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.