I live-blogged the vice presidential debate, and I surely made some mistakes in grammar and spelling (and even fact) as I attempted to follow the exchange. I'll revise this document later.
6:00: Years ago, I heard some version of this phrase, "Wars are fought by professionals, but the battlefield is filled with amateurs." I'm flashing back on that insight as we begin tonight's debate.
On the Democratic side: a seasoned professional, a member of the United States Senate since he was 30. On the Republican side: a "Hockey Mom" candidate who transforms Joe-Sixpack, Just-Folksism into a virtue.
Tonight we will see a contemporary manifestation of the ancient debate between elitism and populism.
Many prognosticators foretell a blowout one way or the other: a cringe-inducing gaffe by Senator Biden or an embarrassing display of ignorance by Governor Palin.
Me? I anticipate that both candidates will work hard to make no news at all. Both can at times be frustratingly dense. But neither is stupid. Both know that they cannot win so much as they can lose. So there will be few fireworks. At the outset, that's what I predict.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog-post, I'm evaluating this debate according to three criteria: clash, specificity, and nuance. From that perspective, I hope to focus my remarks upon the serious issues raised tonight. But beware: If I spot too much silliness, I may get a little rowdy.
Well, here we go...
6:02: Only 90 seconds for answers and two minutes for follow-up exchange? Lovely. The comparative lack of opportunities for genuine exchange between these candidates promises some pretty low-caliber clash. This debate has been organized to preclude the possibility of, well, debate. Let's see how long these rules hold up.
6:03: "Can I call you Joe?" Oh my...
6:04: Biden lays out "four basic criteria": Good. We see some specifics early on.
6:05: Palin: "Go to a kid's soccer game . . . I betcha..."
6:06: Palin gives a sly look at Biden when dismissing "people in the Senate" who failed to heed John McCain's call for reform.
6:07: Biden: Oh, John? You remember that you celebrated the economy being "strong"?
6:08: Palin: The American workforce is what McCain means by our "strong economy." Yeah, that's the ticket.
6:09: Moderator Gwen Ifill noticed something a bit annoying. Neither candidate seemed to answer the question.
6:10: Palin: "Darn right!"
6:10: The first reference to "Joe Six-Pack."
6:11: Biden has chosen to bypass his opponent's "you betcha" optimism. Thank goodness, though, that he believes that John McCain is a "good man." I was worried.
6:12: Biden is zeroing in McCain's support for deregulation.
6:12: Nice story about Joey not being able to fill up his tank!
6:13: Clash! "The vote she's referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way."
6:14: Palin: "I may not answer the questions the way the moderator or you want..." Well, that's one way to go...
6:15: Senator Biden, has anyone ever mentioned how much your smile resembles that of Rod Serling?
6:15: Palin lets the attack drop entirely on McCain's record on deregulation.
6:16: Biden: No one making less that $200,000 will see their taxes increase. "When you do well, America does well."
6:17: Palin: You're forgetting the millions of small businesses that fit into that category.
6:19: Turning to McCain's health care plan. Palin offers some detail: a tax credit. Then she claims that Obama's plan is universal and mandatory, which is an error in fact.
6:19: Biden: "We don't call that redistribution, we call that fairness."
6:20: Biden continues the clash: That tax credit is paid for by taxation elsewhere.
6:21: First laugh of the night: Biden's reference to "bridge to nowhere."
6:21: Biden tosses foreign aid when asked what must be cut in these tight economic times. Stay classy, Joe!
6:22: "The light is blinking": Senator Biden, that pounding, throbbing sound you hear is the collective racing heartbeat of your handlers hoping that you will stop talking.
6:23: Palin on those oil company CEOs: "Bless their hearts." That's nice.
6:24: Palin: "How long have I been at this, five weeks?" That about covers it.
6:25: Biden asks a rhetorical question: Why is John McCain adding another tax cut for oil companies?
6:26: No answer from Palin (though, to be fair, there's no time).
6:27: What is it with Palin and "rearing heads"?
6:28: Biden does a good job of addressing his voting differences with Obama.
6:29: Rather than answer the question, Palin chooses to talk about "my record on energy."
6:29: The first reference to those danged "East-coast politicians."
6:30: Palin: Energy independence is necessary for this nation's future. Bold talk, Governor.
6:31: Palin: "I don't want to argue about the causes" of climate change. Hmmm. I do!
6:33: Biden: John McCain has voted 20 times against alternative energy funding. What say you, Governor?
6:34: Palin: "Yes, Senator McCain does support this." Well, it's nice to get that settled...
6:35: Biden is looking at Palin as if she's mildly drunk.
6:35: "Nu-CU-ler"? Really? Still?
6:36: Biden pushes the attack: 20 times against...
6:36: Turning to same-sex partnerships.
6:37: Palin resists any policies that change the traditional definition of marriage. Immediately thereafter, she affirms her tolerance. "I will tell Americans straight up": I bet you will.
6:38: Ifell: "Let's try to avoid nuance, Senator." No, let's not.
6:39: Turning to foreign policy...
6:39: Palin: "I am very thankful...": We have a candidate for most pointlessly repeated phrase of the debate.
6:40: Palin pulls out the old 'they voted to cut funding for the troops' line.
6:41: Biden: "With all due respect, I didn't hear a plan."
6:41: Clash! Biden won't allow that 'they didn't vote to fund the troops' silliness.
6:42: Palin: "Your plan is a white flag of surrender." Wow.
6:43: Rather than continue the thread about the comparative plans, Palin chooses to attack Obama and sickeningly bring Biden's family into her argument.
6:45: Turning to Iran and Pakistan...
6:45: Biden: "Pakistan already has nuclear weapons." Interesting point.
6:46: Biden: Any attack on the U.S. will come from Afghanistan and/or Pakistan.
6:46: Biden cites the fight for "hearts and minds." Senator Biden, the ghosts of Vietnam, line one.
6:47: Palin mispronounces "nuclear" again. Take another drink!
6:48: Again with the "no preconditions" line.
6:49: Apparently Palin recently had a great conversation with Dr. Kissinger.
6:49: Biden: And, oh yeah, five secretaries of state said we ought to talk with our enemies.
6:51: Ooops. John McCain did say he wouldn't talk with the government of Spainnnnnnnn. Pause and let that sink in.
6:52: Palin knows of the existence of Jordan and Egypt.
6:53: Biden shows a little nuance "in fairness to Secretary Rice."
6:53: Biden cites "the country immediately to the north of Israel." Go ahead and say it, Lebanon. We can handle the truth, Joe.
6:54: Biden takes a deep breath. Dude, that mic is hot. Relax.
6:55: Palin assures us that positive change is coming. The impressive range and length of Senator Palin's happy-talk, if transformed into electrical energy, could power all of Alaska.
6:55: Biden: "I haven't heard how ____ will be different than George Bush's." How many times was that?
6:56: Palin: "Nu CU ler" weapons. Take another drink, but only one per answer. Otherwise you may not make it through the night.
6:58: Biden: "Facts matter, Gwen."
6:58: Biden: "Let me say that again." No, it's OK. We have Tivo.
6:59: Biden: "My time is almost up." Was that also a rhetorical statement?
7:00: Palin: The surge-I-mean-counter-insurgency strategy will work in Afghanistan.
7:01: Good. There's plenty of exchange. I was afraid this would be a series of competitive talking-points. Not so.
7:01: Biden: "I think the American people have the stomach for success." I'm not so sure. My stomach is filled with chicken wings.
7:02: Biden: "I gave the president the power." Watch it, Joe. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
7:03: Palin: "Oh, man. It's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider." Need directions home, Governor?
7:05: Biden answers a question about lines to be crossed prior to American intervention. For a while. "Let's go back to John McCain's strategy."
7:06: Biden uses a 25-cent-word, "contemporaneously." That's gonna cost you, dude.
7:06: Palin: "John McCain, who knows how to win a war." Well...
7:07: Biden answers a stupid question smartly. What happens if Obama is killed? "God forbid that would ever happen..."
7:09: Palin seemed to like Biden's answer too: "And, heaven forbid..."
7:08: Palin sure is appreciative.
7:10: Palin is reaching out for those average working families again.
7:10: Biden hangs out on Main Street too! He promises!
7:11: "Walk with me in my neighborhood." Biden's ability to drop that line won him the veep spot.
7:12: Palin: "Say it ain't so, Joe!" To paraphrase from Joshua Villines' Facebook posting: snippy, passive-aggressive, and sarcastic is no way to go through life, Governor Palin.
7:12: Palin: "Here's a shout-out." Extra credit for the kids watching the debate!
7:13: Is the veep spot worth more than a warm pitcher of spit?
7:13: Double-checking: Is Palin still thankful? Yes!
7:14: Palin: "John McCain has already tapped me." Don't tell Cindy.
7:15: Ifell asks a tough question about the extent of the vice presidential job. Palin has no idea.
7:17: Biden cites the Constitution specifically and brings the pain unto Cheney. I heard the snap way out here in California.
7:18: Ifell asks Palin about her Achilles Heal. Apparently she doesn't have one.
7:19: Ahh, the "shining city upon a hill." Can you imagine American political discourse without that phrase?
7:20: Biden admits to his excessive passion. I admire your courage, Joe. That must have been tough.
7:20: I feel for Biden's sad loss of his first wife and a child. But still...
7:21: Did Joe almost cry? A couple of more seconds, I might have.
7:21: Don't worry. Palin is stayin' sunny!
7:22: Catch up time! Take a drink for every time Palin said the word, "maverick." Then again, don't.
7:23: Clash! He has not been a maverick in ____. Rinse, repeat.
7:24: America's kitchen tables are recognized tonight!
7:25: Joe Biden to Sarah Palin: "My specificity: Let me show it to you." Sarah Palin (channeling Homer Simpson) to Joe Biden: "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true."
7:25: Palin: "I quasi-caved." But I've never caved in principle.
7:26: Ifell: How do you change the tone in Washington?
7:27: Biden: When asked how he'd feel if he found that Senator Helms, a fierce opponent, had adopted a child, the senator replies, "I'd feel like a jerk." Question judgment not motives.
7:29: Palin has a problem with that trillion dollar spending proposal. She might want to check in with her party.
7:30: Palin also isn't a fan of the "mainstream media." Governor Palin, no doubt the ditto-heads are nodding furiously at this implication of media "bias." I would respectfully retort: People who rail against media bias actually seem only to reject messages that fail to conform to their own bias.
7:30: Palin wraps up with a nice speech. Really.
7:31: Biden: "Look folks..."
7:31: Biden manages to say something nice about John McCain before returning to the old neighborhood.
7:32: The debate concludes.
Who won? I'm gonna call it. Biden owned the stage. He maintained the clash that Palin sought to avoid. He employed specifics without calling Palin out on her lack of facts (too often). And he demonstrated the kind of nuance demanded by these days. On points and in quality, Joe Biden rocked the room.