Both candidates deserve extra credit
The Gaffe Machine versus the Empty Suit. Working class Catholic versus shotgun-totin’ evangelical. Scranton versus Wasilla.
No one really knew what to expect, and that made this vice presidential debate the most exciting in recent memory. Does anyone remember Cheney’s debate with Edwards? Does anyone even remember that Lieberman, now an Independent sprinting to the right, was nearly a Democratic veep?
I have to admit that my heart leapt into my throat when I saw Biden grip Palin’s arm during their handshake in a decidedly un-fraternal way. Was the man who called Obama the first mainstream, clean and articulate African-American presidential candidate going to slip up and fulfill the prediction that he’ll look like a sexist or a bully? Thankfully, Biden handled himself like a gentleman, albeit one who really enjoys grinning. A lot.
Palin brushed aside the negative expectations just as deftly. Was this really the same woman who shocked the nation with her incoherence and ignorance only a few days prior? I guess I’ll just have to believe my lying eyes, because Sarah Palin was on her game tonight. She effectively avoided any “deer-in-headlights” moments, and she even managed a throwback allusion to one of the most famous of Reagan’s beatdowns of Carter in the 1980 debates (“There you go again”). Whenever she became comfortable with the topic at hand, her natural charisma immediately shone through with a twinkle in her eye.
Still, I don’t think she showed a whole lot of improvement on substance. Her plan for Iraq: We’ll win! Withdrawing our forces would be “waving the white flag of surrender!” Nevermind that Maliki has endorsed Obama’s plan for withdrawal. Nevermind that General Petraeus himself recently told the BBC that he would never call the outcome of Iraq a “victory,” and that “it’s not war with a simple slogan.” I suppose that since we’ll never win, and Palin won’t surrender, we really will have to stay in Iraq for 100 years. I can’t imagine why Biden didn’t point this out.
Biden also lost out big on a chance to draw contrasts between the two candidates on women’s rights. Biden, the man single-handedly responsible for the Violence Against Women Act, would have been wise to draw this contrast with Palin, who presided over Wasilla at a time when it forced rape victims to pay for their own “rape kits” to investigate the crimes against them. An ideal time would have been during Palin’s unironic denunciation of Iran for suppressing women’s rights.
Biden also deserves credit for dispelling some of the more foolish myths widely propagated by the McCain campaign and rarely scrutinized by the press. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be every bit the nutcase he appears to be, but he does not have any power over Iranian foreign policy! That power belongs to Supreme Leader Mohammad Khatami, the same man who controlled it during the moderate and conciliatory tenure of the previous president, Mohammad Khatami.
The overlap of the candidates could be as interesting as their differences, however. There was exactly zero difference in the candidates’ answers on Israel and Palestine. Biden praised himself for his unwavering support of Israel in the third person (I’m not kidding).
Overall though, both candidates brought their A-game and scored points at one time or another during the debate. Though I think Biden was the winner at the end of the day, Palin’s performance was more than adequate. McCain’s campaign: It’s (still) alive!.
Correction: The author mistakenly identified former president Mohammed Khatami as the Supreme Leader of Iran. In fact, the Supreme Leader is Ali Khamenei.