Going into Thursday night's debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, some of the members of the Chick Flick club, a group of woman in Durham and Chapel Hill, NC, were feeling a little queasy. All avid Obama supporters, the Chick Flickers were worried that Biden might get careless with his words or that Palin's winks and folksy turns of phrase might once again wow the country. But not to worry. In the span of 90 minutes, the group fell in love with Biden's intellect and dignity and saw Palin reveal herself, once and for all, as a woman who has no business being a heartbeat away from the presidency.
The Chick Flick club was started several years ago by Susanne Freytag, a German-born, naturalized U.S. citizen who is a German instructor at the University of North Carolina. At a typical gathering, the group watches movies, often followed by martinis and intense political discussions. On this warm October night, the members and a few friends gathered at the home of Hillary Fisher, in Carrboro, NC, to watch the debate.
Though being of the same gender and political affiliation, the women are otherwise diverse, spanning a broad age range and professional spectrum. Fisher is the owner of a small business in Chapel Hill called "Modern Times," a dress shop specializing in funky chic. She has great clothes and two stores in excellent locations, but she considers herself among the "Main streeters," whose businesses are suffering from the downturn in the economy. The youngest person at the debate party, Alice Abed is an articulate, politically astute, 21 year old college student with an American mother and a Lebanese father. The oldest person is Ann Gerhardt, who describes herself as "a middle-aged Democrat" and a member of the "working poor."
The debate was underway a few minutes after 9:00 pm. There was consensus that Palin looked great walking onto the stage and started out strong, but her immediate reference to kids playing soccer seemed manipulative and received the first "boos" of the evening. Palin sounded confident and coherent, which has not been the norm for her in recent appearances. Biden seemed nervous and spent the first few minutes directing his answers to Gwen Iffel and not looking at the camera. After the first few questions, Fisher said she thought Palin was winning.
Then the tides turned. Biden hit his stride and made a very strong point about McCain's health plan being the "ultimate bridge to nowhere." That line earned screams of approval from the group. Biden started looking at the camera and hitting hard at McCain. The group liked Biden's rebuttal of Palin's repeated statement that McCain was a maverick. About 30 minutes into the debate, the crowd let out a big "whoop" the first time Palin mispronounced "nuclear," in the same manner made familiar by George Bush. Joan Healy, a public health professional said, "You shouldn't be allowed to have the responsibility for nuclear weapons if you can't pronounce the word 'nuclear.'"
Over the next 60 minutes, Biden showed his "stuff." The group liked his command of foreign policy and economics, his understanding of energy issues, his memory for the candidates' voting records and his stories of the neighborhoods he had lived in and the people who were struggling there. Biden's stories had a quality of being "lived," compared to Palin's stories, which often appeared to be made up. And, in one small but unforgettable moment of tearfulness, Biden revealed himself to be profoundly and genuinely human.
While many who watch debates look for the knockout punch, others look for a quieter moment that reveals a compelling reason why a candidate should hold the office he or she seeks. For the Chick Flickers, that moment came during the discussion about the role of the vice president. Joe Biden made it clear that he knows what the constitutional basis of that role is, respects it, and understands how Dick Cheney has abused it. The same could not be said of Palin, who did not seem to understand that the Constitution is "pretty darn clear" on the point; rather, she seemed to say she would be interested in expanding the role, perhaps in an effort to achieve the Palin/McCain presidency she spoke of a few weeks ago.
In the end, the group felt Palin recovered a bit from her failed interviews with Katie Couric, but came no where near close to showing America that she has what is necessary to be next in line for the presidency. The group was put off by the meandering answers, the winks, the frequent "heck of a lots" and "pretty darn clears" and the overused references to "mavericks" and "Joe Six Packs." Freytag said, "She thinks cutesy speech makes her relatable, but there were many times when even people who find her appealing wouldn't know what she was talking about."
Our youngest attendee, Abed thought Palin had once again presented jumbled up thoughts and said, "...the debate made me like Biden more. Palin didn't have much to say. She didn't ever really answer any questions. She'll get some credit because she said 'stuff' but it wasn't related to the questions she was asked."
Gerhardt felt Palin "acted like someone who was very well coached. She tried to say all the right words, but there was no context."
As for Joe Biden, well, a few minutes after the debate ended, several of the Chick Flickers spontaneously broke into what will forever after be called, "the Joe Biden dance." It seemed appropriate; after all, dancing is exactly what people feel like doing when they have just fallen in love.