, let alone a President. Can you actually imagine her sitting across the table with an ally or enemy trying to negotiate an arms deal, a peace treaty, a global warming agreement, etc? I can't either... Palin apparently won some likability points in post-debate polls on this "folksy" approach, but I don't see it making much of a difference in the election. This isn't 2004. I think issues matter more than this personality stuff. But, again, she exceeded expectations, went toe-to-toe with Biden a few times and avoided an obvious major gaffe, so she and the McCain campaign are probably ok with the result, though now that more scrutiny is being given to some of her answers, more criticism is emerging. But, hey, she is playing wth a pretty weak hand on the substance and that is on McCain.

As for Biden, I thought he also avoided the obvious pitfalls and was really quite masterful on a lot of the policy issues. He wasn't patronizing, arrogant or condescending at all and didn't prattle on as he is prone to do. He was forceful and passionate, serious-minded and learned throughout. And, he was human at the end when discussing his family. In some ways, Biden was the straight man to Palin. Most, I am sure, tuned in to see her, not him. As such, she dominated "the spotlight," but, Biden acquitted himself very well, overall, I thought. Clearly, on the substance and issues, he is in a different league altogether than Palin. This guy can clearly step in and be president. It was wise to avoid direct engagement with Palin's silly record and recent foibles and to focus instead on McCain's record and positions. He was very effective and really devastating at several points and this is where and why I think he "won" the debate. The election is ultimately about Obama and McCain and this debate did absolutely nothing to change the reality that McCain is simply and demonstrably on the wrong side of every major issue in this election. I particularly liked some of his comebacks. For instance, when she accused Obama of raising taxes, Biden came back well with a discussion of "fairness" in the tax system. When she attempted to attack on foreign policy, he had perhaps his most powerful response which was to say that he saw no evidence to date that McCain's policies were any different than Bush on a host of issues. And, when she mentioned McCain's $5,000 health care rebate to citizens, Biden's retort was devastating, pointing out that to fund that, McCain will TAX everyone's health benefits and that, in the end, some 20 million Americans will replace a $12,000 health plan with a one-time $5,000 check! Very good stuff, to the point and effective.

So, for those of you scoring at home, here is my card:

- nominal win for Palin in that she did not crash and burn and was a hell of a lot clearer articulating the Right position than the guy at the top of her ticket. Exceeding terrible expectations is a victory, of sorts.

- win for Biden for the reasons above

- win for Obama in that Biden was excellent on the issues and in nailing McCain and Palin did absolutely nothing to change the core of this campaign, which is about the real issues facing our nation and the world.

- Thus, this has to be seen, in the long run, as a loss for McCain. The whole Palin pick was, like so many other desperate moves he's made recently, a stunt. He got his initial burst from it, but now that people know who she is and what she is about, she is sinking fast. Last night stopped the bleeding from the Couric embarrassment, but didn't really change anything major. Clearly, McCain himself does not have the issues on his side, nor does he have the political skill to defeat Obama on his own. Thus, he needs one of these stunts to be the "game-changer" he must have to get back in this race, let alone win. This VP debate was one MAJOR opportunity that might have done that, but clearly did not. So, it is a loss for McCain, in my book.

If you go around the web and look at the initial reaction from viewers and in the first wave of polls, Biden clearly won. As I wrote, Palin's "likability" numbers went up, but Biden's command of the issues won the day with many more viewers and more people said they were more likely to vote Dem afterward than vice versa.

What did you think?

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