Report on the October 2, 2008 Biden-Palin Debate
As seen from Lexington KY...and a few other places.
Report written October 3, 2008, 8:00-10:00 am
Prior to the debate at 9 pm eastern time October 2 between Vice Presidential candidates Senator Joe Biden (D) and Governor Sarah Palin (R), I emailed a wide reach of friends and family across the country and asked for a brief statement about what they wanted to see, were expecting to see, etc.
Peggy Renwick, in a New York State Barack Obama stronghold, replied that she and her friends and colleagues were watching the debate "mostly for the entertainment value."
Sylvie Lambert, in Ottawa, Ontario Canada, replied: "I'll be switching channels between our debates and your debates. They were scheduled ON PURPOSE on the same night!!!!"
Kathy Follett, on Long Island NY, was ferocious: "So tonight will Sarah Palin be able to bat her eyelashes and look bullied if Joe Biden contradicts her? I call that "stepping on baby bunnies." I hope he smashes those bunnies into the ground."
Holly Nolting, in Golden CO, said: "I wish Katie Couric was hosting - she makes the lass nervous, obviously."
I then headed to a Debate Party that I signed up for via the BarackObama.com Web site. It was held in an apartment on the south side of Lexington KY. There were three attendees, including me. (Lexington is one of two locations in KY along with Louisville that went for Obama in the primary, so the small attendance was not an indicator of anything in particular.)
Our hostess was Bonnie Detzel; also attending were Wrensey Gill and myself. Wrensey, black male, white collar professional and Air National Guardsman, was the youngest, in his thirties. Bonnie, was a white female, white collar professional, in her 40s. All of us were strongly, strongly pro-Obama-Biden.
Before the debate began, Wrensey and Bonnie discussed the roles they felt that President Barack Obama ought to give to Senator Hillary Clinton: Cabinet position, thirty years on the US Supreme Court. For the debate, Wrensey wanted to hear, from Palin, "specific positions and vision"; the same for Biden, and he also expected Biden to "eat her alive." I said, "She (Palin) is very slick and facile, and she'll look really good and shiny compared to Biden, and then the wolves will go after her tomorrow."
During the debate, we watched very carefully the reactions from the "Undecided Ohio Voters" scrolling continuously at the bottom of the screen, and after a while began to predict an up or down in their reactions based on the words and themes that the candidates were using. Wrensey felt that men were reacting more positively than women to Palin's responses, and said that meant McCain would not be gaining the new women votes he had hoped for by selecting Palin as his running-mate. Bonnie noted that after the first time, every time Palin said, "maverick," there was a sharp downturn in both male and female Ohio reactions. You can see that this small audience was very alert, very well-informed, and totally focused on the debate.
We soon noticed that Palin was not answering the questions as asked, and that Biden was scrupulously doing so. Palin kept shifting the topic away from the questions asked so that she could respond with - and then repeat, during the rest of the debate, in various combinations and permutations - the themes she wanted to get across. Our audience of three did not like that, and very much preferred the specificity and depth of Biden's short, sharp, precise, fact-laden, on-topic responses.
Our group cheered when Biden said that Obama and he supports assistance for homeowners in the present crisis, by allowing adjustments to both interest and principal on troubled mortgages.
Wrensey said, "I don't mind paying taxes as long as the government does what it's supposed to with it - let's use our taxes to help people pay their mortgages [not to bail out Wall Street fat cats]."
We liked Joe's talk of "Fairness," in response to Palin's apparent leftie-baiting by her use of the word "redistribution."
A couple of times, when Palin was talking herself into a hole of vagueness and answer-dodging, Wrensey or Bonnie would say, "Get her, Joe!" But Biden would let it go, or the topic would close. There was a bit of overall disappointment that Biden did not go after Palin on her many misstatements and fogginess, but we understood that he did not want to look like the aggressor male.
I enjoyed how Biden would blast one of his bright smiles at Palin in a friendly, positive way when she was speaking, but otherwise kept a sober and noncommittal expression. Palin picked and picked at him and he did not budge except for that moment when she seemed to be implying that he did not understand the woes of working women and mothers; at which he had her.
Biden invoked the terrible tragedy in his past, losing his first wife and almost his sons, and said that we was upset that anyone would imply that he did not know what it was like to be a single parent. He choked up, and the camera went to Palin, who did NOT respond appropriately, rushing into a litany of "maverick" boosts for McCain.
After all the hand-wringing beforehand about an aggressive man beating up on a defenseless woman, it was Biden who got the "sensitivity" points. Go Joe!
We enjoyed Palin's skirting the question about causes of global warming, and Biden's unequivocal response, "It is all man-made." Go Joe! Also Palin did not seem to realize that due to Bush-Cheney, the US is trailing, not leading, on actions taken in response to global warming. She said more than once, "We need to bring the rest of the world along with us on this" Yoo hoo....get out much?
After Palin managed to dodge all around the lamppost about whether or not she would even support equal legal rights, let alone marriage, for same-sex couples, Wrensey had to admit, "She's GOOD!" (at dodging). (I was disappointed that the Biden-Obama ticket cannot support same-sex marriage.)
Exit strategy from Iraq? Dodged.
"Joe, that's just a white flag of surrender" - when Palin said that to Biden in response to his measured, specific list of how the Obama-Biden administration would disengage from Iraq, etc, I think that is when Palin seriously lost the interest and support of the Ohio undecideds. That response made it clear that she is really only a hockey-mom pit-bull with lipstick and stuck eyelashes.
While we continued to listen with great acuity and total attention, after that point it was just dodge dodge and reiterate the tired campaign themes from Palin, while Biden continued to reply to the questions with deliberation and skill, in deep, measured detail. A good word for what he demonstrated is gravitas, and that is what we need.
Liked how Biden repeatedly linked "McCain and Cheney."
When Palin confidently said that "sure" she supports diplomacy, but not talking with "the Castro brothers" and other dangerous leaders, and that we need sanctions out there before we sit down to any tables, Wrensey cried out, "She is arguing for diplomacy without talking?"
Yet again, Palin shifted away from a question about Bush Admin accomplishments in the Middle East to "Change is comin'!"
While Palin picked on Biden, he did not reply in kind, and at no time was he baited. When the debate was winding down, he finally replied indirectly to her vacuousness by saying, "I haven't yet heard, how will McCain be different from Bush? I haven't yet heard..." and went into a list of things he "had not yet heard," by implication, from Palin. It was very skilful. While she jumped all over him, this was the only time he even indirectly jumped back.
Palin said this: "McCain knows how to win a war." While I wondered, "What war was that, exactly?" Bonnie noted the plummeting Ohio response and said, "People are tired of hearing about McCain's war experience."
There was one trick question, no doubt about it, and Palin went right after it and fell snap into the trap, saying that she "agreed with" Cheney's "flexible" view of the Vice Presidency. I could hear the media bloodhounds baying in the distance.
At the close of the debate, I anticipated a rousing review of the debate but at first got another thing entirely.
Immediately the families filed up on the stage, and there was the Palin teen daughter carrying the sleeping baby on her chest. And that is what we discussed for the next ten minutes: what a mother owes her children. Bonnie felt very strongly that Palin is being very unfair to her teenage daughter by laying that baby on her literally and forcing her to parade her pregnancy in public. Wrensey and Bonnie went into an extended discussion of how a Vice President Palin would manage her family; Wrensey was certain that the family would be in Alaska with dad Todd, where the "family support network" is. Bonnie ventured with some humor that dad Todd would want to be in D.C. where the ratio of men to women is more equal than in Alaska. (I did not get to mention that I think that Piper Palin is a smart, cool, observant little girl.)
We finally wrested the conversation back to "Who won, who lost."
We all agreed that compared to her performance with Katie Couric, Palin had done much better in the debate. BUT! That was not saying much.
Wrensey said, "She avoided answering the questions and focused on three things:
• How to fix the present oil "shortage" and get more oil out of Alaska;
• Cutting more taxes;
• How McCain will single-handedly change the world and how great he is as a maverick."
Bonnie: "Sarah was a debate winner because she spoke one thousand times better than previously, but she did not meet the test of 'being a heartbeat away from the Presidency.' Joe was not as exciting, but he gave me the confidence that yes, he could take over in a heartbeat. He also added stability and depth of experience, and the common man approach that reflects his background."
Wrensey: "She did not win the debate. I wish that Joe had attacked her more; but he did not want to look like a bully, so he picked on McCain. When he did that, the Ohio undecideds responses fell. When he spoke about his positions, expertise, and about what he knew, that was great - and the Ohio undecideds' response rose. She stuck to the themes she wanted to get across and did not venture beyond that. He stuck to the issues and did not attack her personally. He did a better job than she did in getting ideas across."
I was thrilled at Biden's intelligence and depth and reflected yet again on what has been missing from government for the past eight years. I was pleased that Palin's superficial glamour and "spunk" did not dominate or "win" this debate, and was truly startled at Palin's lack of fact and depth. How did she get as far as she has?
Thanks so much to Wrensey and Bonnie. We three strangers were delighted to get to know one another!
Almost back to my apartment after the debate, I saw two Lexington neighborhood friends walking their dogs. I pulled my car up to the curb and shouted, "Who won, who lost?" They replied, "For the stupid people, she won. For the non-stupid people, he won."
From Beavercreek OH, I received this assessment sent by Roger Brucker at 12:43 a.m. on October 3: "After 90 minutes of working the phone bank at Obama headquarters in Beavercreek, OH, I went home to watch the debate. Many of my calls had been to undecided voters (code 3), but I heard great enthusiasm from those called for watching the debate.
Did the people want information, or winks and smiles and nods? I was looking for sharp darts and heard some -- the white flag of surrender, votes against our troops, maverick. I saw Biden at his gracious best correcting the record and answering the questions instead of trying to divert the response. In the end, most people thought Biden won and George Bush lost.
Telling moments for me -- when Palin wanted to invest the VP with more Cheney-like powers with the Senate, the constant call for victory in Iraq, and the call to look ahead and not play the blame game with the past. Those who will not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, goes the old wisdom.
I thought about the people I talked to on the phone. It seemed to me they wanted to hear plans and ideas, not see symbols of clutching a baby (at that late hour), waving a figurative flag to distract, and cute winks and nose wrinkles.
I personally hate phone banking, but this election is too important for me to sit comfortably while symbols of substance are presented as information. In the past I've been fooled by experts, but not tonight. Roger"
As for Kathy on Long Island, she reported: "I didn't see any particular bunny-ness on her (Palin's) part tonight, and Joe B. just answered the questions, no arguing with Palin and no need to. She didn't seem to know there was anything odd going on with Dick Cheney and the Constitution, I noticed." ##