Normally, I would have written this post last night, but as it turns out, it was almost impossible to do any writing at The Patriot’s event last night at Trocadero’s. In a way, that turned out to be a blessing, as it got my head out from behind the laptop screen and allowed a greater focus on the debate itself, as well as the crowd of hundreds that came to Trocadero’s to watch it with the Northern Alliance Radio Network. And I can tell you that the crowd had a great time watching this debate.
VP debates usually feature two people attacking two other people who aren’t on stage. In this case, we could make that three people. Joe Biden did a good job in carrying the Democratic talking points last night, attacking both George Bush and John McCain and making the case that they’re one and the same. Biden actually did a much better job staying on point in this regard than did Barack Obama in his first debate, sticking with it all evening long. Biden delivered a good performance in the debate, sounding authoritative even while telling whoppers, such as the claim that NATO had driven Hezbollah from Lebanon, a flabbergasting moment from someone whose strength is supposed to be foreign policy. Overall, though, Biden delivered a competent performance, as he almost always does in debates.
However, that simply wasn’t enough. Sarah Palin demonstrated both the wisdom of adding her to the ticket and the folly of the McCain campaign’s press bubble for the last four weeks. Palin was confident, assertive to the point of aggressive, knowledgeable, and open. She repeatedly went after Biden, which is not usually a tactic seen much in VP debates (candidates usually attack the presidential nominees), and Biden had no answer for Palin. On foreign policy, she offered good answers, made only a couple of rhetorical stumbles in segues when she wanted to change the subject, and delivered an exceptionally fine performance.
In fact, Palin had an answer ready for the entire Democratic strategy of tying McCain to Bush, exposing it as a tiresome and empty allegation:
PALIN: Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. …
No, in fact, when we talk about the Bush administration, there’s a time, too, when Americans are going to say, “Enough is enough with your ticket,” on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game. …
But for a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there’s just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that’s where you’re going.
Biden then attempted to bluster his way through a response, using a “past is prologue” excuse, but essentially proving her point. The Democrats have run their 2004 campaign all over again as the anti-Bush ticket, this time with a less-offputting nominee. Palin has been the only person in this campaign to effectively make that point.
Moreover, thanks to the media reaction to Palin on the basis of her interviews with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson, expectations had been set rather low. Biden and the Democrats talked about her experience at debates as a way of raising that bar, but one has to doubt whether Biden really believed she could play on his level. He seemed flustered at times — at one point tugging on his collar as she attacked him, to the delight of the Trocadero’s crowd. Even without those low expectations, she beat Biden — and the nation got a look at the real Sarah Palin.
Will this boost McCain’s standing in this race? I think it will, and I thought that even before I saw the Frank Luntz focus group. McCain needed this debate victory tonight, and it may restart the Palin phenomenon, just in time for the final stretch of the election. This time, though, the McCain campaign has to get Palin out in press conferences, interviews, and contact with the people. She’s sharp, able, and energetic, and she could win this election for McCain if he would just let her.
Update: I want to thank Jazz Shaw for moderating last night’s chat room, and his take on the debate is here. Bottom line:
Point to Palin for the race from me. The pundits will tear the individual statements apart for weeks, but Governor Palin not only beat expectations, but beat Biden fair and square.