We're back to blogging at the Ames Progressive, and our new September issue is out around Ames (but not yet online). Our first fall post was a liveblog Cris Matibag, Nate Logsdon, and I did during the vp debate. Figured I'd post it here to let you know we're back to posting on the site.
Cris: 8:00-8:15 — The debate is supposed to begin at 8:00, but it’s not yet underway. In the interim, MSNBC pundits continue to lower expectations. The two talking heads onscreen repeat the conventional wisdom that Palin will win if she was able to repeat her talking points coherently and keep the focus on John McCain. When moderator Gwen Ifill finally appears on screen it’s 8:02.
As Sarah Palin shakes Joe Biden’s hand, she says “Can I call you Joe?” which in spite of my party affiliation and reflexive cynicism I find endearing. Somewhere in the course of her first response she says–and here I paraphrase–”Go to a kid’s soccer game and turn to a parent and ask the “‘Hey, how’s the economy doing?’ and I betcha they’re going to say it isn’t good”
She finishes by saying “I think the alarm has been heard.” How this could be so, given that McCain said “the fundamentals of our economy are strong less than two weeks ago?
When Ifill asks “What qualifies you to be vice president?” she essentially avoids the question, devoting the majority of her 90-second response to a recitation of John McCain’s legislative accomplishments.
When Biden inevitably brings up McCain’s “fundamentals” remark, she repeats the well-worn talking point that John McCain was only referring to “the American worker.” As unconvincing as this backpedal is, it has to go unchallenged, because there’s no more time for the candidates to rebut each other.
Ifill says “Neither of you really answered that question” when Biden finishes. Gee Gwen, maybe they could if they had more time….
Nate: 8:19 – Biden repeats his claim that to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to redistribute it to the middle class is called “fairness” where he comes from and he names some of places he comes from, including Scranton. He is competing with Palin to take control of the “I am you, middle class” theme of the debate.
8:21 – Biden lists the corporate tax cuts that he and Obama would not support.
8:22 – Biden says it is “unpatriotic” to encourage companies to take their operations overseas.
8:23 – Palin says that she had to “take on” the oil companies while she was the governor of Alaska. The oil execs were not her “biggest fans.”
8:24 – Biden asks, looking at the camera, why McCain would be supporting giving 4 billion dollars worth of new tax cuts to large corporations.
8:25 – Palin repeats that it was John McCain who held Fannie May and Freddie Mac accountable two years ago and that he is a candidate of reform who will root out Wall Street greed.
8:29 – Biden has taken to looking directly into the camera, as Palin has been doing throughout.
8:30 - Palin encourages domestic oil drilling and says that “energy independence is the key to this country’s future.”
8:31 - In response to a question on climate change, Palin says that she doesn’t attribute all of climate change to the activities of “man.” But she doesn’t want to discuss the causes, she says, but rather wants to focus on ways to reduce emissions, become energy independent.
Gavin: 8:33 – Biden is responding to Palin’s statement on climate change…. (Palin’s comment a few minutes before about it not mattering whether climate change is man-made or not is nonsensical – how would one address the problem, as Palin says she and McCain want to do, without knowing enough to get to the root of it?)
8:33 – Biden accuses McCain of just wanting to “drill, drill, drill”. Wish he’d have said, “Drill, baby, drill” to keep up with the media cliché meme that we’ve been seeing through the debate thus far.
8:34 – Well there you go, Palin corrects Biden: “Drill, baby, drill”.
8:34 – Palin calls Biden “O’Biden”. Sounds like a good Irish name. Now she quotes Biden as having used the word “raping” in regard to energy issues – an attempt to implicitly introduce the gender card?
8:37 – Palin says, “I am tolerant” on the issue of gay relationships. Says McCain would not try to do anything to stop gay visitation rights. A nice thought, if those rights existed on a federal level.
8:38 – Ifel says, “Let’s avoid nuance” after Palin’s comment, in a question to Biden. Don’t think she was criticizing Palin though.
8:40 – Palins says Obama voted against funding the troops. Then: “We have got to win in Iraq.” She says we need to move more troops to Afghanistan, but “would be a travesty to lose in Iraq” (quoting from memory there, could be a paraphrase).
8:41 – Biden responds: “With all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan.” This is just as much a critique of McCain’s plan as Palin’s response beforehand, it would seem. Biden says McCain said he wouldn’t vote to fund the troops if it was a timeline bill, but Biden says timelines are necessary.
8:46 – Got distracted. Handing it off to Cris.
Cris: 8:45-9:00 – Palin claims to support a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both candidates make sure to get in plenty of references to the top of the ticket, per the MSNBC predictions. When Palin mentions Condoleeza Rice’s efforts to forge the abovementioned solution, Biden suggests the Secretary of State just trying to turn around what he calls the “abject failure” of the Bush Administration.
Palin (wisely) declines to challenge up the Biden’s assesment of Bush. “I’m so encouraged to know we both love Israel!” Palin responds. Apropos of nothing, Palin wedges in a reference to the “change” message her campaign has lately worked so hard to appropriate from Obama. “Reform of government is coming. Change is coming,” she says with a smile. My brain revolts, but my heart is captive.
Moments after Palin’s Rice reference, an IM from my friend Juell pops up on my laptop screen. It reads “McCain should have picked Condi.”
“That would have been even worse,” I type in response. Upon reflection, I’m not sure this is true.
Nate: 9:01 – Ifill says that Biden has a long history as an “interventionist” and whether Americans like intervensionism. He cites Bosnia as an example of an intervention that worked and touted his opposition to the war in Iraq as an instance of the limits of intervention. He advocates a non-military intervention into Darfur.
9:03 – Palin says that she must be too much of a “Washington outsider” to understand how someone like Biden could say that he was against the war in Iraq when he actually voted for it.
9:06 – Biden argues that he was against the war insofar as he made dire warnings about how the war would go.
9:07 – John McCain “knows how to win a war” and “he knows what evil is,” Palin says.
9:08 – Biden is asked how a Biden administration would differ from an Obama administration if he had to take over the presidency and he says that he agrees on pretty much everything with Obama.
9:09 – Palin says that she and McCain are bound to disagree about something because they are a “team of mavericks” and she doesn’t have to “check her opinions at the door” with McCain. She particularly wants to change McCain’s opinions about drilling in Anwar.
9:11 – Biden tries to take control on the “I’m from Main Street “ theme: “Walk with me in my neighborhood…or go up to Scranton with me,” he says.
9:11 – “Say it ain’t so Joe, there you go again,” Palin says, directly quoting Reagan, but sounding far more self-conscious.
9:12 – She gives a “shout out” to her brother’s third grade class, who get extra credit for watching the debate.
9:13 – Ifill quotes Palin as saying that she would never agree to be president and Palin blows it off by saying that she had been making a lame attempt at a joke and that Ifill herself must have been making a lame attempt at a joke, too, because “nobody gets it.” The audience laughs.
Gavin: 9:16 – Biden says he thinks Dick Cheney has been the most dangerous veep in American history. My friend Josh behind me dissents – Aaron Burr, he says, who actually killed a man.
9:18 – Finally, Ifill questions Palin on her lack of experience but mentions people have said Biden lacks discpline in the same question. Stays true to the debate’s restrictive format that allows Palin to recite memorized lines more easily.
9:19 – Palin says hers is the only ticket with a true record of reform.
9:20 – Biden responds with charisma, saying it’s gracious to mention only one of his weaknesses. He then refers to bills he supported (Violence Against Women Act, etc. – domestic,women’s issues) McCain opposed
9:21 – Palin says McCain’s had to “take shots” from his party all the time and that she’s done the same as governor of Alaska. Then name-drops Giuliani, Romney, and others as an example of how the GOP has diverse backgrounds and views. Drops a few “mavericks” for good measure.
9:23 – Biden rejects McCain’s maverick-hood, citing examples of health care and renewable energy measures McCain voted against in line with the Republican Party: “So maverick he is not for critical issues that affect people at that kitchen table.”
9:25 – Biden mentions his work opposing the Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination in 1987, the event that some say first really put Biden in the national spotlight before his first run for president in 1988.
9:27 – I missed a couple things Palin said. Biden says he’s never questioned anyone’s motives in the Senate, just their judgment. Reinforcing his respectful persona/media perception.
9:28 – Palin talks generalities on tax policy and jobs: “That’s what the tax record shows” … $1 trillion in spending increases, there’s a clear choice this November. Yes indeed.
9:29 – Palin says she appreciates having the chance to talk with Biden without the “media filter,” a weak attempt to excuse her awful perfomance in the Katie Couric interview. It’s been a common theme this past week among McCain spinsters.
9:31 – Biden’s giving his closing remarks. Typically solid Biden, but there’s nothing that pops out as anything other than expected. Not that this is a bad thing, but I think Palin has done a lot more to rise above media/spinster expectations, if only because they have been set so low.
9:33 – Palin acts like a ditz thanking Biden and Ifill on stage after the debate. I don’t really mean to give this a negative connotation – this fits her persona as a “hockey mom” outsider. I heard someone call her style “folksy” a couple minutes ago. Will probably come across as endearing.
9:34 – That does it… more thoughts to follow, stay tuned. (Let’s see what Chris Matthews’ take is.)
Gavin — A CBS poll of undecideds on who won the debate gave Biden the edge 46 percent to Palin’s 21, with 33 calling it a tie. CNN and CBS focus groups gave Biden the win and a Time focus group ended with a tie. (A Fox News text message poll gave it to Palin 86-12, and conservative pollster Frank Luntz’s focus group gave it to Palin.) From a substantive point of view, you’d have a hell of a time arguing that Biden didn’t win. But, of course, many of the McCain/Palin ticket’s polling upswings have came from the politics of personality and gimmicks (although those haven’t proven too successful lately).
So taking that into account — and I think personality is as important as substance in assessing how the public at large might likely consume the debate — my initial inclination is to give Palin the “win”. The debate was, I thought, almost exactly what was expected out of both the candidates. Biden held back some of his trademark aggression and almost overdid it on the policy wonk stuff sometimes, coming off respectful but boring at the beginning (again, from the personality politics point of view). Palin responded to questions with broad generalities, and it was clear she was in over her head and reciting some memorized lines in terms of knowledge of the issues, but she easily outshined her awful Katie Couric interview performance and peppered in a few specifics that had previously been lacking.
I think Biden played into the debate expectations game a little too much. He gave Palin easy openings for attacks — “I’m not sure, but I believe [McCain and Palin] are not supporting…” — and spent almost all of his time going on the offense against McCain rather than Palin. In the case of the latter, he could have hit more strongly — he accurately tied McCain’s pre-Iraq war cheerleading to Cheney’s but didn’t make an issue of the false ties to 9/11. Palin was overly dramatic and rudely dismissive at times — “Oh man, it’s so obvious I’m a Washington outsider…” — and overused talking point gimmicks. But this worked well for her during her convention speech, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come off well.
Cris, Nate and I had a discussion after the debate about how we agreed that a candidate’s manner of saying something often seems more important than what they actually say. Our conversation brought up a number of above-mentioned points. Cris said he thought both candidates resorted to reciting talking points to reinforce their running mates. In this sense, he said, Biden and Palin in essence served as two more surrogates for the top of the ticket. In that sense, I think Biden was more self-restricted than his usual self, especially with the obsessive charges of sexism (not to say it doesn’t exist at all — see Hillary Clinton).
The three of us agreed that the format of the debate was overly restrictive and unfairly advantageous to Palin. In fact, the debate was originally set to be more like the more free-flowing first presidential debate but after McCain campaign pressure switched format. Whether this provided Palin the cover to halt Obama’s surge in the polls remains to be seen.