Thursday, October 02, 2008

Palin avoids imploding during VP debate

Did Governor Palin's performance change the outcome of the election? Almost certainly not, though she probably did succeed in getting the attention back on Senator McCain. Her answers were obviously much less spontaneous, and accordingly less substantive, less revealing, and generally less related to the questions Gwen Ifill posed. In fact, the debate may have been overshadowed by the revelation that the McCain campaign has written off Michigan, and will even continue running ads there.

Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK)Both candidates foreshadowed their strengths and styles for the evening handling the very first question, Biden gave a fairly soft answer when asked had the previous week been DC at its best or its worst, but Governor Palin essentially ignored the question altogether to assert that McCain, who had championed Wall Street deregulation, nonetheless had warned people "two years ago" that something bad might be looming.

What came through from Senator Biden was the sense of a man who genuinely grasps the enormity of the dual crises facing America: the meltdown in our economy and the damage to our standing in the world that the policies of the Bush administration have wrought. Biden was considerably more willing to show himself to us, while his opponent's agenda was clearly to echo now-familiar talking points wrapped in folksy colloquialisms – a sort of blending of the styles of George Bush and Ronald Reagan.

Biden did seem to gloss over that the time-tested Republican campaign theme of "lowering taxes" which has not by any means strengthened our economy during the Bush administration. So perhaps casual viewers looking for bright spots in Palin's performance will buy her assertion that a vote for McCain isn't likely to continue current policies even though Biden did once basically dare her to name one way in which McCain offered any real change. We're left to wonder if gosh-darnits meant to sound like Reagan are sufficient evidence of a viable Vice President or not. As a strategic goal, distancing the McCain~Palin ticket from Bush and Cheney is obviously prudent, yet speaking at a tactical "in the limelight" level, Sarah Palin mispronouncing nuclear in the same way that George Bush does surely emphasized her similarities to our increasingly unpopular President.

When Ms. Ifill asked how a VP might change the partisan posturing that we associate with Washington politics the two answers were markedly different. Biden's story about being given a come-uppance and his resulting lesson about not judging another motives rang with credible humility. Palin, on the other hand, after suggesting the secret was in selecting political appointees without regard to their politics (that's a trifle naïve, I must say) then immediately launched into a highly partisan smear as she made her appeal to voters to pick Republicans to return to the Oval Office.

Who dealt with the questions better?

Senator Joe BidenPalin dodged the question when both candidates were asked about their weaknesses. Biden was forthcoming, whereas the Governor clearly launched into talking points. Asked about policy issues they'd had to change on during their careers Biden admitted to giving up his original ideal about selecting judicial nominees based solely on temperament and intellect, learning there was reason to consider "judicial philosophy" as well. Palin cited not vetoing budgets when she lacked support. In other words she'd learned she couldn't dictate from a minority position, which frankly sounded like she didn't understand the question although it's a good lesson.

Biden did have the upper hand in the exchanges about taxes. The Governor was obviously in talking point territory on that topic, while Senator Biden clarified and debunked those points and how they relate to wage earners under $250,000, regardless of if they are small business owners or not. A format that allowed longer responses probably would have provided Biden the opening to talk about how tax cuts haven't been creating jobs lately, but the rules for the VP debate cut down the intervals each had for speaking in comparison to the Presidential events, and that frankly worked in Palin's favor.

Well moderated evening

Any questions or concerns about Gwen Ifill's impartiality as a moderator have been erased by her style of presenting both with similarly sticky questions – and letting both hear both questions before replying when the two were different, such as on challenging the Governor to explain why she'd said she didn't know what a VP did ("it was a joke") whereas Ifill noted Biden had been quoted as saying he'd never be a VP (which he didn't actually have to address, since Palin wanted BOTH to be seen as jokes - Sarah let Joe off the hook.) Ifill had moderated the vice-presidential debate between Republican candidate Dick Cheney and Democratic candidate Senator John Edwards during the 2004 debate, but her as-yet-unpublished book had been the source of some hand-wringing among certain pundits during the 24-36 hours before the debate.

One outstanding quandary for those who were paying close attention to Palin's talking points is how to reconcile her assertions about getting government out of the way with such statements as being the first Governor to form a climate change sub-cabinet. That's not exactly a small-government approach, although it did allow her to nearly deflect questions about what causes climate change. Biden, of course, was quick to point out that while it's all well and good to talk about avoiding finger pointing, yet it's hard to solve problems if you don't know what the cause is. Perhaps his best shot of the night came early on when he likened McCain's proposals to tax health care benefits while deregulating the health care insurance system as a "Bridge to Nowhere."

Republicans can relax, she passed.

Still, it must be said, Governor Palin was much better prepared for this than she had been for her interviews with Katie Couric, and surely exceeded the expectations of many who watched the debate. Did she win? Not in the traditional sense of providing substantive answers related to the questions. Yet political debates are not judged solely by that standard, and since she likely didn't drive conservative voters away she also didn't lose.

If the standard is which candidate presented a person ready to be one heartbeat away from the Presidency, a question Ifill asked about, Senator Biden's more thoughtful, spontaneous familiarity with the national policy issues outshined the Governor's repeated references to Alaska as an energy producing state. There can be little doubt in the minds of the voters that the Obama~Biden policies will diverge sharply from those in force currently, whereas based on Palin's performance, (which didn't meet the level she attained reading her acceptance speech at the RNC,) a vote for McCain~Palin is, indeed, a vote for more of the same.

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McCain pulling out of Michigan

According to Jonathan Martin at The Politico, John McCain is throwing in the towel and ceding Michigan. He will go off TV, discontinue all mailings, and pull almost all of his staff. He has also cancelled a scheduled rally there next week. According to recent polling, Obama has opened up as much as a 10 point lead over McCain in MI. For more details on the Republicans stunning decision to cede Michigan more than a month ahead of the election, see The Politico.

Sarah Palin Distracts Voters and Journalists With Her Legs

This video shows that Alaska Governor and GOP hopeful VP Candidate uses her legs to gain an advantage. But we Democrats must undertand that we're all gaining from this process -- eventually people will get tired of the whole deal of seeing her legs and vote for Obama = Biden.

See this on CNN iReport.

Senate Version of Bailout Bill Passes 74 to 25 - House Next

The U.S. Senate passed the new version of the Bailout Bill 74 to 25 votes. And while credit markets have not recovered all the way -- about 70 percent -- from Monday, at least it's not going to crash as it did that day.