We have arrived at perhaps the most anticipated televised political event in at least a decade, if not of all time: the Vice Presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin.
I’ll be liveblogging this debate to capture some of the highlights and to discuss my immediate reaction, just as I did last week for the first Presidential debate.
Here we go.
Mics on for the intro, Sarah in black, first punch: “Nice to meet you! Can I call you Joe?”
Q1: House does not pass the bill, Senate does. Best of Washington, or worst?
Biden gravelly but polite in intro. The worst is what’s happened the past eight years. Appears to be reading. Goes right into Obama talking points. Being extremely clear, but it’s canned. Good content.
Fundamental disagreement with Governor Palin? Focus on Middle Class.
Here we go. “A good barometer as we try to figure out is this a good time or a bad time?” Invokes a kid’s soccer game. “I betcha you’re going to hear some fear in the parents voice.” So far solid. Right from folksy into John McCain talking points, “sounded that warning bell.” Will be oversight, “thanks to John McCain’s bipartisan oversight.”
Q1a: Shrink the gap of polarization across partisan lines?
Biden kisses up on this question and steers back to the original question to slam McCain on the fundamentals statement. Sarah looks pleased as she is studying a talking point.
WOW, interesting – Palin: “96% of his votes are along the party line.” Masterful stroke to match the “90% with Bush” argument that Obama uses. And she winked at some point in there.
Verdict: Both staked out their ground, but neither fully answered the question. 2 points each.
Q2: Subprime: who at fault? Greedy lenders? Or… greedy buyers? (Let’s see who will choose that second option.)
Palin: “Darn right it was the predator lenders.” This is a realistic response – that lenders are responsible, but that the people must relearn their skills to manage money and live within their means. Effective, honest answer.
Biden questioning if “deregulation” is the real fix. McCain 20 times pushed deregulation, and plugged it for health care too. Another very effective answer.
This is so much better than the presidential debate.
I think outside of this venue the two of them would be drinking together! Except for when Palin accuses Biden of voting for raising taxes – he went from a wide, charming smile to a complete sourpuss. Can’t wait for the response on that one. Palin getting better at eye contact and staying away from her cue cards.
Biden … holy crap … he is the encyclopedia of Senate procedure. If by this “bogus definition” we are counting Obama to have voted for tax hikes, McCain did it almost 500 times. Very compelling narrative and rhetorical device – agrees with Palin, and then makes McCain look worse and implies she agrees with that too.
Palin scolds Biden for saying she didn’t answer the question – gets scary, and then points out all that she did as a mayor and governor.
Verdict: Palin’s original answer is probably the most honest thing we’re going to hear in any of the debates. But, Biden stayed on message and left his ticket in a stronger position. Biden 5, Palin 4.
Q3: Biden, why is raising taxes on the rich not class warfare? Palin, why is taxing employer benefits not taking things out on the poor?
Biden: “Where I come from it is called fairness – simple fairness.” Essentially, saying that the middle class is the worst off right now, and we need to help them the most. That’s why we have to redistribute.
Palin points out that those $250k+ cuts would also hit small business. Folksy charm about whether or not paying taxes is patriotic, because she and Todd are in that class. Biden looks like the ultimate charming gentlemen every time she goes to the folk place.
Now answering the question. Bad policy, but “budget neutral,” and points out that we wouldn’t want the government managing our health care after seeing what they did to everything else.
Biden saying his ticket’s policy isn’t “redistribution.” I think this is going nowhere. Except, 95% of small business owners are under $250k, so Palin’s point is invalid.
Oh yes. Biden explains how McCain will be taxing the health care benefit just to create the $5000 tax credit, just to pay health insurance. 20 million Americans dropped. “Ultimate bridge to nowhere.”
HOLY SHIT. That was the best math I’ve ever heard on television.
Verdict: Palin was clear, but didn’t do too much other than parse. Biden was clearer than even Obama was. Biden 9, Palin 5.
Q4: What promises can your ticket not keep due to the bailout?
Biden – cut foreign assistance. America: aw, shucks. Biden – oh, and we can’t cut taxes for the rich. America: darn. But, we’re not going to cut education and health care. Mentions the blinking time light. At this point I’m liking him more than Obama.
Palin skips the question to hit Obama on voting for the bill that gave oil companies a tax cut. Ties to what she’s had to do in Alaska to protect her people. This is a “get out of jail” card that she prepped for when she didn’t know what to say. Biden is going to win this question on default.
Ifill steers her back to question. “How much have I promised … I’ve been at this for five weeks?”
Biden protecting the energy bill vote – because it was for responsible energy. Explains ever-so-briefly why votes sometimes work like that. Then agrees with one of Palin’s policies – she got it right, and we want to do it, but McCain won’t.
This is riveting. They’re both very good at this so far.
Verdict: Out of all four candidates Biden is the only one who truly answered this question. Palin folked out of it the same way McCain drove around it, which makes their ticket sound fundamentally unprepared to manage the country in the wake of the bailout. Biden 13, Palin 6.
Q5: Palin, would you have supported the bill McCain did, to make it harder for mortgage holders to declare bankruptcy.
Parses, “unfortunately, I would have.” Que? Rearing the head of abuse? Clearly her tack when cornered is to promote McCain.
Ifill: Biden and Obama split their votes on the bill.
Biden: “it gets complicated; Obama saw the glass was half-empty, but I saw it was half full.” Discusses why you would vote that way, and how things have changed. Biden should teach congressional policy to kindergartners.
Palin cornered again, changes the subject entirely, back to energy – that’s not even the question?! But, she points out that states like hers should be able to take advantage of their resources to promote our energy independence, and that we’re funneling too much money into countries that don’t like us.
Verdict: They both actually answered, and though she initially fumbled Palin managed to switch gears to a valid message when slightly cornered. Biden 16, Palin 8.
Q6: Climate Change. What causes it? What fixes it?
Palin: “As our nation’s only arctic state … we feel and see climate change.” Seems to have physical problems with admitting that the change is partially man made. CAST THE DEVIL OUT, SARAH. Instead, says there is something to be said about cyclical energy changes on our planet. “But I don’t wanna argue about the causes.” Basically, doesn’t feel like answering the question?
Biden: “If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to understand the solution.” We don’t have enough oil to make ourselves independent by mining ourselves. We need fundamentally cleaner energy to build independence and jobs, and maybe even export. China is dirtying the air – let’s export the technology to fix that. “Drill we must, but it will take ten years for any drop of oil to come out of those wells.”
Ifill interjects to keep us on pace, because she is great.
Palin: Corrects Biden: “The chant is, ‘drill baby drill.” Palin, building a natural gas pipeline – clean green gas. Obama called “safe” offshore drilling “raping” the intercontinental shelf.
Palin supports capping carbon emissions. Biden supports clean coal, don’t take his ropeline comment out of context (misses chance to say: Sarah knows how frustrating that is!)
Verdict: Palin came off as an ass on the fundamentals of this question, but was saved by her foundation of energy credentials. However, Biden was crystal clear and on message. Biden 20, Palin 9.
Q7: Biden, do support as Alaska does, providing same sex partners with benefits?
Biden, unblinkly. “Absolutely.” Here’s where I begin to cry. Talks about how the constitution absolutely supports this.
Sorry, I’m crying here.
Palin, “Not if it grows closer and closer to redefining marriage,” as it sometimes does. But, don’t mistake this for me not being tolerant about the choices that adults make. Would not prohibit hospital visitations or contracts. But does not support redefinition of marriage.
Biden and Obama don’t support redefining marriage other – let’s leave that to faith. Biden, not afraid to say “gay” in a debate. Palin, goes there too.
Verdict: Both effective, Biden parsed less and promised more. Biden 23, Palin 11.
Q8: Both with sons in Iraq. What do you want out of our plan for withdraw?
Palin is glad for the surge against counter-insurgency. Glad for it, glad Biden called out Obama for opposing the surge. Palin has a plan for withdraw, but not early withdraw. I think her ticket always sounds more convincing on this point, even though I don’t agree with them. It’s an more easily defensible point. Palin stays impressively and passionately on message.
Biden “With all due respect I did not hear a plan.” Obama’s plan is the same plan as the Iraqi president and President Bush. The man left out is McCain. Again goes to the senatorial history place to explain how McCain and Obama effectively voted the same way. Parses that he agrees with Obama on what the want to do, which is start to place the responsibility on Iraq.
The stammering “yes/no” sort of mistake he makes are getting a little confusing.
Palin, “your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq.” Palin is firm in her counter-hit, still sounds pretty sure of herself. Again, pointing out that Biden is awesome for previously agreeing with McCain – a pity now he agrees with Obama.
This is so interesting – they’re both trying to create a coalition of agreement between the two of them and their respective candidate against the opposing candidate.
Biden goes to the family place very effectively, and then slams McCain on issues. “I love him; as my mother says, ‘god love him,’ but he’s been dead wrong.” Doesn’t know 700 years of history, of which Biden has memorized every vote and disagreement. Would also win in a spelling bee. Go ahead, challenge him.
Verdict: Powerful answers from both – being on the underbill allows them to agree across the stage and up to their candidate while leaving out the opponent, which makes some of their attacks more intriguing than in the presidential debates. I’d actually give Palin the edge, since she let Biden go to the specifics and then rebutted well. Biden 25, Palin 14.
Q9: Pakistan or Iran – which is more dangerous?
Biden: Pakistan already has weapons, already can hit Isreal. Scarier, probably, than Iran getting a weapon that can destabilize the reason. But, the seat of terror is in Afghanistan.
Palin: Both are scary, so let’s not answer the question! Because, everybody knows the seat of terror is in Iraq. Oh, hey, but let’s talk about the question again, because I know how to say the name of Iran’s leader. Repeatedly, if necessary. Clearly heading towards the preconditions place.
Ifill: Are the secretary of states wrong about engaging with our enemies?
The utter irony and hilarity of Palin saying anything about our respect for women’s rights cannot be overstated.
As this debate goes on, Palin is seeming increasingly more confident, and Biden is getting commensurately more confident in going after her responses. That’s what a good debate is! They’re so much more skilled at this than their partners.
Biden, again, is effective as an attack dog as a guard dog. Very believable, incredibly frank.
Ifill: What has this administration done right or wrong for Isreal?
Palin: “A two-state solution is the best solution.” I think she’s very assuring to the Jewish demographic here, but only if they swallow the two-state premise.
Biden: The best friend of Isreal. Hits Bush for making Hamas more legitimate by backing the election. He’s going to the policy-wonk place because he knows the people paying attention to this question are policy-wonks by the nature of their support. It’s a safe play?
Biden has to stop breathing on the mike. Palin admits there have been huge blunders, but thinks Obama’s ticket is pointing too much into the past. Is that helpful to capture the undecideds? Yes, they probably don’t like Bush, but is that what they want to here.”
Biden: “Past is prologue” to the story that will be told by a McCain administration. Trying to create a soundbite here, maybe succeeding.
Verdict: I’m torn on this one. I think Biden answered the questions better, but Palin fired off more ammo towards the casual viewer, and ultimately that’s the battle here. Biden 27, Palin 17.
Q10: What should be the trigger of our response to nuclear power?
Palin seems to go a little askew as she shuffles away from the answer, which she isn’t prepared for. Can’t speak to anti-proliferation, but can speak to saying Kim Jong Il’s name and Afghanistan, so heck, she will.
Biden I think makes a mistake for following her to the surge in Afghanistan. Better to disprove her, or better to answer the question? Hard to know.
McCain opposed the Nuclear Test Ban treaty. “John McCain has not been the kind of supporter…” and then switches topics. I wanted to hear the end of that question.
Clearly Biden’s play failed, because Palin brought him there because she was firm on that talking point. Hopefully he learned his lesson for the next thirty minutes.
Biden confused, on defensive. Retreats to the not enough money in Afghanistan place, points out that McCain thought Afghanistan succeeded as of a few years ago.
Verdict: Despite Biden’s brief flirtation with an effective answer, Palin managed to keep him on the run – on a topic where he should have dominated. Biden 28, Palin 21.
Q11: Senator, you have a history of being an interventionist. Is this something the American public has a stomach for?
“The American public has the stomach for success.” Talking about Bosnia – maybe losing some audience here, getting too specific? But, his point is that his intervention in the past has been used effectively. Biden is making the mistake of making this an Iraq question – IT ISN’T. Wisely, steers back to Darfur, Chad. This is the place to leave the question, because Palin isn’t ready.
And, predictably, Palin is hitting against Biden’s Iraq flip-flopping. It’s effective. But, she’s going to Darfur – “we can agree on that also.” I think she’s doing well. Talks about pulling Alaska’s money out of Sudan to make sure she’s not supporting genocide. A very effective, understandable answer.
Ifill: Should there be a line drawn?
Biden says there is a line, if they are killing their own people or endangering our own. Comes back to defend that he did not agree with McCain, who agreed with Cheney. “Lockstep.”
I just think this discussion is a mistake. Talk about looking back – why are we always debating this minutia of Iraq voting records? It’s never about the future.
Verdict: Pretty even here – Biden on experience, and Palin on her ability to work on the international stage even from Alaska. Biden 30, Palin 23.
Q12: A heartbeat away from the president – and you disagree with your candidate on some points. But, if your candidate died and you were the president, what would that be, and would it be different?
Biden, rightfully, hits Ifill for invoking the question in that nature, saying it was be a national tragedy.
Basically uses this to double down on Obama’s greatest hits, which he would – of course – continue to support. Mentions the Bush Doctrine (interesting to see if Palin chases it). The most important election you are voting in since 1932. “I agree with every major issue he has ever suggested.”
Palin, charmingly, says that as a team of mavericks they do disagree on some things, like ANWAR. A great way to answer, whether she prepped it or just thunk it up on the spot. “Reality from Wasilla main street.” Um, like, more crystal meth? Fire all of the people that disagree with you? I think I need to hear more about that…
Biden knows about main street too, and he doesn’t need a talking point to answer this question. I think that Palin has been somewhat ineffective on this – she sounds like she’s a little on speaking points, even when she goes for an anecdote. Biden, on the other hand, doesn’t really need speaking points for either.
FINALLY, education. Palin rhetorically makes out with Biden’s wife. Hilarious answer. It kinda sounds like she’s agreeing with Obama, seeing as McCain has no education platform to speak of.
Verdict: Again, both even, neither giving much up. Biden 32, Palin 25.
Q13: Question about discounting the Vice Presidency prior to their pick – Palin didn’t know what they did, Biden said he never wanted to be one.
Palin hilarious opens with a joke about how they were both joking at the time, with Biden joining in. I really think they like each other. Even when they disagree they seem like they’re having a great time. Palin knows what the VP does, especially in the Senate, and knows how she can be most effective elsewhere too, based on her prior experience.
Biden smartly slams education, ever so briefly, in response to Palin’s close on the prior topic. Barack has asked Biden to use his Senate expertise. Biden about giving advise, and Obama said he wanted to choose someone who would disagree. And Biden clearly knows how to do that.
Ifill: Do you believe, as VP Cheney does, that the VP is as much part of the legislative branch as the executive?
Palin shout-outs to the founding fathers, decries flexibility, stays away from specifics. I think she’s doing a good job of making herself likable, and you might argue she was already likable, but this is in a different way. Likable and well-spoken.
Biden: Cheney our most dangerous VP in the history of the nation. I think this is going over the head of the common viewer a bit. But, brings it back around to the Constitution, and how there isn’t really flexibility.
Verdict: Still pretty neck and neck, but Biden rebutted well on both the education point from the prior topic and the executive vs. legislative point. Biden 35, Palin 27.
Q14: Here’s the conventional wisdom of your Achilles heel (Palin: Experience, Biden: Discipline). Is it? And, if not, what is?
Palin is going to have to juggle on this one. Says she has experience, speaks to her strengths, her family, but doesn’t sound like she’s prepared to talk about a weakness. Instead, talks about “shining city on a hill,” et cetera.
Biden: “I’m not going to change – I’ve had 35 years in public office.” McCain voted against violence against women act. Biden brings out the story of his first wife, briefly, but effectively (some people might not know). Biden getting choked up.
I could watch these people talk to each other for an entire week. Ifill gives Palin a free play to keep talking. Palin talks about taking bipartisan fire and working across the aisle.
“He is the man we need to leave… lead.” There’s your soundbite.
Biden discusses the distinction between being a maverick over time, and the maverick on the major issues of this particular time. This is a great point. Obama should learn this one. “Not a maverick on anything that truly effects people around the kitchen table.”
Verdict: Palin spoke well, but didn’t say much. Biden answered and also did some extremely credible damage to McCain’s maverick image. Biden 39, Palin 28.
Q15: Can you think of a single policy issue where you were forced to change a long-held view due to changed circumstances?
Biden talks about judicial nominees, and how he shifted his approach to their approval. A honest answer, but maybe over people’s heads. Smart, though, because Palin can’t really respond to it.
Palin talks about budgets she “quasi-caved” in, but had to do to work with the legislation. But, she hasn’t had to compromise on her principles.
Ifill: Full-circle. Based on the debate this week, how do you change the tone to bi-partisanship?
Biden – learned not to question motives, just question judgment. Such a powerful answer.
Palin – you appoint people regardless of party alignment. Skirting this answer – does that mean she doesn’t feel the tone needs changing? She retreats to basic talking points. No one is really going to hit her on this one, but it’s one where she should be hit.
Verdict: Biden won the more scholarly angle on this one, and also nudged Palin on the simpler side of it. Biden 42, Palin 30.
Palin: “I like being able to answer these tough questions.” Makes her nonsensical comment about being edited by the mainstream media, but in this context it makes a certain amount of sense. She’s saying, “This is the real Sarah Palin. If you’re seeing a different Sarah Palin speaking with Katie Couric, that’s because they selectively edited me to sound like a moron.”
She says she had a good time, and I think she’s telling the truth. She was clearly instructed to make up for McCain never saying “middle” in his debate. Closes with a strong sell for freedom and for John McCain, as if they are synonymous.
Biden: Introduction is too circuitous – this is not going to play as well as Palin’s. But, ends strong, speaks for Palin, for god to bless our troops.
Ends with an adorable family scrum on stage. Can I just vote for a ticket of these two people? Biden and Palin are having a heart to heart in the middle of the stage, seem so very engaged with each other. It goes on forever while various spouses and kids mingle behind them. Biden loving Palin’s dad; Mrs. Biden not loving Palin quite as much.
Final Verdict: I wasn’t going to give points for closing statements, but I have to give Palin a +1 for having such a great prepared statement full of soundbites.
That leaves us at Biden 42, Palin 31 – which seems like a touch of a blowout, but really it was just Palin’s failure to really address the fundamentals of a handful of questions – Obama and McCain did the same thing. Realistically, she hung in well for the entire debate. Against anyone other than Biden she may have won handily.
Significantly, Biden is the real straight talk express. The man does not parse or lie – he is an encyclopedia of issues and facts, and he will outright say that he was wrong or that he disagreed with Obama rather than spending two minutes trying to build a narrative to explain away the inconsistency.
Equally significant for the general election, we were reminded that Palin can be very effective – in some ways the most out of all four candidates – at talking to the general population. It’s not because of her folksy charm, either. It’s that Palin truly is an outsider, and so she won’t go into talking points that would lose the average America. By that virtue, it’s absolutely guaranteed that everything she says is going to be understood, even if it’s ultimately not agreeable or credible.
I will not be surprised if the GOP converts Palin to Congress at the next possible chance and starts grooming her for 2016 or 2020. Maybe even a Clinton-esque move for her into a more prominent state?
In my 4-5 points per question format this debate had double the points of the first debate, so I’m going to half them in updating the overall total. I awarded McCain 18 and Obama 16 at that one, to which I’ll add Palin 16 and Biden 21. We currently stand at Obama 37 and McCain 34.
Personally, this debate just furthers my relatively tepid response to the two main candidates, who I have more strongly endorsed in the past. It really makes you think about the early primary period, where people like Biden were offered to us as a pick against Clinton and Obama. I think next time around I’m going to be paying a lot more attention in the earliest stages of the election to make sure I wind up with the candidate I actually support, instead of just the one who I hope will win.