Friday, October 3, 2008

VP debate: initial ramblings

Edit 1:Added as an afterthought: link to a transcript in case I start rambling about random crap and people want to know what the heck I'm talking about.

Edit 2: This reply got so long that I'm dividing it up under headers just to ensure myself that it's organized coherently. Don't mind me, I'll just be over here failing to repress my anal retentiveness....

Point the First: Palin's Job

I think Palin did a good job of bolstering her own image after the disastrous interviews with Katie Couric, but she didn't do too much for McCain. McCain's big sticking point right now (with people scared sh*tless about the economy) is to make Obama seem risky, and she didn't help her ticket on that one. She was too busy saving her own backside and her own credibility. But, despite not helping her ticket with its main task, she did salvage some of her credibility, and that'll be good for improving the morale of Republicans.

I think that was her real job here, not earning any new converts. She needed to remind McCain's supporters why, at first blush, they liked her so much.

Point the Second: Biden's Job

Biden wasn't perfectly on topic with each question (which saddened me as a debater myself), but I felt he did better about sticking to issues than Palin did. He brought it around to concrete and specific references to the Constitution and various bills. However, judging by the meter at the bottom of the screen from CNN's undecided voter focus group, they didn't like him talking about the specifics of people's voting records. Biden didn't do a good job of convincing people they should care about which bills are what, and I was hoping that he'd be able to hammer that in much better than he did.

What Biden did hammer in, in my view at least, was Obama's stance that McCain is no maverick these days--even if he undeniably once was. He didn't accomplish the specific task I was hoping to see (which was convincing "values voters" that economic viability and our international reputation are tied to "values," too), but he did his ticket more good by emphasizing McCain's lock-step with Bush than Palin did by recovering her own tattered credibility.

Point the Third: What's a VP do, anyway?

I think it shouldn't be forgotten that Biden and Palin aren't campaigning for POTUS. But! Their stances on what a VP is and should do were very very good to see. This was really the most interesting and instructive part for me tonight.

I think Ifill did a good job of asking them what they expected their roles to be, and that Biden was able to offer much more concrete answers there than Palin (who at least managed to prove this time that she at least read a junior civics text before she came). A big area where they differed was Dick Cheney.

Palin doesn't quite seem to understand (or willfully ignores, like Dick Cheney) which branch the VP is actually in. His role as president pro-tem of the Senate notwithstanding, Cheney's willingness to use that as an excuse to avoid Executive oversight (while theoretically retaining the ability to invoke Executive privilege in case the legislature gets too nosey) is disturbing to me. I think Biden did a better job here of tying the VP's role back to what it says in the Constitution, however... the focus group didn't really want to hear about the Constitution.

Point the Fourth: Who won?

Not sure how to feel about that, but part of a debater's job is making people care about the evidence. For all that I think Biden is a better debater by the standards I was trained in, he did not do a particularly good job of getting the focus group to care about what how he supported his statements. By all technical standards and rules of how debate should happen, he outperformed Palin (but I think everyone expected this). What I should have expected (but didn't) was that he would be so ineffective at reaching the focus group by referencing facts.

So yeah. Palin did her job and helped herself. Biden helped his ticket. It's up to personal preference whether viewers felt the VP candidates were here to help themselves or help their respective campaigns, and I'm predicting how people prioritize those two goals will probably influence whom they felt won the debate.

No comments: