Posted on October 2, 2008
Joe Biden won the debate substantively. Sarah Palin won it stylistically. Sound familiar?John McCain won the first debate substantively, but all anybody wanted to talk about was how he wouldn’t look at Barack Obama. Obama was vague in his answers, but he looked good, so he won the debate.My dad always tells me about the Nixon-Kennedy debate. If you listened to it on the radio (which he did) Nixon won. If you watched on television, Kennedy won. Nixon’s five o’clock shadow and reluctance to wear make-up did him in.Sarah Palin is no John Kennedy but she does wear lipstick, and she won this debate, if for no other reason, that she did a lot better than anyone thought she would. On the continuum of Minnesota speech (Palin at her best) at one end and Couric (Palin at her worst) at the other, Palin was much closer to Minnesota than to Couric.Palin mangled the English language, her winks were a little annoying, and her accent is a little too Northern exposure for me, but she speaks to middle America. Unlike McCain, she talked about the middle class. She empathized with the concerns of working class America. She gets what the daily struggles and daily triumphs of Americans all over the country are.I thought her best moments were the unexpected lines of a non-politician. When she said that Americans needed to take personal responsibility for the current economic crisis, it was a breath of fresh air. She called Biden out for Washington double-talk, which became more and more necessary as the night went on.Biden has assumed the mantle of senior statesmen and long-time Senator, which meant he lied through his teeth with convincing certainty. He lied about McCain’s votes on taxes (McCain did not vote the same way as Obama on a Democratic budget resolution that would raise taxes on people making $42,000. McCain didn’t vote at all, while Obama voted for it). He lied about when he said that Barack Obama never said that he would sit down unconditionally with Mahmoud Ahmedinijad of Iran. Barack Obama did say specifically, and Joe Biden attacked him for it. He lied when he indicated that John McCain and Barack Obama voted the same way against funding the troops in the field. (John McCain opposed a bill that included a timeline, that the President of the United States had already said he would veto regardless of its passage). He lied when he said Palin supported a windfall profits tax in Alaska -- she reformed the state tax and revenue system, it's not a windfall profits tax.
Palin has gone from asset to liability back to asset again. Now that she has completed her crash course on John McCain’s record for this debate, hopefully she can start campaigning as the most popular governor in the land.
The McCain campaign has botched the roll-out of Palin almost from the get-go. Why they did back to back interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric is beyond me. Hopefully, they can start getting her to meet the press in such a way that it won’t make too much news.
Palin is not the issue of this campaign and shouldn’t be. Everybody knows that John McCain is ready to lead. Is Barack Obama? Let’s get the campaign focused on that question.
This debate performance will help shift the focus back to Obama. Now that Palin is not a complete train wreck, she will be much less interesting for the national press. That’s a good thing for the McCain campaign and for that reason alone, Palin won this debate.