Thursday, October 2, 2008

Live-blogging the debate

The stakes are allegedly high for the Vice Presidential debate, which is interesting because usually they aren't. In most Presidential elections the Vice-Presidential debates are soundly ignored. It is significant from a purely political-science perspective that the VP nominees and debate are such a reputedly important factor.

So far I'm not impressed with either side. Both have fumbled quite a bit, and missed obvious opportunities to score big points. Both seem somewhat over-prepared and somewhat stiff, but both have also managed to avoid any major stumbles or gaffes so far.

Joe Biden has repeatedly employed a typical debating tactic that's particularly popular in the US Senate: vigorously assert things that are patently and provably not true when you know you can't be called on it or contradicted before its too late. (Like "Barak Obama warned of the financial crisis".) Sarah Palin has not made too many clear and unequivocal points, even on issues that should work well for her, like energy policy. Both sides badly fumbled the subprime mortage issue.

There's a lot of really suspect information being put out, but not a lot of serious blows being landed by either side. It's like two half-blind boxers swinging at each other, but mostly connecting with the air. Also they claim to agree on quite a bit of stuff - stuff that Biden and Obama mostly voted against, like tax cuts.

Biden is going on about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - really arcane wonk stuff. Palin is talking about counterinsurgency in Afghanistan - she sounds well prepared here.

Both sides are really lost in the weeds.

Gwen Ifill is calling Biden out on recommending intervention in Darfur. Biden is talking about Bosnia... Unfortunately I doubt Sarah Palin knows the "McCain in Bosnia" story. Biden says he wants a no-fly zone in Darfur - that's really out there. Palin has scored a few points about Biden's previous criticism of Obama and support of McCain.

I think Joe Biden looks younger and Sarah Palin looks older than they actually are - I'm not sure who that benefits. They are of very different generations - actually two generations apart - neither is a baby boomer.

Joe Biden just said it would be a national calamity if he became President. Very modest!

I'm not very inspired by either side. Both Palin and Biden have been excessively focused on tactics and not screwing up, and neither side has appealed effectively (as far as I can tell) directly to the American people.

Biden got choked up talking about worrying about his kids... probably very few Americans know that his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident shortly before he was elected to the Senate. I wonder if the media will point out that incident- - that will be interesting to see. It was for sure the most emotional moment of the debate.

My experience with these things is that sound bites win, and I think Sarah Palin has scored more sound bites. Joe Biden definitely came across as more human and humble. It will be interesting to see how it is spun.

The bar was somewhat high for Sarah Palin - if she stumbles it would probably be the end for John McCain. So far she hasn't made any major mistakes that I've seen.

They're in their closing statements now... Palin going first. I think she should have said more about John McCain in Vietnam... overall the McCain campaign hasn't used that subject perhaps as much as they could have. I don't know what that means.

Joe Biden ended the debate on a high note with a prayer for the troops.

Gwen Ifill did try very hard to be neutral - to the point of leaning the other way. That was pretty widely expected, I think.

Overall, it was a pretty friendly and congenial debate - I don't think either side wanted trouble.

What will it mean? My impression is not that much.


vince said...

Palin didn't screw up, so that was good. Initial polls (for what they're worth) seem to show Biden came out of the debate better than Palin, but that Palin did better than expected.

I could have done without the "shoutouts." And these "debates" really don't show me much.

I do think this debate will stem the fear and calls for Palin to be dropped after the disastrous Couric interview.

Eric said...

One bit of punditry that I agree with: the VP debate was essentially a tie, and (because of the lowered expectations) a tie goes to Palin for the debate--but for the campaign the tie goes to Obama.

In other words, while Palin did better than expected, she didn't change the prevailing trends of the campaign to date, and the prevailing trends are that Obama is polling strongly in states he needs to swing while McCain is, for instance, pulling stakes and moving on in Michigan, where he thought he had a chance before the economy tanked.

That doesn't mean it's in the bag for anybody--a lot can happen between now and 11/3, and the polls may prove not to mean anything. But, at least for the moment, it looks like the only person Palin helped last night was Palin--she didn't flame out as she was expected to, but it's unlikely she convinced anybody she was ready to step into the President's shoes in an emergency or that she was a sign of sound long-term judgement on McCain's part, either.

Also: no major body blows landed because both sides stuck to their expected (and recommended strategies). Palin stuck to her talking points--the conventional wisdom being that she flails when called upon to improvise. And the conventional wisdom was that Biden shouldn't attack Palin or appear to be condescending to her--and you'll note he basically was debating John McCain last night, rarely referring to his opponent onstage at all. (Related: many pundits suggested Biden shouldn't refer to Palin as "Sarah" because it might sound condescending, and you may have noticed that while Biden referred often to "Barack" and "John" and even himself as "Joe," the only time he called Palin "Sarah" he actually corrected himself: "Sar--Governor Palin...," he said at one point.)

Eric said...

Sorry, 11/4, I meant. :-)