Palin fans will bleat otherwise, Tina Fey fans will be disappointed, but by every objective measure Joe Biden beat her in the vice-presidential debate.
Forty-six percent of the uncommitted voters surveyed say Democrat Joe Biden won the debate, compared to 21 percent for Republican Sarah Palin. Thirty-three percent said it was a tie.
Overall, 51 percent of the debate watchers said that Biden did the best job in the debate, while 36 percent gave the nod to Palin.
In the end, the debate did not change the essential truth of Ms. Palin’s candidacy: Mr. McCain made a wildly irresponsible choice that shattered the image he created for himself as the honest, seasoned, experienced man of principle and judgment. It was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.
I thought Palin really suffered by comparison to Biden in discussing foreign policy. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and while she avoided gibbering, I found her reliance on talking points, and accusing Biden of counseling “surrender,” to be more than a little maddening.
And he won by following the same tactics which Obama used to win against McCain – steadfastness in the face of patronising, lying chaos. By remaining calm, by attacking McCain instead of her and daring to answer the questions put to him when Palin didn’t, Biden came across just as we’d hoped – sympathetic, human and someone entirely suitable to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Not so Palin, with her overly folksy manner, jabbering corny nonsense instead of giving genuine replies, even winking at the camera at one point. Where she traded on her being a parent who could understand the worries of ‘hockey moms’ and ‘Joe Six-Pack’, Biden played his trump card:
A very different sort of unanticipated moment took place during the debate. Biden said, “I know what it’s like to be a single parent raising two children.” He did not know if his sons would survive the auto accident that took his wife and daughter. For a moment, he lost his composure. Looking at the moment again here I believe, as I did at the time, that it was genuine emotion, and not stagecraft.
It could not have been anticipated by Palin. The next camera angle was above and behind her. She paused. The silence seemed to anticipate words of sympathy and identification from her. But Biden had ended in a sentence using the word “change,” and her response, reflecting no emotion at all, cued off that word and became a talking point about McCain. This felt to me, at worst, insensitive and callous. At best, that she had not fully heard Biden. In either event, her response troubled me. If a man had responded in that way to such a statement from a women, he would be called a heartless brute.
Nothing happened to change the equation in the opinion polls – Obama continues to surge ahead, despite all the mud which McCain (and now Palin) try to throw at him. Palin spoke to the Republican base, but to noone else, and the polling and reaction since has borne that out. Biden on the other hand spoke on principle, with passion and with humanity and noticeably was talking beyond his base. Yes, he floundered a bit on the same sex marriage question, but did say something very important:
“Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.”
As opposed to Palin’s (expanding same-sex benefits to the nation):
“Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that’s sometimes where those steps lead.”
Are identity politics everything? No, of course they aren’t. But I can’t conceive of voting for a ticket which would deny me equality before the law. And I don’t accept that Palin has any advantages of any kind over Obama in terms of experience – it presumes all executive experience is good experience; as we’ve learned with still-president Bush, nothing could be further from the truth. A couple of self-confessed ‘mavericks’ trumping what Obama & Biden have to offer? I don’t think so. Nor do most other people.
Video of the debate can be found here.