10/03/2008 (8:50 am)
Some quick reactions to last night’s Vice Presidential candidate debate:
1) Palin could have lost the election for McCain last night if she’d imploded. She didn’t. In fact, she did remarkably well. We can all exhale.
2) Vice Presidential debates don’t win elections, but this one might. A number of commentators are hyping the colloquial flavor of Sarah Palin, which could sell well across middle America and just might reignite the Palin bump. I’m skeptical, but we’ll see.
3) I’m frustrated to the point of exploding at the utter failure of the McCain campaign to keep Obama from inflating his resume. They’re making Obama into a great statesman when he doesn’t even belong in the race.
Example: Biden went on for a bit about how the first thing Obama did in the Senate was reach across the aisle to Lugar and talk nuclear proliferation control. Gov. Palin said not a word about it.
Palin’s response should have been this:
“That was a good move on his part, and if he’d spent the rest of his 143 days in the Senate doing similar things, it would have been a good start toward becoming what John McCain has been for 25 years. But instead, he spent the rest of his 143 days running for President, and serving his own interests rather than his country’s. And you know that, Joe. You’ve been in the Senate long enough to know what a real public servant looks like, and it isn’t Barack Obama.”
A few shots like this and the informational outcome of the debate would have been devastating to Obama.
4) I’m also frustrated by the inability of the McCain campaign to sell their own programs. Both Biden and Obama harped on McCain’s taxing employer benefits, but it’s part of a plan that makes good sense. They sell it in a debate this way:
“John McCain has a plan to free workers from depending on their employers for health insurance. By taxing benefits but providing a tax credit for private health insurance, you won’t have to depend on your employer anymore to protect your family’s health, but you can afford to purchase health insurance for yourself.”
It’s radical, and seriously, it would be an enormous relief to lots of families to think, “Wow… I don’t have to keep my lousy job anymore just to maintain my health insurance? I can choose a job by what I want to do instead?” That’s liberty.
But they’re not selling their proposals well.
5) Biden did commit a sizable gaffe, but will probably get away with it. He claimed the Vice President has no authority except to break ties in the Senate. This is insanely wrong. The Vice President has complete parliamentary authority as chairperson of the Senate, and if one knows how to use parliamentary procedure, this is utterly controlling. Ask Nancy Pelosi whether parliamentary control of the House is so inconsequential as to not be worth mentioning.
6) Gwen Ifill did, as expected, flack for the Democrats. Most of the time she was very even-handed, but she produced two questions late in the game that were engineered for the Democrats: one emphasizing the “heartbeat away from the Presidency” meme asking how a Biden or Palin presidency would differ from an Obama or McCain presidency, and one asking specifically about Dick Cheney’s interpretation of the constitutional role of Vice President, apparently hoping Palin would draw another blank and reminding us that Palin once said she didn’t know what a Vice President did. Ironically (and justly) it was on this last question that Biden, and not Palin, proved his ignorance. The Vice President’s role is defined in Article II (the Executive) and Article I (the Legislature). Biden said “only in Article I” and said Article I was about the Executive. Oops.
Palin did well. Now the McCain campaign needs to fix the message, and start turning the spotlight on the real Obama.
Photo by Richard Perry/New York Times