Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Winner Is...

...America, for one night, at least. Tonight's Vice Presidential debate was {gasp} an actual debate, for the most part. Sure, Senator Biden asked for extra response time a couple times, and yes, he of course tried to pin quite a bit to Bush; and sure, Governor Palin (and Biden) avoided the actual question that was being asked a couple of times, particularly in the beginning. But overall, that was actually a well stated debate by both parties, which probably favors Governor Palin more than Senator Biden in terms of results, as she - like Barack Obama in the Presidential debates - was trying to show she's qualified and knowledgeable enough to carry out her duties as Vice President. Senator Biden was trying to present the Obama ticket as a superior one due to their policies, particularly by pinning McCain to Bush. It didn't seem like he gained any new support with what he was saying tonight, but he didn't make any real gaffes that could have eroded any major support.

Palin actually did a decent job not only of presenting herself as qualified, but at pushing the McCain-Palin policies over the Obama-Biden ones as well; not sure if it would sway many, but the social liberal/economic conservatives in the middle might like it. She did a very smooth job at pointing out that most of the people in the $250k+ bracket are not individuals but small businesses; I don't think Biden's arguments about Exxon getting a break resonated because people understand that that's not what Palin was referring to (Exxon is a public corporation, not able to file the way a small business does). Certainly, her arguments should have resonated with small business owners and employees, as would the $5k tax credit, because they usually don't have health insurance through their employers. That the health benefits other companies offer would become a taxable benefit was a good attempt by Biden, but I don't think it would take those voters away from the right; those same voters also gain by their companies having lower corporate taxes under McCain-Palin and are likely to be against the idea of universal health care to begin with.

I was slightly surprised that the Supreme Court didn't come up much, nor abortion. I sincerely hope that nobody tries to claim that Biden's emotional reaction about raising his kids as a single dad was fake, nor on the flip side that Sarah Palin was implying he didn't understand what it was like to "sit around the table" with one's family. She was clearly showing her connection to the middle class, and he was clearly showing he has had his share of hard times as well. I liked what he said about not questioning their motives; I liked what she said about it coming back to the actual policies. Biden's line takes away some of that "attacker" label, while hers was a nice shot at hammering home "our policies are better".

Biden may have actually helped Palin a bit by consistently agreeing with her policies as Governor of Alaska, noting he liked what she did there. He was trying to not come across as condescending but instead confirmed her abilities as an executive. One very interesting thing to watch was the two of them after the debate standing and talking to one another not only civilly but for real - it wasn't those fake political smiles, it was real discussion and actual introductions between family members. Biden came across as a true grandfatherly figure, while Palin started talking to one of Biden's daughters or nieces and was making a little impact just having that conversation, which I found interesting. Biden does seem to come across - and I don't mean this in a bad way - as someone who wants to get down to business with the people that understand what he's talking about, while Palin is trying to take her time and explain to everyone what it is that is going on and why. Biden noticeably focused his answers at Gwen Ifill or Palin, while Palin noticeably looked into the camera even when responding to Biden much of the time. I think each of those worked to their respective strengths - Biden as the person who has this experience, Palin as the person who can connect to the people.

Unfortunately, the media is going to spend the next 24 hours killing this debate and reducing it to soundbytes and comparisons and instant meaningless poll results and attributing it all to whatever they want to. Fortunately, it was probably a well-watched debate, much like the Obama and Palin speeches were, and people can actually form a decent opinion on their own without being told what they should think. All that being said, it was certainly cute how each side managed to get in their soundbytes - Biden about the "Bridge to Nowhere" and the "change" and "more of the same" mantras, and Palin with the "maverick" lines and the Reagan quotes, with the best being the "There you go again, Joe" that even Biden cracked up about. The very best line was where she mocked the jokes each made, getting laughter from Biden and the audience.

All in all, it was a really good debate, particularly the last 30-40 minutes or so. I think the best way to grade debates is not the "who won" but by grading each; whereas McCain and Obama, from the sound of it (I started to watch it on YouTube but didn't end up doing so), probably both graded in the "D" range, Palin probably got more of a B+ and Biden a B for tonight's debate. What's often - but not always! - the best measure of who won is InTrade, which is people putting actual money on these things; Obama's value to go up after the debate dropped a nice amount (60 -> 48) as soon as it ended, as did the likelihood of Palin being pulled as the VP nominee (11 -> 5). Biden's chances of being pulled as nominee rose a teeny tiny bit (5 -> 6). That sounds like Palin reassured people she was qualified to be the Vice President, which takes her from a possible lag on the ticket back to being the one who can connect to middle-class voters.

What are the chances the Presidential debate next week will be this good? Here's to hoping...