Friday, October 03, 2008

Palin doesn't stumble, but her charm quickly fades.

As they shook hands, Palin asked Biden, "Can I call you Joe?"

It's typical of her style. She attempts to disarm by using charm. And that was much on display tonight. On the subject of the economy she brought up the example of the parent at a kid's soccer game and the fear they must be feeling about the economy. What's astonishing about her opening confession is that she spoke as if McCain was not actually a part of the Republican Party which has presided over this disaster.

The usual smatterings of words like "Maverick" were liberally dished around.

Biden immediately jumped on Palin's attempt to portray McCain as someone who rose above politics to sort out the financial crisis and portrayed him as someone who said the economy was "fundamentally strong" only for hours later to talk of a crisis.

Palin has been tutored to respond that, when McCain spoke of the economy being "fundamentally strong" he was "talking of the American workforce", a lie that few of us believed when it passed McCain's lips and it came across as no more truthful when repeated by Palin. She then referred to herself and McCain as "a team of Mavericks", which I presume they think is a selling point. It makes me think of a pair of gamblers, reckless, but great fun. As the economy tanks, I'm just not sure how attractive "a pair of Mavericks" actually is. I'd like something just a bit more solid and calm than that sounds.

Palin has been tutored to respond in populist soundbites and the format here suited her. She could spout this shit all day long and Biden would never have enough time to pin her down. So when the subject turned to the subprime lending meltdown, Palin lamented on the plight of "every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation". It really was that trite. I'm sure I even detected a wink in there. This is a woman who operates on vacuous confidence... in spades.

Unfortunately, some of the talking points she has been schooled on turned out to be false and Biden was quickly on to them.

When she claimed:

Barack Obama even supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year.
Biden pounced:
The charge is absolutely not true. Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote she's referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way. It was a budget procedural vote. John McCain voted the same way. It did not raise taxes.
This is the same thing that happened during Obama's debate with McCain when McCain said Obama refused to fund the troops and it turned out that McCain also voted against troop funding because the issue at hand was actually timetables for withdrawal, rather than troop funding.

However, Biden then pushed that Palin had not actually answered any of his points regarding McCain and his record as a proponent of deregulation, but Palin simply avoided the issue and gave a list of the tax cuts she had introduced when she was governor of Alaska. At this point it became obvious how the night was going to unfold.

When it came to the subject of tax increases Palin stated "government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper." This is actually the old conservative argument which favours deregulation, the same deregulation which led to the very economic crisis which they debate began by discussing, but this point seemed lost to Palin.

On the subject of health care she stated, "unless you're pleased with the way the federal government has been running anything lately", again implying that the federal government has not been run by the very party which she is arguing should be re-elected.

When Ifill asked what cuts to their plans the bailout was going to force upon them, Biden came up with a better answer than Obama had when the same point was put to him during the last debate.

Well, the one thing we might have to slow down is a commitment we made to double foreign assistance. We'll probably have to slow that down.

We also are going to make sure that we do not go forward with the tax cut proposals of the administration -- of John McCain, the existing one for people making over $250,000, which is $130 billion this year alone.

We're not going to support the $300 billion tax cut that they have for corporate America and the very wealthy. We're not going to support another $4 billion tax cut for ExxonMobil.

It was a great point well put, pointing out how ludicrous it is to give tax cuts to the wealthiest at a time of economic hardship.

Palin decided that her answer should be a run through of her time as governor of Alaska, but she made no mention of any cuts to the plans which she and McCain have laid out.

IFILL: So, Governor, as vice president, there's nothing that you have promised as a candidate that you would -- that you wouldn't take off the table because of this financial crisis we're in?

PALIN: There is not.

She then made the ridiculous claim that, as she has only been on the campaign for five weeks that she hasn't actually made a lot of promises, ignoring the fact that she was being asked to speak for the ticket rather than simply for herself.

Biden the pounced on Palin's boast that she taxed big oil companies when she was governor of Alaska stating:
"She imposed a windfall profits tax up there in Alaska. That's what Barack Obama and I want to do.

We want to be able to do for all of you Americans, give you back $1,000 bucks, like she's been able to give back money to her folks back there.

But John McCain will not support a windfall profits tax. They've made $600 billion since 2001, and John McCain wants to give them, all by itself -- separate, no additional bill, all by itself -- another $4 billion tax cut.

If that is not proof of what I say, I'm not sure what can be. So I hope the governor is able to convince John McCain to support our windfall profits tax, which she supported in Alaska, and I give her credit for it."

It was a perfect undercutting of her argument. Taxing oil companies is okay when she did it in Alaska, but that becomes a "redistribution of wealth principle" when it appears on the Obama/Biden ticket.

Palin did better than expected simply because she had set the bar so low with her previous appearances. She littered the debate with phrases like "East Coast politicians" and "Joe Six Pack", relying utterly on populist slogans to get her through. Although the longer the debate went on, the more patronising and tiresome this technique appeared.

Biden pulled her on the fact that she did not think global warming was man made and pushed the fact that it couldn't be solved without first accepting what caused it, but the debate was framed in such a way that she was simply allowed to repeat her well rehearsed talking point and move on.

It was the same when they discussed Iraq. She repeated McCain's claim that Obama had voted against funding for the troops which Biden easily refuted by reminding us that McCain also voted against funding because the point at hand was actually timetables. It was notable that she gave no plan for a withdrawal from Iraq, which Biden also pointed out.

He had one of his post powerful moments here though when he stated, "John McCain and Dick Cheney said while I was saying we would not be greeted as liberators, we would not - this war would take a decade and not a day, not a week and not six months, we would not be out of there quickly. John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years. John McCain said there would be enough oil to pay for this. John McCain has been dead wrong. I love him. As my mother would say, god love him, but he's been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war. Barack Obama has been right. Those are the facts."

But it was a talking points debate, a recitation of well rehearsed positions which I found ultimately unsatisfactory.

As Palin trotted out her well rehearsed talking points, Biden detected a theme:
The issue is how different is John McCain’s policy going to be than George Bush’s,” Mr. Biden said. “I haven’t heard how his policy is going to be different on Iran than George Bush’s. I haven’t heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush’s. I haven’t heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush’s. I haven’t heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush’s.

“It may be, but so far it is the same as George Bush’s,” he said.
And it was true, for all Palin's claims that she and McCain were "Mavericks" there was not a single claim made tonight that differed in any significant way from the policy Bush has pursued over the last eight years.
He’s not been a maverick when it comes to education — he has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college,” Mr. Biden said. “He’s not been a maverick on the war. He’s not been a maverick on virtually anything that generally affects the things that people really talk about.”
Palin substituted cliche for argument, at one point lamenting that the US needs "a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street".

So, whilst it's true that she didn't fall flat on her face, some of her comments, like, "Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again" were simply annoying as they were so blatantly rehearsed.

Her argument could be boiled down to one claim:
People aren't looking for more of the same. They are looking for change. And John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate over all these years.
And she's right, people are looking for change. The problem for her and McCain is that they are simply offering a continuation of the Bush/Cheney regime, and nothing she said tonight came anywhere near to allaying that fear. Indeed, she even went as far as to claim that "America is a nation of exceptionalism", which tells us all that we need to know about how much their ticket would differ from the Bush regime. Not a single iota of change is on this menu.

Her appeal is that she is a hockey mom, that she is just like everybody else and that she and McCain understands their concerns.

However, the most powerful moment of the night, and the moment where one of the candidates genuinely touched us and connected, belonged to Biden when he choked stating:

Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid's going to make it.

I understand what it's like to sit around the kitchen table with a father who says, "I've got to leave, champ, because there's no jobs here. I got to head down to Wilmington. And when we get enough money, honey, we'll bring you down."

In that moment he undercut her claim to represent the man in the street and showed that he, surprisingly, was the person with the story you could most relate to.

It was also a moment which Palin failed to acknowledge had even happened, ploughing on with her "Maverick" talk. Something creepy and unnerving happened there.

So, it's true that the debate was framed in a way to help her and that she did not make any obvious gaffes, but neither did she, despite the extraordinary amount of times she used the word "Maverick", point out a single instance where a McCain/Biden ticket would differ from the Bush administration.

I'm sure Republicans everywhere will be enjoying huge sighs of relief that she didn't fall flat on her face, but neither did she shine. CNN viewers handed the debate to Biden by a huge margin, 51-36%, and I have to say that I found that a fair reading of the night.

She did McCain no harm, and if Republicans consider that a success, it says an awful lot about just how low they have set the bar.

Publius hit the nail on the head:
Palin, by contrast, didn’t wear very well. Her schtick got old. Like her candidacy more generally, it was a sugar rush that fades quickly. It wasn’t so much that she had any truly trainwreck responses (though there was plenty of gibberish). It was that her mindless memorized cutesy lines and winks began to look like amateur hour in comparison to Biden’s command of facts and policy.
That just about sums it up.

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