Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

10/03/2008 (8:50 am)

She Did Fine. Exhale.

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

10/02/2008 (9:44 am)

A Little Debate Prep

Let’s begin by acknowledging that I’m not expecting much. Joe Biden is a pompous idiot who repeatedly says the wrong thing. Sarah Palin has not thought much about national topics, and by all appearances does not know much about them. From an informational standpoint, tonight’s debate will be a waste of time, and it will probably be painful to watch. I almost wish the Phillies/Brewers matchup would still be running at that hour.

However, from an electoral standpoint, it’s pretty crucial. If Palin does not produce a performance that’s just about as engaging as her speech at the Republican convention, this debate is going to hurt the Republican ticket badly. She doesn’t have to be the policy wonk that she isn’t, she just has to be cogent and likable. I have my doubts that she can deliver.

Unfortunately, that’s not true for Biden. He’s already proved dozens of times that he can say the stupidest things and it won’t hurt him. This would not be true if the press treated Biden the way it treated, say, Dan Quayle, or even the way it treated George W. Bush. Hell, the British press observed that in England, Biden would not even have a career anymore after his hilariously inept plagiarism of Neil Kinnock’s speech.

It would be very difficult for a politician in this country to be taken seriously ever again, after such a humiliation; but Americans are a more forgiving people, and so Biden was able to entertain them once again during the current race for the White House. Thus last year he declared that his then rival, Barack Obama, was “not yet ready for the Presidency”, which was not a post suitable for “on-the-job training”, but graciously acknowledged: ” I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

And we’re supposed to be more sanguine about the prospect of this buffoon being a heartbeat away from the Presidency than we are about the woman who delivered the natural gas pipeline to Alaska after 30 years of other peoples’ failures. But, you know, she hasn’t thought very much about Supreme Court decisions or why the Palestinians electing Hamas to represent them might be a bad thing, so clearly the fact that she’s on the ticket makes it imperative to vote Democratic. I’ve been told this more than once already.

About the only thing he could do to hurt himself would be to act supercilious and arrogant toward Gov. Palin in clear view of the TV audience; it’s the measure of Biden’s character that there’s actually a pretty fair chance he’ll do the one thing that could hurt him, and blow this.

Giving us some unexpected entertainment and a possible source of respite for Gov. Palin, it turns out that moderator Gwen Ifill has a clear, financial conflict of interest that should be grounds for her to recuse herself from moderating the debate. She’s written a book slated for release the day after Inauguration Day, entitled “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.” That her book sales will be better if Obama wins is beyond dispute. That’s a matter of journalistic ethics which she has failed so far, but even aside from the book deal, the notion that Ifill is anything remotely resembling objective is too silly for words. I want anybody who thinks Ifill is a professional who will rise to the occasion and perform objectively to view the video below and explain the look of utter contempt on her face, or her dismay about how Palin “mocked” and “belittled” Obama, as she reports on Palin’s speech at the Republican convention:

But, of course, Brit Hume was too biased to host a debate.

Jim Treacher has a pretty funny list of proposed questions for the debate, with Ifill’s conflict of interest in mind. She’ll moderate the debate, of course — Democrats genuinely believe they’re above bias, and they have no shame about violating ethical rules because they’re the Good Guys, after all, and the rules aren’t really for them — but if enough of the public gets wind of the conflict it may affect their view of the debate. Stay tuned. McCain himself has already mouthed the obligatory “I’m sure she’s objective” mantra, but it’s not clear how widely the news will spread today.

I’m pretty disappointed at this point with McCain’s choice for VP. I thought her speech at the convention was terrific, but since then she’s proved inept at handling the press. (Of course, nobody’s mentioning the fact that Obama, himself, avoided press questions for the first 9 months of his primary campaign; he wasn’t so good with them at first, either.) I was opposed to either Palin or Bobby Jindal as VP because of their lack of seasoning, but I think it’s fair to say that Bobby Jindal would not be drawing blanks in front of Katie Couric over with which Supreme Court decisions he disagrees. McCain could have done better.

Hat tip to Michelle Malkin for the link to the Ifill video.