As I sort of expected, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden both did kinda OK tonight. Biden had some good moments but was a bit too stodgy and senatorial. Palin was overly scripted, managed to avoid making too much of a word salad, and seemed to be trying too hard to be folksy. I don’t feel like too many people really say “doggone it” in a setting like this, even in Alaska. I looked over some of a gubernatorial debate from the CSPAN archives, and don’t recall her trying so hard to be folksy there.
She seemed to have trouble engaging with the actual questions being raised, and it was obvious that she had been given her talking points, and wasn’t going to go beyond them. That’s all well and good, but a far cry from the more discursive style we saw from Biden tonight, and from both Obama and McCain the other day. It’s sad to say, but Palin is simply not ready for prime time, and doesn’t measure up to the other three candidates.
Joe Biden deftly got around the big concern a lot of people expressed before the debate: would he be seen as attacking poor young innocent Palin. The approach was simple; he went after McCain. When Palin said something foolish or dishonest, he didn’t attack Palin, he called out McCain. Since joining the ticket, all Palin’s done is repeat the lines McCain and his lobbyist staff wrote for her, and Biden was too smart to waste time arguing with the puppet. Americans are voting for the one behind the curtain, and that’s who Biden went after. And if McCain can’t take that, he just needs to come out from behind Mama Palin’s skirts.
The most revealing exchange was the discussion of the nature of the Vice Presidency. Palin seems to think that there’s a lot of Constitutional flex in what the VP does. Which is true, in the sense that nothing is really forbidden from the VP, but almost no actual power is given. And I’m sorry, but Palin is simply deranged if she thinks the VP is not constitutionally part of the executive branch. But Biden was a bit off in claiming that Article I defines the executive branch. That’d be Article II; Article I discusses the legislative branch, and briefly mentions that the VP breaks ties in the Senate (“The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided,” exactly as Biden said).
Biden’s retort Palin’s maundering on this topic was important. The Constitution matters, and this administration’s contortions of the laws and the Constitution are among the most important reasons to get them and their ilk out of government. Good for Biden for laying down a marker on that key point.
Also, Palin totally lied about what the generals in Afghanistan say. She insisted that they hadn’t explicitly ruled out the surge strategy. TPM Election Central quotes her saying:
Well, first, McClellan did not say definitively the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan. Certainly, accounting for different conditions in that different country and conditions are certainly different. We have NATO allies helping us for one and even the geographic differences are huge but the counterinsurgency principles could work in Afghanistan. McClellan didn’t say anything opposite of that. The counterinsurgency strategy going into Afghanistan, clearing, holding, rebuilding, the civil society and the infrastructure can work in Afghanistan. And those leaders who are over there, who have also been advising George Bush on this have not said anything different but that.
In fact, the general, whose name is actually McKiernan, said “The word I don’t use for Afghanistan is ‘surge,’ ” and clarified that “Afghanistan is not Iraq.” McCain and Palin don’t seem to grasp that.