When Titans Clash

OK, it was more like "When well-known people in suits recite talking points that vaguely disagree," but even so, I couldn't NOT watch the Biden vs. Palin debate tonight.  I'm a speech teacher, for pete's sake.

Palin did very well, I thought.  She looked composed and attractive, but the slightly severe black suit kept her from appearing too much like the "Caribou Barbie" she's been accused of being.  She looked at the camera a lot, which I would expect a former sports anchor to do. (I liked the shout-out to the third-grade class back home, but couldn't she have updated us on the score of the Phillies game?)

Somewhat disappointingly, there were none of the disastrous failures she's shown in her interviews--no awful admissions of ignorance, no problems with going blank on questions.  Of course, she didn't bother answering several questions, preferring instead to launch into comments about subjects she'd obviously prepared for, such as energy policy.  She did mangle a few lines:  "There's a toxic mess on Main Street affecting Wall Street," for example, or "I'm not one to attribute every man-made activity to climate change," which is almost exactly what she told Katie Couric, and it didn't make sense the first time, either.

Oh, and while "McLellan" is indeed the name of a general in the United States Army, as Palin noted, he is no longer on active dity, as he was fired by Abraham Lincoln for failing to assault the Confederate Army with sufficient vigor.  His statements on the current situation in Afghanistan (once they arrive via Ouija Board) should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.

Especially in the early going, Palin looked almost unwilling to answer a question directly.  Later she was better about that, but her chirpy folksiness got a little twee at times; I was halfway expecting her to invite Biden over for some rhubarb pie and a tall glass of lemonade after he and the rest of the menfolk finished raising the barn.

I'm also still trying to figure out how the McCain-Palin ticket will be about change and reform without looking at the past.  Especially when she said several times that there have been blunders in the past and that they will learn from those blunders.  Especially when she kept referring to McCain's track record, which was established, I'm pretty sure, in the past.

Most alarming answer: that Palin would seek to expand the VP's power.  I think we're far enough down Dick Cheney Boulevard already, thanks.

Most pleasantly surprising answer: that Palin supports allowing equal visitation rights and contract protection for same-sex partners as well as opposite-sex partners.  It's not full recognition of gay marriage, but for someone on the religious right, it's at least a start.

Biden, meanwhile, was almost entirely playing defense here, trying to respond only to the more egregious falsehoods, otherwise sticking to the talking points.  He wouldn't let Palin out-middle-class him, that's for sure.  He got in one good dig--"the ultimate bridge to nowhere"--but was for the most part thinking strategically: it's our election to lose, he seemed to be repeating to himself, so let's not lose it tonight.

He didn't rise to the bait when Palin said the Obama plan for Iraq was "a white flag."  He rebutted the claim that Obama voted against funding the troops, but Biden showed admirable discipline on several occasions when I can only imagine a lot of pols--John McCain, for one--meeting perceived insults with anger or sarcasm.

As a result, he came off as a bit dull.  Interested in the details, professional, confident, and calm, but dull.  Then again, calm, confident detail-oriented professionalism has worked well for his running mate, so maybe it'll work for Biden, too.

He also carefully referred to Palin as "Governor" wherever possible, while calling McCain "John" wherever possible, avoiding the trap of seeming condescending to her, but also giving himself the appearance of having a strong disagreement with a dear friend on most policy.

All in all, I'd rate it as a solid base hit for Palin, as I thought last week's presidential debate was a hit for McCain.  Unfortunately, their campaign right now needs more than just hits--they need home runs, or egregious errors on the part of Obama and Biden, and so far, they're not getting what they need.  I'm satisfied with Biden's performance tonight; he did a very good job of maintaining plate discipline, and that may be what wins the game in the long run.

Final thoughts:

1) On MSNBC, Pat Buchanan said he thought Palin had "mopped the floor" with Biden, and that she was an exciting and attractive" candidate.  Rachel Maddows deadpanned, "So we have boring and right versus exciting and wrong."

2) Palin said "Ahmadenijad" repeatedly without any of the trouble her running mate had; is it so bad for me to want her to stop saying "nucular"?

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 2, 2008 8:57 PM.

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