Friday, October 3, 2008

The Vice Presidential Debate: Gravitas vs. Gidget


In "The Palin Rebound" (10/3/08), conservative columnist David Brooks wrote, "Palin could not match Biden when it came to policy detail, but she never obviously floundered."

So this is how far our standards have lowered. If, as a candidate for the second highest office in the land, one doesn't flounder, one is on a rebound. We're certainly grading on a curve, aren't we? Perhaps it's through eight years of George W. Bush that we have such diminished expectations.

The strategy from the McCain campaign, of course, was to lower expectations for Palin's performance. Did it really need to? Palin did the job on her own, not being able to name one periodical that she has read or discuss one Supreme Court case beyond Roe v. Wade in her disastrous interviews with Katie Couric.

It's true that Palin never obviously floundered in her debate with Biden. What she did do was endlessly use the lines her coaches gave her, resort to her trademark cliches and folksy expressions and continuously refer to her index cards (see her Debate Flow Chart above, courtesy of Wonkette). Of course, there was also her perky manner, the closest the nation has come to "Gidget" in a vice-presidential candidate.

Perhaps there were some who were charmed by Palin's "everyday folks" manner. Call me a northeastern elitist, but I was annoyed by it all, including the use of "You betcha," "Darn right," "Doggone it"  and "Get down to gettin' business done." (Of course, every "g" had to be dropped.) And, just like George Bush, is it so hard to pronounce the word "nuclear"? Her vocabulary is so obviously meant to appeal to those she terms "Joe Six-Pack" and "hockey moms."

Now there's nothing wrong with having a common touch, but I would hope that it would be balanced with a certain gravitas for someone who presumes to be on the world stage. The problem is that Palin so obviously does not belong there. In fact, her manner and vocabulary hide the fact that she has very little to say of substance. 

Speaking of McCain's repeated statement that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," she repeated the absurd contention that "he was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce." 

When Biden spoke about Obama's plan to restore progressive taxation after years of tax breaks for the wealthy and to give the middle class a bigger tax cut than John McCain would, Palin responded, "Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic." She obviously distorted his message. Biden wasn't referring to increased taxes for the middle class, and by patriotic, he meant the rich paying their fair share to meet the needs of the nation. And, of course, Palin had no adequate answer to Biden's pointing out that McCain intends to continue tax cuts for billionaires and big oil.

Palin also referred to McCain's $5,ooo tax credit to encourage families to purchase a health care plan. Biden exposed McCain's method of financing his plan, which led to his most memorable line of the night:

Now, with regard to the -- to the health care plan, you know, it's with one hand you giveth, the other you take it. You know how... John McCain pays for his $5,000 tax credit you're going to get, a family will get?

He taxes as income every one of you out there, every one of you listening who has a health care plan through your employer. That's how he raises $3.6 trillion, on your -- taxing your health care benefit to give you a $5,000 plan, which his Web site points out will go straight to the insurance company.

And then you're going to have to replace a $12,000 -- that's the average cost of the plan you get through your employer -- it costs $12,000. You're going to have to pay -- replace a $12,000 plan, because 20 million of you are going to be dropped. Twenty million of you will be dropped.

So you're going to have to place -- replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company. I call that the "Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere."

It was in Biden that we saw the gravitas, knowledge of the world and command of the facts that we'd expect of a vice presidential candidate. Following Palin's nonsensical doubts about the causes of global warming, Biden compared McCain's record on energy with Obama's vision:

Now, let's look at the facts. We have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. We consume 25 percent of the oil in the world. John McCain has voted 20 times in the last decade-and-a-half against funding alternative energy sources, clean energy sources, wind, solar, biofuels.

The way in which we can stop the greenhouse gases from emitting. We believe -- Barack Obama believes by investing in clean coal and safe nuclear, we can not only create jobs in wind and solar here in the United States, we can export it.

In contrast to McCain's endless military commitment to Iraq, Biden spoke about a clear plan for ending a war that never should have started:

Gwen, with all due respect, I didn't hear a plan. Barack Obama offered a clear plan. Shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Draw down our combat troops. Ironically the same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq and George Bush are now negotiating. The only odd man out here, only one left out is John McCain..

I was most pleased to see Biden puncturing Palin's pretense that she and McCain are "mavericks":

Look, the maverick -- let's talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.

He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.

He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against -- he voted including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.

He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.

He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table.

Can we send -- can we get Mom's MRI? Can we send Mary back to school next semester? We can't -- we can't make it. How are we going to heat the -- heat the house this winter?

He voted against even providing for what they call LIHEAP, for assistance to people, with oil prices going through the roof in the winter.

So maverick he is not on the important, critical issues that affect people at that kitchen table.

Those critical issues are not addressed by a glib identification with "Joe Sixpack" and soccer moms. They're addressed by serious and considered strategies for change, something that only Joe Biden provided during the vice presidential debate.

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