Before and After Impressions
Sen. Joseph Biden
The Field House
St. Louis, MO
9:00 p.m. Eastern
I don’t envy either of them. On one side there’s Sarah Palin, only a month ago thrust into intense spotlight and unending scrutiny, worried that the success of her ticket and, to a lesser degree, the long-term prosperity of the conservative movement in America relies upon her performance in tonight’s debate before an estimated 52 million viewers. On the other side there’s Joe Biden, walking a tightrope between strength and condescension, worried that his tendency to misspeak could lead to trouble.
Neither of them should worry.
This is a debate. So long as Biden doesn’t call her “sweetheart” or pinch her behind as they walk off stage, he’ll be fine in that regard. Speaking from his [wrongheaded] knowledge on matters of foreign policy and beyond, it may be a difficult balancing act for him to come off as knowledgeable and aggressive without going overboard, but this is a debate with high stakes, and people rightfully expect Palin to hold her own. In terms of his tendency to eat shoe leather, he need not worry, either. Just like when he said his helicopter was “forced down” in Afganistan, or when he said that he was “shot at” in the Green Zone, or when he said that FDR was president of the United States when the stock market crashed in 1929, or when he said that he had top-level meetings with Iranian officials, or when he admitted that he didn’t know we get half of our electricity from coal plants, or when he asked the disabled, wheelchair-bound state senator to “stand up,” if he sticks his foot in his mouth tonight, the mainstream press will just dismiss it as “Joe being Joe.”
Sarah Palin, on the other hand, should come right out and explain that she’s not going to be perfect. Anything out-of-step that she says will be magnified and intensified by the press just as some of her admittedly poor answers to Katie Couric’s questions were. Then, she needs to speak from principle.
I worry that Palin has been over-handled. In those Couric interviews, and to a lesser degree when she sat down with ABC’s Charlie Gibson, she looked stiff. Palin is a woman with clear conservative principles, much more so than the man on the upper half of her ticket, and if she has a chance to relax, to take two seconds before answering each question, she should be able to speak from those principles to make her point as only she can. Palin is charming, she has a sense of normalcy about her that speaks to a great deal of people in this country. Of course, she needs to brush up on the intricasies and ins and outs of foreign policy (it’s pronounced Ah-Ma-Dinner-Jacket), but so long as the McCain camp allows Sarah to be Sarah, I think she’ll do just fine.
It’s natural, I think, to want to meddle. Even today, McCain publicly stated that PBS’s Gwen Ifill might be the wrong choice as moderator, telling the folks at Fox & Friends, “Frankly, I wish they had picked a moderator that isn’t writing a book favorable to Barack Obama — let’s face it. But I have to have confidence that Gwen Ifill will handle this as the professional journalist that she is.”
Truth be told, it is very unfortunate that the moderator of tonight’s debate has a vested interest in the success of Barack Obama. I mean, heck, her book is to be released on or around Inauguration Day, and depending upon who wins in November, it will either be on the display at the front of your local Borders, or on the clearance shelf.
Still, I’m glad that McCain hasn’t attempted to strong-arm her removal — for two reasons: First, Evidence suggests that information about her book and its release date was indeed available at the time the McCain organization signed off on her role as moderator. Secondly, if Ifill was removed, who would replace her? Tom Brokaw? Chris Matthews? All journalists have a bias, some are just better able to be objective when needed. Tim Russert was the gold standard for that. At least with Ifill in the moderator’s chair, America will know that she is biased should she somehow fail to be as objective as she has proven to be in the past.
All in all, it will surely be interesting to watch. I wish I had time to write more, but will hopefully have a chance to do so after all is said and all is done. In the meantime …
So, Sarah Palin is a downhill runner. In my opinion, she seemed understandably nervous at first, and may have even trailed for some of the first 45 minutes of the debate as she struggled to stay on topic, taking questions about the bailout and turning them, repeatedly, to talk of energy policy. Although, knowing that energy policy was not going to come up later, it might not have been a bad idea to work it in where she could. Also, admitting that she wasn’t going to answer Ifill’s questions as asked was an interesting move to say the least, but her talk of personal responsibility rescued her otherwise so-so performance on the economic issue. Reinforcing the idea that we should not live beyond our means was a necessary veiled attack on the excesses of Capitol Hill and undoubtedly a manifestation of her conservative principles.
When she asked to go back to talking about Afghanistan, however, when she said “say ain’t so, Joe” and went after Biden for looking in the past and harping on the Bush administration, it became apparent to me that she was finally gaining her sea legs. She turned out, as I said before, to be a downhill runner, and as the topics proceeded from foreign policy to Washington politics she seemed to do an excellent job relating to the people on the other side of the television.
Biden did a nice job as well, though he looked extremely tired. The format, which did not allow for the candidates to directly address each other, probably saved both from an embarassing moment or two, and definitely allowed for Biden to be aggressive without looking condescending. For me, his attention to detail and numbers was fine and appropriate, but he may have come off as a little too wonkish for Main Street America. I wasn’t taking notes, but a few factual issues came to my attention as being a little mixed-up from Biden — unlike what Biden suggested, John McCain did NOT vote for the tax increase on those making $42,000 and up; unlike what Biden said, Obama DID say that he would sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions; and unlike what he maintains, the vote to authorize action in Iraq was indeed a war resolution. Still, all that aside, Biden did a nice job toeing the line between strength and condescension, and turned out a decent performance.
Furthermore, given previous concern elsewhere, I should say that Gwen Ifill also did a very nice job — I may not buy her book, but she was the consummate professional and certainly did not do or say anything to jeopardize her journalistic credibility.
Overall, it was apparent–especially at the beginning–that Palin was waaaaay over-handled. Toward the end, however, it seemed as though a little bit of Sarah Palin emerged from behind the curtain of overcoaching and overpreparation. There, she did extremely well. Just as I thought John McCain had problems with the economic angle of his first debate with Barack Obama and recovered nicely toward the end, Palin did the same. All in all, she held her own–even including the troubles at the beginning–against a guy who has been in public office since 1972 and who ran for president three times. Others, like Michelle Malkin, are thrilled. I see where they’re coming from, even though my enthusiasm is there, but a little more measured.
Just as I wonder whether the sub-par interviews with Katie Couric were intentionally done to reduce expectations among the superficial independent, I wonder whether her expectations-exceeding performance tonight will be enough to rekindle the waning enthusiasm on the right.
Overall, a Palin win. She held her own, scored some points, and managed to connect with the folks on the other side of the television.