October 3, 2008

Palin v. Biden: Few Surprises in the VP Debate

Joe Biden - Sarah Palin, Debate 2008Image by earthpro via FlickrSarah Palin headed into last night's debate hoping to prevent a disaster. The debate came on the heels of several awful performances during various interviews, many of which made her appear moronic - far worse than simply unqualified. The number of American voters who believe she is qualified for the presidency is in decline, and many prominent conservatives are calling for her removal from the GOP ticket. More and more people are convinced that she has become a liability to McCain's campaign. Against such a backdrop, an overwhelming win was expected for Sen. Joe Biden. So how did it turn out?

In the days leading up to the debate, I have heard all sorts of scenarios proposed by various pundits. With expectations of Palin so low, even a mediocre performance could be heralded as a win. Others predicted that a serious enough crash and burn might evoke sympathy, especially if Biden came across as a bully. And then there was speculation that she might not show up at all. Prior to the debate, the first of these scenarios struck me as the most likely.

In watching the debate, I focused on what I consider to be some of the more important questions the American voter should be asking about Sarah Palin:
  1. Is she like George W. Bush in the sense that she's a reasonably intelligent person who has managed to play effectively to the disturbingly large segment of voters who vote for whichever candidate most reminds them of themselves, or is she truly a moron? (Please don't interpret this to suggest that I do not believe George W. Bush to be a moron.)
  2. Is there any evidence that she has some genuine curiosity about the world and how it works, or is she as opposed to stepping outside her small world as she has seemed during her interviews?
  3. Is there anything about her performance in the debate to suggest that concerns about her qualifications - or lack thereof - have been overstated?
Well, she did show up. So much for that scenario. Could her performance be considered a victory? I'm sure Republicans will claim victory, but I found myself feeling more than a little embarrassed for her - probably not a good sign. Biden, on the other hand, was very impressive.

Here are some aspects of the debate that stood out to me:
  • Like McCain during the first presidential debate, Palin simply would not respond to the link between conservative economic policy and the current economic crisis. She has been told repeatedly that John McCain is some sort of reformer, and she dutifully repeats this at every opportunity, relevant or not.
  • As I said previously, there is something nauseating about someone referring to oneself as a maverick. Still this was not nearly as bad as the constant parroting of talking points and the many irritating references to "Joe six pack," "hockey moms," and the like. Trying so hard to be folksy in this manner manner really made her come across as dumber than I expect she really is.
  • Palin respects Biden's years "in the U.N. Senate." Oh boy!
  • Biden does like to talk, as expected, but I thought he generally came across as calm, competent, and pleasant. His patience must have been tried, and I'm envious of how he managed to avoid breaking into uncontrollable laughter at many points.
  • Palin acknowledged that she may not answer the questions but was there to "talk to the American people." Somebody in the campaign might have wanted to inform her that this was a debate.
  • Palin believes that "government is the problem." Do we want another leader who believes this, or did we learn anything from Bush about electing someone who does not think that government can or should work?
  • Palin seemed to have a surprisingly poor understanding of McCain's record. She repeatedly attacked Obama for voting the same way McCain did. I figured she would know her running mate's record very well by now.
  • Palin insists that she is "tolerant," but says that she does not support gay marriage. Biden says he and Obama don't either. Doesn't sound like there is much tolerance on this stage to me. I'll never figure out how anyone can argue that two consenting adults should not be free to marry.
I could go on and on. This was a fascinating debate that reflecting many fundamental differences in Democratic and Republican values. It was also a showcase of Palin's awkward and nervous presentation, light on facts and heavy on the same talking points you've been hearing from her so far.

But what about my three questions? I think she really is a moron. And no, I'm not trying to be silly here - I find her absolutely terrifying. I saw nothing approaching curiosity, as she seems rather proud of her narrow worldview. As for her qualifications, she dug even deeper into the hole she's already in. Not only did she provide no reason whatsoever to think that she is qualified for either the presidency or vice-presidency, but she actually left me more concerned about what would happen to America under her leadership. I honestly didn't think that was possible.

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