Saturday, October 04, 2008

Biden vs. Palin -- Who Won? 6 Short Takes on the VP Debate

From AlterNet:

Sarah Palin's task was to avoid getting caught in specifics, and she did that with aplomb. Early on, she made her strategy explicit, saying that her answers may not be "what the moderator wants," or what Joe Biden might want to hear, but that she'd "talk straight" to the American people.

She did that by avoiding just about every question for the rest of the debate. In answer to Biden's charge that McCain had voted repeatedly to deregulate the financial sector, she launched into a discussion of taxes; when the subject turned to the bankruptcy "reform" bill, she launched into a slogan-riddled discourse about "Main Street" versus "Wall Street" -- the trite words of the day. Several times she went back to a tested talking point about Barack Obama's support of (Bush's) energy bill, barreling head-on through whatever topic moderator Gwen Ifill was trying to probe at the time.

Throughout, she tried to play up her folksiness, at one point saying "doggone it," and twice winking mischievously at the camera. If you'd been drinking each time she said the word "maverick," you would have ended up with severe alcohol poisoning.

More here.

I've been blowing off presidential debates for over a decade now. They're generally boring in terms of the argumentation, and as I've moved to the left, they always leave me a bit depressed given how mainstream politics have shifted so far to the right since the Reagan era. But because I think Sarah Palin is hot, and because the Katie Couric interview made me hopeful that Palin's rhetorical efforts would end up as something of a train wreck, I watched this one.

And I was disappointed. Really, I couldn't even focus on the whole thing. I ended up doing chores around the house while the debate played on TV. It was that lame.

I mean, okay, Biden was pretty good. That is, he actually came to debate--don't get me wrong; I don't like him or anything, what with his credit industry loving ways and all. But it was clear that he was there for some good arguments, which is how he started out. After only a little while, however, it became completely clear that Palin was there just to look pretty and sound smart, winking and shit, and using words like "Iran" and "General McClellan," who was one of Lincoln's generals during the Civil War, rather than the current US commander in Afghanistan, but no matter. No real debate. No real clash.

I was reminded of my high school debate and competitive public speaking days. Back then, and probably even now, it was pretty easy to win a round if you had a judge who didn't know much about academic debate, usually a soccer mom or the like, by simply sounding good while using big words. It didn't really matter that you didn't know what you were talking about, as long as you came off like David Brinkley or Linda Ellerbee. The suburban mommies and daddies loved that shit.

On the other hand, if you got a debate coach from another school as judge, or a college kid who used to debate in high school, you were totally fucked if you had no idea what you're talking about. Looking good didn't count for shit. You always had to size up your judge and strategize accordingly. Of course, if all you were capable of doing was immitating famous broadcast journalists, you'd have to always play the looking good angle--these people usually lost at state and nationals, where tournament organizers weren't so hard up for judges.

Anyway, I've been sensing a fear on the left that Palin's use of the looking good gambit will play well with swing voters. I'm not buying it. Swing voters are indeed wishy washy vessels of political ignorance and apathy, but eight years of disastrous GOP rule, coupled with this current credit and finance crisis, have rubbed almost everybody's nose in Republican bullshit. It's going to take a whole lot more than grace under fire to convince average Americans that continuing Republican rule is a good idea. Sarah Palin is not Ronald Reagan, and this isn't 1980: for once, even the retarded middle understands that there are important differences between the far right-wing Republicans and the right-wing Democrats.

She's just not a threat to the Obama/Biden ticket. Period. Things are so fucking bad that uplifting rhetoric and a perky smile won't do shit.

But wouldn't a real debate have been nice for once?