Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

The Biden-Palin VP Debate: Analysis

Posted by sanityinjection on October 3, 2008

There’s an old saying in sports that there is a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. In sports, playing not to lose is usually a bad strategy, but in politics, that’s not always the case. Last night, both VP nominees, Sentaor Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin, were playing not to lose. And in my opinion, both were successful.

The debate held pitfalls for both candidates. For Biden, the danger was that he would get carried away and say something offensive or inane that would embarrass his campaign. He did not do that last night. For Palin, the danger was that she would flub questions and be exposed as inexperienced and not knowledgeable enough on the issues facing the country. She did not do that last night.

I thought both candidates’ performances could be described as good but not stellar. There was nothing “game-changing” in this debate; nobody scored a knockout punch. Biden displayed a good command of the issues and spent most of the debate hammering John McCain’s record and campaign proposals. On the intangibles, he came across as reasonable and avoided the danger of appearing condescending or dismissive of his opponent – notably refraining from correcting her when she flubbed the name of a general. He even choked up slightly at one point when discussing the loss of his first wife and his concern over his son who is serving in the National Guard.

Palin managed to hold her own against Biden. She was never going to outpoint him on policy details, but she was conversant on the issues and succeeded in challenging several aspects of Obama’s and Biden’s records that Biden then had to defend. On the intangibles, her charisma absolutely radiated – she actually winked at the camera on a couple of occasions. She was authentic as she reminded the audience of her solidly middle-class, middle-America status.

To the extent that anyone “won” this debate, I would give the nod to Palin, not because she outpointed Biden, but because she had the most to lose if she had performed poorly. She confounded the many critics who expected her to fall flat on her face. Biden, by contrast was a known quantity; his performance, while one of his better ones, was less of a story.

The problem for the Republicans is that this debate is unlikely to have a major impact on the race, as VP debates almost never do. (In 1988 Lloyd Bentsen absolutely destroyed Dan Quayle in their debate, but the Bush-Quayle ticket still won the election decisively.) Obama is surging in the polls, no doubt in part because of the current economic crisis which focuses voter attention on the Democrats’ issues. McCain and Palin need something in the next 30 days that will reverse that trend, or they will almost certainly lose. As it stands right now, the Obama campaign just needs to play defense. But their lead is not so great as to be insurmountable or irreversible. What we learned last night is this: If McCain loses the election, it won’t be because of Sarah Palin.

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