Thursday night’s Vice Presidential Debate, moderated by Gwen Ifill and participated in by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK), was the most watched veep-debate in history. Everyone wanted to know if Biden could deliver the crushing blow to Palin that would end the Republicans’ hopes for the White House a month early. OFB’s Timothy R. Butler and analyst Jason Kettinger weigh in.
Timothy R. Butler: Both candidates offered worthy debate performances, but Palin clearly won. She not only managed to avoid a complete meltdown, she proved herself a worthy adversary to a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Senate.
Biden’s major weakness is that many of the McCain campaign’s primary attacks on Sen. Barack Obama are the same ones Sen. Biden used against Obama before he ended his presidential hopes in January. Citing Biden’s own positions about Obama’s naïveté worked to demonstrate the bi-partisan concern about Sen. Obama. Moreover, this approach allowed Gov. Palin to “generously” applaud Biden’s straight talk from the primary season that has now been conveniently swept under the rug.
Biden by all measures should have been able to win. Biden is a capable debater with far more experience than Gov. Palin. Conventional wisdom suggested this should have been another Quayle-Bentsen debate. However, Biden’s Achilles heel, remarks full of gushes of gratuitous gaffes, appeared again, as he tried to deny Obama’s dangerous statements from last year in support of presidential meetings with hostile leaders, such as Iran’s Ahmadinejad, without preconditions. These disturbing statements, made on a CNN televised debate, are well documented.
He also offered an extremely strained attempt to defend his apparent support of the Iraq war before he turned against it, a situation that might not have been quite so bad if he could have just brought himself to say he had been wrong. To borrow the best phrase of the night from Gov. Palin, there were plenty of times the viewer felt like remarking, “Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again.”
Biden suffered from a “beltway disconnect” that makes him seem isolated from the Heartland. The claim to be a defender of the middle class also rang hollow as Gov. Palin aptly pointed out that she was a member of the middle class (unlike the rest of those in this race). Who better to look out for the middle class than someone who actually has been and continues to be an average, middle class American?
Palin made her own set of gaffes, but generally they were more subjective in nature. Overpowering any marks against her for those were a surge of confidence and folksy presentation that harkened back to her nomination acceptance speech, or, perhaps, even Ronald Reagan, more than her recent, less than stellar interview performances. Anyone who doubts Palin’s abilities to adapt herself and think quickly has some serious explaining to do after last night.
One detractor imagined before the debate how Biden could hearken back to Bentsen’s famous put down of Dan Quayle, in which Lloyd Bentsen told Quayle he “was no Jack Kennedy,” by telling Palin she “was no Dan Quayle” – insinuating she was remarkably dull if not outright stupid. To the horror of these folks, Quayle comparisons came, but in a very different tone: they were remarks of how Palin was head and shoulders better than Quayle. She actually appeared to be a savvy, smart candidate. As the Governor said plenty of times during the debate, “Darn right.”
Jason Kettinger: Joe Biden sounded smarter than Sarah Palin, but he does pride himself on letting people know how smart he is.
He's flat-out lying about his position on the war in Iraq, and is hoping we don't notice. Anyone who has bothered to read the war resolution knows he is evading his responsibility.
He's not in a position to talk tough on Iran, either. The American Enterprise Institute recently noted the close ties between Biden and Iranian officials. The surge and attendant change in strategy is the single biggest challenge in making Obama's Iraq position palatable to non-Democrats. It remains to be seen whether their failure to acknowledge the surge’s success will cost them.
The supposed foreign policy expert also should have known that Lebanon has long been controlled by Hezbollah, and that U.S. troops have not been there recently, much less removed them. In addition, pray tell, how would an Obama-Biden administration be substantively different from the Bush administration vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians? Indeed, Bush should be commended here.
As with the McCain-Obama debate, last week, the economics portion was a wash Thursday night. I thought in terms of style, it was the worst debate I had ever seen. Both candidates took the liberty to avoid the questions, and issue stump speeches. Palin was worse in this regard. This debate cannot be scored.