I offer no special insight into the mind of the American voter, but here are my thoughts on the debate in no particular order:
- This is the first Presidential or Vice Presidential debate I’ve watched all the way through. I’m not doing it again.
- Neither candidate screwed up monumentally.
- I still believe that these appearances are basically worthless.
- Both sides’ talking points get really old, really fast. Biden’s faux-populism, his goofy anecdotes about Scranton, Wilmington, and every Home Depot in between sound completely phony to my ears.
- Palin’s kitchen table talk was worse. She didn’t reach her previous nadir, but some of those answers were clearly strung-together from disjointed talking points; at times, she barely made sense.
- How do voters evaluate candidates’ competing claims on complex legislative issues? When Palin says Obama voted for a bill and Biden counters with a procedural argument, does that make any difference? How high is the public’s explanatory threshold?
- One of Gwen Ifill’s questions – “How would your administration differ from your principal’s if you were forced to take over?” – was pretty interesting. Biden dodged it completely, but Palin gave a substantive answer on her disagreement with McCain over drilling in ANWR.
- Biden, I think, was smart to direct most of his attacks at John McCain.
- Palin’s answer on anthropogenic global warming made no sense. If climate change isn’t man-made, what’s the point of putting regulations in place to reduce carbon emissions? It’s not like we can do much to alter “natural climate cycles.”
- If I hear Palin fall back on another variation of “McCain’s a maverick, damnit!” to answer a question, I may retch.
- Both candidates spent an inordinate amount of time professing their love for Israel. I found that slightly disconcerting.
- Biden argues like a college policy debater (“My A subpoint is X, my B subpoint is . . .”). He also tends to get lost in the weeds and lose the central thrust of his argument.
- Biden really enjoys talking about his own accomplishments. It sounded like he had to make a concerted effort to tie his themes back to Obama’s candidacy. Who’s at the top of this ticket, again?
- Two minute time limits suck. I’d prefer a more free-form, back-and-forth format that allows candidates time to elaborate on previous arguments.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
- Even after Iraq, interventionism remains the default position for both parties on foreign affairs. Joe Biden came off as particularly aggressive – I’m pretty sure he called for NATO intervention in Lebanon and Darfur. As for Palin – well, Pat Buchanan assures me she’s not a “neocon” . . .
- Biden should just admit he was wrong to vote for the Iraq War.
- I found Palin’s “wave the white flag and surrender” line incredibly obnoxious. What, exactly, constitutes victory at this point in the game?
- Watching Sarah Palin criticize Obama for noting that American troops and warplanes have inadvertently killed Afghani civilians was the low point of the night. Clearly, Obama’s statement is a factual assessment of the difficulties facing American troops in Afghanistan (it also happens to be a salutary reminder of the limits and consequences of military force), but Palin didn’t hesitate to score cheap political points. I thought it was incredibly callous to dismiss Afghani losses like that.
The Bottom Line: Palin performed adequately given her extremely low expectations. But a decent debate appearance wasn’t going to change my opinion on her suitability for the Vice Presidency. Her best lines came off as canned and memorized, and when she stumbled, she sounded totally incoherent. Biden’s phony populism was also pretty obnoxious, but his command of facts and figures manages to obscure some of his crazier ideas (deploying NATO troops to Lebanon?!?!!). For whatever reason, Biden also projects a tangible air of authority.
In response to an official blog query, the girlfriend quoted Lucky Jack Aubrey: “In the service, one must always choose the lesser of two weevils.” For the purposes of this debate, Biden was the lesser weevil.