The One and Only Vice Presidential Debate

The hype around the debate last night was more interesting, in my mind, than the actual debate.  Yes, in many ways, it was historical with Sarah Palin being the first woman to be nominated as her party’s vice presidential candidate.  Yes, there was a black woman as moderator.  I didn’t think either of these items was worthy of the print it got from the Associated Press.

There was the pre-debate questions surrounding Gwen Ifill as the moderator.  Ifill is scheduled to release a book on January 20, 2009 that is entitled:  The Breakthrough:  Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.  The McCain campaign said they did not know this when Ifill was approved by both campaigns as moderator of this debate.  That may well be and it may be that, in the interest of full disclosure, Ifill should have told the Commission on Presidential Debates that the book was coming out.  I have to say that I never doubted for a minute that Ifill would be a professional.  I was not happy with her reactions to Sarah Palin’s convention speech but we all slip up occasionally.  Ifill had had her slip up and was definitely professional.  I did not, for a minute, think that the questions last evening favored one candidate and the top of that ticket over another.  I did, though, worry as Ifill did her opening statement as she was very formal in introducing Palin but did not even put a title in front of Joe Biden the first time she mentioned his name.  The worry was unnecessary.

I found Palin asking permission to call Biden Joe as they were greeting each other a huge mistake.  The mic was on and everyone heard it.  It could play one of two ways.  First, he is old enough to be her father and she felt that he deserved the chance to allow her to call him by his first name.  The other way was an unsureness, an insecurity.  If you are in the business world, you call your peers by first name.  You don’t need to ask permission.

On the issues, I rate them in the manner below.

Bailout Bill – ooops, rescue bill – This topic went to Biden.  He was there to vote.  He could site campaign line on it.  Palin did better to connect to the average voter when discussing this topic.  She could have done more to point out what the ticket wanted to do to fix it, maybe even pointing out the imperfections in what did pass the Senate.

Vice President bridging the gap of polarization in the Senate – This one goes to Palin.  Biden pointed out that he has done this his whole career.  He then took on the comments made by John McCain about the fundamentals of the economy being sound.  Please look below for some additional Biden comments.  Palin not only defended McCain.  She did so with spirit and pointed out that Barack Obama was a party line voter 96% of the time since coming to the Senate.

It was during this exchange over polarization that I decided Biden was being condescending.  He was not making eye contact with the camera.  During rebuttal time, he was talking to Ifill, not Palin.  Palin looked right at Biden as she went to defend McCain’s statement.  She looked directly into the camera and spoke to the voters in the auditorium and watching on television.  Biden did not do this as well.

Subprime Lending Mess and Fault  – This topic went to Palin, because of what she said but could easily have been a tie because of what she did not say.  Palin connected with the people on this.  She talked about predatory lenders, deception, greed and corruption on Wall Street.  Her biggest points of the night, in my mind as I have been looking for a politician to say something along these lines, came when she discussed personal responsibility, how we as individuals and Americans have to take some responsibility for what has happened and for learning lessons from it.  Biden pointed out that two years ago his running mate warned of the subprime mortgage mess, whereas McCain was always for cutting regulations.  Biden took this into health care briefly, saying McCain would also like to do the same deregulation to that area of your life.  Palin rebutted with talking points about tax relief and government becoming more efficient and doing with less as the people are.  She should have come back with bits about how Obama had to know what was coming with subprime mortgages as he had, as a community organizer, sued Citibank under the Community Reinvestment Act in 1994 to force the bank to make bad loans.  He did this as a partner with ACORN

During the exchange after this questions initial response, Ifill cut off Palin, saying time was up.  Of course, Ifill had learned from Jim Lehrer that she had to do this if she wanted to get in more questions than he did.  I was concerned that she was doing so with Palin but she also cut off Biden later in the debate so was well within her rights as moderator to do so.    

Class Warfare – This issue was a tie.  Biden said it is called fairness in his part of the world to give the lower and the middle classes a break and tax the wealthy more.  The reason for a tie here is a statement Biden made that I will have to look into more.  He did not just reiterate the ticket’s line of 95% of people would see tax relief.  He said 95% of those making less than $150,000 would see relief.  This is different from what Obama says daily.  He also said that the wealthy would pay no more in taxes than they did under Ronald Reagan.  Usually, Obama says that the wealthy would pay no more than under Clinton.  Palin stated that the $250,000 threshold would hurt millions of small business owners, thereby hurting job creation and the economy.  She also discussed the McCain health care plan here and that is it budget neutral.  Biden actually sounded condescending as he started his rebuttal – saying he didn’t know where to start.  He said he, and those in his neighborhood and the neighborhoods he grew up in, don’t call a redistribution of wealth and taxes fairness.  He also stated that 95% of small business owners make less than $250,000.  I am not sure if he realizes what a business owner makes is not the same as what he pays taxes on.  He, then, went on to say that the McCain health care plan was going to ultimately cost the health care consumer money and was the “ultimate bridge to nowhere.”

What promises can the ticket not keep that are being made – This issue goes to Biden, not because he actually answered but because he used the topic better.  He spoke of items that the campaign is promising and which would be slowed in implementation and which would not, could not be slowed.  Palin ignored the question.  I was totally dismayed that she would mention that she has only been at this five weeks.  That is not an excuse.  Not that I want to defend Joe Biden, but as a vice presidential candidate, he has only been at this thing six weeks.  Palin needs to get away from talking points and be herself.

Changing Bankruptcy Laws Last Year – This one is a tie.  Palin said that last year she would have supported the changes but that things have changed since last year.  Biden and Obama voted differently on this item.  Biden went back to subprime in his response and that bankruptcy judges have to have more flexibility to help consumers stay in their homes.

I think that this was about the time that Palin’s performance started to decline.  Her answers seemed to become more unfocused.  It was like the time was too long.  This is also the point in time when I started to think the debate was too long.  Neither candidate was telling me anything I was looking for regarding their ticket and I kept asking how much longer.

The debate did go on and I have about another eight pages of notes.  Unfortunately, like my lack of attention last night, I have a lack now.  There were some interesting exchanges on foreign policy and I will make a second entry on the rest of the debate as I have other obligations now.

Just what is a debate?

Okay, I went to the dictionary. The synonyms for the word debate in the noun format are argument, controversy, disputation, contention. I guess I am way off, then, in saying that the recent “no rules” debates held on CNN are not what they should be.

I delved further looking to see why I always thought debates needed rules. My thoughts did not come just from the feelings that I thought the “debates” I had seen lately were disasters. I can watch adults argue at work or kids argue in my kitchen. I don’t need to watch television for that and I definitely don’t need to watch a political debate for that.

Seems competitive debates are for high schools and colleges. These involve rules and judges. This does not necessarily mean that political debates need rules. It would be nice, though.

Will the GOP Candidates Learn Anything?

Okay, I know the election is well over 500 days away still. I also believe that this is way too early for 8 (if Mike Gravel is still in things) Democratic and ten to twelve GOP candidates to be debating and campaigning already. And, as is with the placement of nominating conventions, placement and timing of debates and forums (just what the heck is the difference?) is crucial.

Last Monday – I think, as I have been sitting here figuring I would type about this for a while – the Democrats held the CNN/YouTube debate. All eight candidates, potential candidates were there. Hopefully, not only to know what the opposition was saying but to get a feel for the exact type of debate it is, the GOP faithful were watching.

This debate asked the questions that the average news caster/moderator shys away from. It asked questions that put candidates in hard spots. The main reason for the hard spots is the questions asked, 99% of the time, would personally affect the person asking the question. It is hard, even if over a video link, to look at the cancer patient who pulls off her wig as she is speaking of health care and not be concerned for her personal well-being.

Unfortunately for those asking the questions, answers to debate questions do not normally have personalized answers. The answers need to see the big picture and take into account all sorts of personal situations. Unfortunately for the candidates, this makes them look like they don’t care in most cases.

The GOP candidates will have their shot at the YouTube format in September. Several political items will have come to pass by then – a report/update of the status of the Iraq troop surge, a straw poll in Iowa – and a lot of current events that were the topics of the day for the Democrats will most likely have faded to the background (not that they should) – infrastructure underfunding, occupational safety and hazards.

The Democratic candidates, with the exception of Mike Gravel and I am not sure why, also had a forum at the AFL-CIO convention last evening. This particular forum was only broadcast on MSNBC and was unique in that it gave the feel of a political rally – despite Keith Olbermann’s (the irony of a former ESPN anchor moderating a debate at Soldier Field in Chicago was not lost on me) attempts to keep the crowd quiet. There were set questions and then questions from union members. While the GOP candidates are not likely to be invited to the AFL-CIO convention to a forum, I am certain that there were lessons to be learned from last night.

John Edwards had a person in the stadium to help point out his health care initiatives. Unfortunately, he could talk about the person but the cameras were not warned, or else, were not set up to show specific audience members.

As I mentioned, Mike Gravel, who has provided a certain comedic relief with his brisk answers and ways in previous debates, was not at this forum. I am not totally up on politcal news so I don’t know if this means he has dropped out of the race or he was not invited by AFL-CIO leaders to participate.

Dennis Kucinich managed to routinely, throughout the forum, whip the crowd into an applause frenzy – much to Olbermann’s dismay and disbelief that they would disobey the “rules.” He also sounded much like the Democratic candidates of old who were union chosen, back in the day when the union could pick the candidate.

Hillary Rodham Clinton played on her being a female for all to see. I found it rather amazing that she thought saying “she was their girl” – paraphrased, of course – was a good statement. She did, though, sound much more presidential than others on the stage – from my years of loving to watch The West Wing, having the “presidential voice.”

All in all, neither of these two debates/forums should have helped anyone make up their minds as to who the best candidate is. It is still way too early for that. The timing, in contrast to when the GOP will at least follow with its YouTube debate, should have provided valuable lessons for those GOP candidates that were willing to watch and learn.