Thursday, October 2, 2008

And the winner is ...

[The V.P. Debate] ... the winner is Gwen Ifill. I'll admit I've got a thing for Ifill--she always strikes me as absolutely genuine, and she's just so damn good at her job. She kept this debate going right on schedule without once losing her cool, and so deftly handled topic changes that the viewer hardly noticed that Sarah Palin kept answering questions that had not yet been asked. (Also, Ifill's smile makes me feel all warm inside, as if everything's going to be OK, and like she runs such a tight, friendly ship that one of her intern assistants is about to take a batch of cookies out of the oven at just the right moment.)

Thankfully, Palin announced from the get-go that she wasn't even going to try to answer the questions, but preferred to speak "to the American people" directly. This was wise, not only because Palin tends to go off the rails when she's not reciting from a memorized statement, but, by comparison with Joe Biden's off-the-cuff style, Palin will play well with those who expect everybody on TV to exhibit a glossy, anchor-desk exterior. (Palin's pronunciation of "nuclear" was interesting--any news anchor knows how to pronounce it, and Palin managed it once or twice, seemingly by mistake. The rest of the time, she made a studied effort to say "nucular." Was it an attempt to prove that strange, belabored GOP talking-point that the "alternate pronunciation" favored by George W. Bush actually exists?)

Still, between McCain-bashing sessions, Biden was the only candidate to show any interest in the actual questions. Astute viewers--former debate-squad geeks, mainly--will recognize that there is a considerable amount of intellectual flexibility beneath Biden's rumpled exterior. He thinks about things, and his principles seem based on reason rather than ideology. To avoid disaster, Palin had to cling rigidly to her speechwriters' prepared material; Biden is better at extemporizing, but he had to avoid losing his cool and reacting with Al Gore-like huffs and grimaces whenever Palin cheerfully blurted out some GOP-style whopper about economic policy or the Iraq War.

I listened to the first 15 minutes of the debate on KUER, on my way home from work, and viewed the remainder at home on KUTV-2--so I missed out on features like CNN's pleasure graph, which measured from moment to moment how viewers of both sexes were enjoying the onscreen action. Both Democrats and Republicans, of course, will claim victory.

Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit to having an agenda--I want Barack Obama to be president. But, to be honest, I didn't hate Sarah Palin. She really is likable, if you don't think about what she's actually trying to do. I still fear her as much as I fear any stealth-Evangelical Manchurian candidate but, if it were possible to take her at her word, she would be the type of person I wouldn't mind having a beer with. (Of course, by far, the best evening of all would be margaritas with Gwen Ifill.) Unfortunately, we've seen where that kind of voting gets us.

They both are very nice candidates, and, even though the likability contest was obviously stacked against Biden, he's a fighter. He got in his licks. He absolutely hammered the Bush administration on the money it's spent on the made-up war in Iraq vs. the justifiable war in Afghanistan. He scored the evening's highest emotionally charged moment discussing the struggles of American families in his statement, "I know what its like to raise a child where you are not sure he's going to make it." His criticism of Dick Cheney and the "unitary executive"--a staggeringly important issue, but one not easy to articulate in two minutes--rang true.

And, in the end, Biden was absolutely correct: This could be the most important election since 1932. The prospect of four more years of irresponsible Republican rule is terrifying. So I'm going to say that, in substantive terms, Biden won--which is to say that, if they were playing by Lincoln-Douglas high-school forensics rules, the teachers would have given him an A-. Palin gets a C, but after some grade-grubbing and a stern note from her parents, she manages to change it to a solid B-.

Which was much better than we expected.

(Brandon Burt)


  1. I'm really having a difficult time understanding why people seem to think Sarah Palin is likeable. She seriously makes me nauseated every time I hear her open her mouth.

    Wassila Alaska is in the "heartland" of america? All of the "hockey mom's" out there, what is she trying to get the canadian vote? "I'm not going to answer the questions you or the moderators may want me to," so I'm just going to say whatever the hell I want, ok.

    ugh, she's worse than W. I'm going to go throw up now.

  2. Yes, the moderator did well, if that's your point. But I don't think it is. Instead, your emphasis on her is merely your way of hiding your disappointment in not finding some solid turf on which to criticize Governor Palin.

    Just admit it. Governor Palin did very well. She's a much better communicator than her opponent, and for those who wished for Palin gaffes, she disappointed.

    However, the worst part is your straining to build up Senator Biden. He looked at the camera only occasionally, preferring his lectern notes or the moderator. One couldn't help but think he's hiding something. Which he clearly does. Can a man who a 6-page report to his law school professor, 5 of which were lifted from the Fordham Law Review, then blamed his "mistake" on confusion about how to properly use quotation marks, really be believed? His squinty eyes, and his fake grins when Governor Palin scored some points, said it all.

    In contrast, Governor Palin looked us all in the eye, was genuine, and impressed even those who hoped to witness her demise, whether they like to admit it or not.

  3. Don't be so rough on Sarah Palin. I like her because she has something to say. She's a breath of fresh air. Leave her alone.

  4. What is it she has to say, exactly? Has she said it yet? Because, to date, all I've heard is her try to squeeze buzz words in without actually saying anything. She's a watered down George Bush.

  5. How can so many Utahns seriously believe that Sarah Palin won the Vice Presidential debate last night? Oh, that's right...we live in a society that consistently uses Ms. Palin's buzz words such as "you betcha", "well heck", "we're gonna"! Didn't you notice that EVERY question that was posed to her was NOT answered? Well OK, she responded to a specific question with an answer that had nothing to do with what was asked by the moderator! And the winking at the camera was completely unprofessional! And how disrespectful for her to say to Senator Joseph Biden, "Say it ain't so, Joe"! Maybe this kind of talk belongs in Ms. Palin's hick town in Alaska, but NOT in addressing a respected U.S. Senator! Mr. Biden, on the other hand, answered all of the questions that were posed to him. He did not have to wink at the camera to make his point, he did not have to resort to lies and innuendo about his running mate, Barack Obama, and he did not have to indicate that he was a maverick. For those of you who are unaware of exactly what a maverick is, let me explain this to you. A maverick is one who shows independence of thought or action, a lone dissenter, a non-conformist or rebel, someone who marches to the beat of his/her own drum, someone who believes in the principle of "my way or the highway"! Personally, I want the President and the Vice President of the United States of America to be able look me in the eye, give me a straight answer with no double talk, and not insult my intelligence with a wink and a nod. Enough already of this maverick business! The President of the United States must be able to get along with the leaders of other nations. He cannot be a lone wolf! Ya know? You betcha!

  6. Well, Sylvia, I don't think that "so many" Utahns think Palin won the debate. Actually, as a Utahn, I've yet to meet a single person who believed that Sarah Palin won. In fact, the first I'd heard of it was on this comments board.

    All I said in the blog entry was that, despite my expectations, I didn't hate her.

    To reiterate: I still fear her because she's either 1. concealing her full participation in the Dominionist Evangelical conspiracy, or 2. she's genuinely who she appears to be--that is, exactly the type of happy-slappy, trusting, naive dupe that Dominionists so easily control and manipulate. Just like G.W. Bush.

    Everybody--even in Utah--seems to agree that Palin relied too heavily on her cribbed notes. She stated outright her refusal to answer the questions. The debate made it obvious that she's just not intellectually flexible enough to form original ideas on her feet

    On the other hand, Biden, who did attempt to answer the questions, demonstrated a substantial capacity for original thought. No, he wasn't perfect. But he was more a human being than a robot.

    So, yes, Biden won the debate. I don't think anybody disputes that (except maybe for the most hardcore partisan Republicans).

    What everybody's so flabbergasted about is the fact that Palin didn't have a major meltdown. People are congratulating her on her capacity to suppress her own natural inclinations and doggedly stick to those pre-written notecards. It was this ability--to deny her own nature--which allowed Palin to avoid lapsing into one of her weird, defensive, pixilated speeches.

    As far as the "maverick" thing is concerned, it's the only ploy McCain's got. In a year when the American public is thoroughly fed up, and the disastrous results of Republican trickle-down economic policy and neocon interventionism are so patently obvious, what else can the Republican candidate do but appear as though he's not really a Republican? McCain and Palin are running against their own party.

    The word "maverick" is a talisman to distance themselves from who they really are--once again, to deny their own true nature. And in so doing, McCain and Palin are not only lying to the electorate--they're also lying to themselves.

  7. I don't agree Ifill did a good job. When you host a DEBATE, when you prepare questions for a DEBATE, and one of the candidates of the DEBATE comes out and announces I don't have the mental capacity to answer questions at the DEBATE, you call her on it and show people how unbelievably under-qualified this person is for the job.

  8. You're likely correct, Mitt--I think my personal infatuation with Ifill may have clouded my judgment. Later, when I had a chance to decompress, I realized that it is the job of a debate moderator to keep candidates honest by holding them to whichever topic is at hand.

    Still, how long has it been since a debate moderator has done that? For that matter, how long has it been since an American politician has engaged in a real debate? This "town hall" format is so watered-down and TV-friendly that a candidate can convince half the electorate simply by memorizing eight 90-second speeches in advance.

    Maybe Ifill is "too nice." But that doesn't make me love her less.

  9. Your right Brandon.

    All we judge candidates on is impression, not content.

    And sometimes we are left to cry because we watched George W. Bush and he was elected president twice.

  10. Sarah Palin's approach to the podium was well rehearsed. "Can I call you Joe?" was just manipulating the audience to sell the hockey mom theme. Her friendliness turned feisty quickly at the first opportunity to use the rehearsed line "Say it ain't so, Joe"! or patting the baby trying to sleep at 11:00 pm.... (My dog is a better actress at playing victim when she doesn't get a taste of dinner). Good thing Mrs Palin is Republican or I would be writing my green neighbor's name in on my ballot.

    Joe Biden couldn't risk appearing patronizing towards her without loosing the respect of a lot of viewers. Well isn't that a two way street? what a piece of work...... Needless to say she takes credit for a pipeline? Well that statements a little vague. Alaska awarded a license to build a pipeline with federal funding of up to 500 billion to be paid to TransAmerica and 40 billion if it's not built. They don't have permits or Canada's approval. Research is currently being done by big oil (on their dime not ours)....Isn't that stretching the truth just a tincy wincy itty bit? That is not a dainty slice of pork from my viewpoint.

    I can't judge my candidate buy the squeak in her voice, her charming county girl clumsiness, or her mispronunciation of g's. I'm looking at ethic's, and if she has the peoples best interest in mind. She failed......... again.

  11. I'm not a Republican, but I do think Palin did much better.

    It has been pointed out to me that in a debate, you do not have to answer the questions, you just have to speak when it is your turn. Now, I've never studied debate, or been in the debate club in high school or college, so I'm not sure how accurate that is.

    However, regardless of what is proper for a debate, I feel that if you can't answer the questions you look like an idiot.

    Biden did well. He didn't lose his cool, and treated Palin respectfully. In fact, Biden treated Palin better that she treated him.

    I would call this debate a tie. I don't think it changed anyone's mind on how they would be voting.


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