Saturday, October 04, 2008

The moment when Joe won the Veep debate

I thought Joe Biden was wonderful. I was worried beforehand. I didn't know how he would be able to walk the incredibly fine line with Palin between attack and condescension, and I thought he managed it magnificently.

His "keep the focus of attack on McCain" worked really well I thought, and I was glad to see that at the same time he wasn't afraid of pointing out when Palin was wrong, when she was being misleading or when she simply hadn't answered the question that had been asked.

I think Palin helped him in this regard, actually. I know many of us were worried that if he made any comment against her that could be perceived as an "attack" the Repubs would scream "bully!" and "sexist!" at him - but I think the fact that she was so quick on the attack - so feisty (in her own scripted way) - meant that he was able to fight back without being perceived as a bully out to hurt the poor delicate flower that is Sarah Palin.

I was so impressed with Joe's deep knowledge of such a wide range of issues, with his understanding of the nuances of policy both domestic and foreign. And of course I'm not surprised by this - he's been in the Senate a long time - he knows his stuff, and he has a mile-deep grasp of all the issues.

What did surprise me (in a good way) was his ability to stay on-point during the debate, his precise and concise answers, and his very obvious passion for what he was talking about. Wow! I've not seen him debating before, although I've watched a few clips of him in the Senate, but I had heard all about his long-winded answers and propensity for gaffiness. I saw none of that at this debate - I thought he was spot-on throughout the 90 minutes.

I was watching it on CNN, so we had the "approval line" running along the bottom of the screen from CNN's group of undecided men and women. It was striking to see how much higher the lines were for Joe through much of the debate - with approval levels for him actually hitting the top of the box and staying there for extended periods of time.

One of the most powerful moments of the debate for me came when Joe was fighting back against Palin's assertion that because she's a woman, only she could understand about having to raise a family alone.

It resonated with me for a number of reasons:

He was able to absolutely own that particular "I know what it's like to be..." moment through his reference to his family's tragic story - a beautiful pivot and a powerful rebuttal to Palin's sexist claim that "only a woman can know".

The moment when his emotions got the better of him and he actually choked up and couldn't continue for a few seconds was so REAL, so completely unscripted and so genuine. I'm sure it would have had a very powerful effect on many of those watching, who would have empathised deeply with his pain, and with the awful tragedy his family endured.

I think this moment of genuine emotional openness was powerful not just in and of itself, but also in the way it shone a light on what I see as the fakery of Palin. All that faux-folksiness, the nose scrunches, the winks, the breathy tone of voice when she wants to make a "real important point", all the "gosh darn-it"s and "you betcha"s - it's all fake, fake, fake. It makes me want to throw up. And it was revealed in all its plastic shallowness by that single glimpse into Joe's heart.

And if that wasn't enough, I think what followed was a brief glimpse into Palin's heart. And where Joe appears to be a warm, sympathetic and fundamentally good human being, I'm afraid what Palin said next revealed her to be a cold, heartless and fundamentally uncaring person, more concerned with getting through all her talking points than showing any kind of empathy or respect for a fellow human being.

I don't know if it was that she was so busy reading her crib sheet in preparation for the next question that she didn't actually hear what he'd said. Perhaps she isn't even aware of Senator Biden's family history. Or perhaps she simply doesn't care.

But the fact that she made absolutely no attempt to refer at all to what he'd just said about his family, no murmur of condolence, no words expressing empathy or sympathy, that just struck me as all wrong, and as something that will come back to bite her.

The fact that the approval line from both men and women was sky-high during Joe's recollections, and took a massive dive as Palin started speaking, reaching new lows with the word "maverick" says it all, I think.

There were many other moments where I thought Biden made infinitely stronger points than Palin, where it was clear that she was reading from her cue cards, regurgitating the talking points she's been madly cramming, and where she arrogantly refused to answer the question (presumably because she didn't have an answer).

There were a few places where I went "woah" at her response - in particular the one about what the Veep does - and how she would like to expand the powers of the VP (increasing the "flexibility" of the position) in the same way as Cheney has done. Scary! I thought Biden responded very well to her crazy talk - and I hope I wasn't the only one going "woah!" when she made those comments.

Check out the response flatline when Palin's speaking, and the massive jump when Biden calls Cheney the most dangerous Vice-President in American history:

But that moment when Joe's emotions got the better of him was the moment where I went "OK, that's it - he's won this thing - and I'm sure he never meant to win this way..."

In summary, if I were to pick out a few words to describe each of the two candidates in this debate, they'd be something along these lines:

Joe Biden:
Statesmanlike, warm, comfortable, caring, fatherly, deeply knowledgeable, passionate, sympathetic, safe, steady, honest, open, genuine, and ready to lead.

Sarah Palin:
Bright (as in sparkly, not as in clever), brittle, perky, feisty, fake, speaking rote-learned catchphrases and soundbites, flirty, annoying (all those winks and down-home expressions), shallow, uncaring, and definitely not ready to be allowed anywhere near the White House.

When the expectations bar is as low as it was for Palin pre-debate, as long as she manages one or two coherent sentences, she's going to be declared the winner over those expectations - but it was very gratifying to see that in every post-debate poll going, Biden was deemed overwhelmingly to be the winner of the debate itself.

I agree, of course.

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