General VP Debate Observations

In general, I think the debate went according to script.  Joe Biden acted as the seasoned debater and Sarah Palin ‘stayed the course’ of her script.  I do think Joe Biden may have done the best debating job I have ever seen.  He was passionate, he treated Palin exactly as he needed to – not condescending, but not accepting of her attacks, and had a detailed response to all questions.

Sarah Palin didn’t flub as many expected (I didn’t).  But her strategy was clear – stick to her talking points, guide all questions back to her areas of knowledge, and simply ignore questions that were too difficult.  I don’t know if she didn’t understand the questions or simply ignored them.  However, on at least three occasions she totally avoided the question.  One question about what her ‘Achilles heel’ was – was totally blown off and she gave her strengths.  Either she doesn’t understand ‘Achilles heel’, didn’t hear the question properly, or chose to ignore it.   I give the McCain campaign some credit, they took a not ready for prime time player and coached her well enough for the big game.  I actually thought the voters would see this debate as a win for her, but the earlier polls disagree.

I thought Gwen Ifill was as bad, if not worse, than I predicted.  On the Conservative sites they are complaining she always let Biden have the last word.  I am not going to disagree, it seemed he did get to close most topics out.  However, my wife and I also noticed he seemed to go first more often.  Maybe we are wrong – but at least one one occasion, towards the end, he definitely got two questions in a row to go first.  If I was a Republican, I wouldn’t complain about that.  I think it’s much tougher to go first.

But Ifill’s main problem wasn’t who went first or second – it was her ability to actually moderate the debate.  I thought her questions were shallow and didn’t seem like they took anytime to prepare – unlike Jim Lehrer who obviously spent a lot of time developing his questions.   They were not the type, for the most part, to get inside the candidates head.  Her flow was also bad.  But the worst was, and this is a matter of opinion, she never followed up to get either candidate to answer the questions.  It was extremely frustrating to watch Sarah skate by not even in the realm of answering the question.  Some disagree that the moderator should follow-up non-answers, but should only sit back and let the candidates go – that’s what Paul Begala was suggesting.

Overall, I don’t think it was a game-changer for the McCain/Palin ticket.  I think it stopped some of their bleeding and gave the right-wing their newly anointed hero again.  Personally, on an intellectual level, I think Joe Biden won this debate by a very large margin – and I really wasn’t so sure coming in, it would work out like that.

(note – below this blog – I have additional thoughts on the debate in a separate posting)