VP Debate Analysis
For all of its build up this was not the heavyweight prize fight we expected. I had argued earlier in the week on NPR’s News and Notes, Bloggers Roundtable, there would be diminished expectations for Governor Sarah Palin's performance, a demonization of the host (Gwen Ifill), and a continued desire to discount the media. Unfortunately, I was right on all three counts.
Although, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin were on stage together all eyes were focused on Palin. If you watched or listen you likely heard the Alaska Governor ask the Delaware Senator, "Can I call you Joe?" At the time this seem harmless but debaters use a lot of strategies to disarm powerful opponents. Being able to use first names rather than formal titles (Governor/Senator) means you're equals. This also can mean a deference which can catch you off guard.
Because this event garnered one of the largest television audience it was the medium that was the message. Being able to use it to your advantage is key. There are some quirky little things you do to contact with the audience. Palin a former sports anchor used all of them in her arsenal. Here are a few of them.
1. When the question is asked look at the questioner. Then turn to the camera and keep your head up not down. (We call this looking beyond the camera).
2. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Answers were relative short. Very folksy (lots of darn, and heck).
3. Tell people what you are going to say. This was illustrated very clearly with her reference "I may not answer the question the way you want."
I didn't know in a debate you can say you won't answer a question but she did. The colloquial stories from Biden and Palin painted vivid pictures of who they are. Biden's accounting of his dad's decision to leave Scranton, Pennsylvania to look for work is an American story.
Palin's reaction to taxes was also classic American independence."Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper."
Rehearsed or unrehearsed these are some of the winners.
Let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.
The chant is "drill, baby, drill."
Oh, yeah, it's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider. And someone just not used to the way you guys operate.
"Say it ain't so, Joe."
Nine o'clock, the economy was strong. Eleven o'clock that same day, two Mondays ago, John McCain said that we have an economic crisis. That doesn't make John McCain a bad guy, but it does point out he's out of touch.
John McCain said as early as last December, quote -- I'm paraphrasing -- "I'm surprised about this sub prime mortgage crisis."
Gwen, with all due respect, I didn't hear a plan.
Issues in Common and Pitfalls
Both of these candidates have sons who are headed to Iraq. There is strong emotional tug at your heart as a parent to your flesh and blood to protect America. The suggestion they both say a prayer for the children means the Iraq War want be thought of as a numbers game.
Politicians have straddled the line on whether to recognized the rights of gay partners. The most contentious of these is gay marriage. Alaska is one of many states that recognize the rights of same sex partners to have joint insurance, visitation rights in medical situations, and to be contractually bound except in the cases of marriage. Governor Palin has signed this legislation and it is a part of her record.
Biden meanwhile has supported the same type of issues in the Senate and has gone on record for wanting to put such issues on a national agenda. He and Barack Obama agree it should not extend to marriage.
For both candidates this subject can be dicey. It can alienate voters and show contradictions. If you you're a so call "values voter" this may have seemed strange, a Republican willing to acknowledge the rights of gays. Conversely, a democratic who is against gay marriage.
By way of full disclosure I know Gwen Ifill. We have had conversations about various political issues. Her opinion piece in the New York Times on Don Imus was on point and should be read by every journalist.
Gwen is the only person of color involved in the debate series involving Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates (this is a tragedy). It's also the second time she has moderated the Vice Presidential face off. Her selection was made before Sarah Palin was selected by the GOP. Following the GOP Convention I worried there would be a concerted effort to "demonize" Gwen. Unfortunately, I was right again. On Wednesday, conservative pundits and talkshow host were calling for Ifill's removal because of a yet to be released book authored by PBS host. The book will look at Black Politics in the wake of Barack Obama's run.
Gwen, who broke her foot two days before the event, was put in a unusual situation. Her detractors were growing. Conservatives were aiming for here with a shotgun(the gun sprays doesn't necessarily hit a direct target); not knowing if she would fold, but she didn't.
There have been many comments on how tough she would be. I remind folks the story following a debate should not be about the moderator but rather the participants. This was the case but some questioned Gwen's inability to force the candidates to answer questions. As a former moderator for several debates I often tell participants "I reserve the right to follow-up and ask you to clarify your answers." Lastly, I think Gwen struck the right tone by letting the audience seeing the absurdity in answers and non-answers from both sides. For those wondering she gave a compelling interview to Tom Joyner on Friday.
More than half way through the debate Governor Sarah Palin was winning. She held her own and was connecting in ways that few people understood. No, I didn't like the winks to the camera but there is a portion of the electorate where this resonates (I understand older white thought she was winking at them).
Biden, meanwhile, took the advice of his handlers not to attack Palin directly, but go after McCain. Although he was losing early, the emotion he showed when talking about the death of his first wife "flipped the script." Empathy is an emotion changer.
The suggestion by Palin she "may not answer the questions you want" is part of the spin the Republicans have seized on during this campaign suggesting the media is the enemy. Dah, without the media their message travels in limited circles. Sorry, the base of the GOP (conservatives, evangelicals, and "JOE Six-pack) is fractured. Selling the message to the laid off worker in Michigan isn't working (McCain has pulled his ad's and staff from the state). Florida retires aren't drinking the cool-aid. Those NY Republicans working on Wall Street (from front line workers to CEO's)are also switching.
The "perfect storm" is meandering (financial collapse, and the public perception Washington is corrupt) will mean this could be another year to "throw the bums out." I was playing golf with some pretty astute brothers and they suggested there are just to many "Dumb White People." While I don't prescribe to that theory there are voters who believe their self interest isn't tied to a Barack Presidency. Self interest is a powerful determinant in an election.
McCain desperately needs to change the subject. The economy is killing him. Pocketbook issues are what people are talking about. The next debate will mean giving more detail rather than broad outlines because its what people want to hear. Fellow Republicans have been asking, "when will you start attacking." McCaain's response, "how about Tuesday (the date of the next debate)." Lastly, the GOP nominee needs to keep President George Bush out of the headlines.
Obama, must continue to hammer home the economy. Friday's unemployment numbers while dismissal reinforce the concept of change. Unlike the line in the WIZ ,"don't bring me no bad news," the more bad news the better it is for his candidacy.