I have to be honest here, I was thoroughly unimpressed with both of the American VP candidates. But especially with Palin. Biden’s intense “don’t mess up, don’t pick on the girl” tactics were definitely smart, but not exactly the way I want to see politics run. The pundits and analysts were all saying he had to be incredibly careful about this, because the American public didn’t want to see him coming across as intimidating Palin in any way or anything. So he was deferential, always calling her Governor Palin (despite her constant reference to him as “Joe”), he never directly engaged or corrected her, despite several clear mistakes (like her mistaking the name of the current commanding General in Iraq).
In fact, if you were watching carefully, he rarely made eye contact unless he was smiling and, at the end of the debate, he made sure to come around the podium but remained standing and waited for her to come to him and shake hands. Why is this important? Frankly, because he was coached to do that. It’s common knowledge that when Hillary Clinton was running for Senator of New York, her rival Rick Lazio made one huge mistake. At a debate, he walked over to her podium and presented her with a petition to sign. Bad, bad move. The public thought that he was attempting to physically intimidate her with his larger frame and aggressive demeanor, so Biden had to stay far, far away.
Biden did do a reasonable job at coming across pretty seasoned and knowledgeable. It was evident that he knew his foreign policy quite well (as well he should, considering just how long he was in the Senate). I was frankly dissapointed by his brutal tapdance around the gay-marriage question, and he leaned towards brilliance when asked about Darfur and when exactly the US should intervene…but then quickly retreated.
Still, all this was better than Palin’s performance. It was hands down one of the worst campaign performances I have ever witnessed in all my years. She was 99% charm and 1% knowledge, even stating that she wouldn’t answer the questions asked she’d just talk “directly to Americans”. Her folksy “aww shucks” attitude was a brilliant political maneuver, because it did appeal to regular Americans. But how anyone could fall for her blatant avoidance of all the questions is beyond me. She just straight up refused to answer anything, and tiptoed around every possible issue she could think of. When asked about the same Darfur issue, instead of discussing anything she lapsed into Bush-speak, calling America a “shining example” and a “beacon of hope”. This type of language should have been left behind, because demagogy is an embarassment to politics. The American public should have learned their lesson after the Bush/Rove tactic of using exactly this same type of language to distract from major issues.
Palin had few flashes of decency in this entire exchange, tossing out tirades against government and constant references of how she and McCain are ‘mavericks’. And, I’m not making this up, she actually winked at the camera and also gave a shout out to her brothers third-grade class. Both, while cute, are not befitting a vice-presidential candidate. And yet somehow the New York Post thinks Palin won the debate and that she also belongs to the class of great communicators like Reagan and Bill Clinton. Frankly, she doesn’t. Her Katie Couric interview debunks this claim definitively. But still, she wasn’t all bad. She did have poise and confidence and didn’t crumble during the debate as many predicted she would. But then again, she didn’t really answer any questions, and moderator Gwen Ifil did a piss-poor job of following-up and pressing any of the candidates. Obviously she was afraid of being accused of bias, since she has a book coming out on inauguration day about black political progress (of which Barack Obama is a big part).
The most memorable part of the debate for me was Palin’s quick and confident answer to a part of the Darfur issue. Palin claims she was instrumental in getting the Alaska Permanent Fund to divest itself of investment in the Sudan because she didn’t want to be seen as condoning what was happening there. Not a bad statement in and of itself, except that it was a bold-faced lie.
NBC’s Saturday Night Live series did a pretty decent job lampooning the debate. Check it out here.
Leave your comments and let us know what you thought (and feel free to disagree with me).