You probably missed some or all of the vice presidential debate Thursday night because you were watching the Phillies game. Normally, I am critical of the American public at large for not taking an active enough roll in politics to be properly informed on the issues, of not really taking the time to listen to and make educated decisions about which candidates to support. In the highly likely case that you thought the Phillies and baseball were more important than the fate and future of our nation, let me tell you what you missed from Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin’s debate.
First of all, I want to stress the ‘fun’ in fundamental because really that is all this debate was for, fun. History shows that vice presidential debates don’t decide elections because people cast votes for presidents and not vice presidents. The only way that this debate would have mattered was if one or both of the vice presidential nominees would have performed like the New York Mets and had a total meltdown.
The ‘fun’ part was that many in the media were predicting or at least anticipating such a disaster might happen.
Gov. Palin had had a few terrible interviews and public speaking gaffes in the last two weeks, and people were starting to compare her to Dan Quayle, saying she needed to improve to be considered as bad as he had been as a vice president. This came on the heels of her inability to name a Supreme Court case of significance, other than Roe v. Wade, and her seeming inability to name a single newspaper that she follows during an interview with Katie Couric for CBS.
On the other hand, Sen. Biden is well known throughout his career for being long winded and getting himself in trouble when he improvises during his speeches. In the last few weeks, he had asserted that Roosevelt had gotten on television as president in 1929 to calm the nation about the great depression. In fact, Roosevelt wasn’t president in 1929, and he addressed the nation on the radio, not television.
Biden also implied that there would be gun violence against Obama if he tried to take his guns away, in a speech meant to calm voters fears over Republican claims Obama would revoke gun rights.
Ultimately, everyone was hoping for a reality show-esque implosion by one or both vice presidential candidates last night, and instead we got cool, calm, measured, and on-point from both. Neither made a serious gaffe, although both continued many of their respective campaigns’ half truths, distortions or down right lies.
As the debate started, it seemed Biden was having difficulty finding just the right angles to attack Palin on. As much as we have heard about sexist coverage of Palin and Sen. Clinton during this Presidential election, it is still also true that attacking either woman in anyway is perceived as sexist by some, even when it is a valid point being stated.
It took Biden about half of the debate before he found his tone and his points to be made and began focusing in on her. Before he found his stride he did little to respond to attacks by Palin on his and Obama’s policies and record. He also did little to advance his and Obama’s ideas and goals as an administration, should they be elected.
While his answers covered the topics and answered the questions, they did little to truly inform the viewer of the motives, reasons, or evidence for why his ideas were the right ones. This left his points hanging, making them sound more like suggestions than solutions.
Palin for her part made what can either be described as a brilliant or cynical move very early in the debate. She stated she would answer the questions the way she wanted to, even though that may not be the way Biden or the moderator, Gwen Eiffel of PBS, wanted them answered. Essentially she said she would only answer the questions she wanted to.
True to her word, Palin made non-answers for several questions, most notably about her perceived weakness of inexperience, and what specific changes would be made by a McCain/Palin administration in regards to relations with Israel and Palestinians compared to the Bush administration policies. These two answers contained virtually no information relevant to the question and were mostly filled with her repeating the words maverick and change as much as possible.
In fact, I heard a story that some individuals were going to treat the debate as a drinking game and take a drink every time Biden used his trademark “I tell ya” or “Listen.” in the middle of an answer to change directions, or Palin used the words ‘change’ or ‘maverick.’ Anyone who tried this died of alcohol poisoning within eight minutes of the debate starting, I am sure. Biden used both phrases continuously, and Gov. Palin uttered the word ‘maverick’ more times by the third minute of the debate than in the entire movie “Maverick” starring Mel Gibson. By the half-hour mark, she had used the word more times than the entire TV series the movie was based on.
In all, both candidates showed skill and polish during the debate, staying on message and presenting their issues thoughtfully and with a good measure of civility. No clear winner emerged from the two, although I am sure each campaign and their supporters will claim victory over the other in the days and weeks to come.
Ultimately, the debate proved and upheld the previously stated rule, which is that vice presidential debates don’t matter. In the end, this one was more about fun and spectacle than it was about substance, as neither one imploded.
Ted Trevorrow is a fourth-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at ET666499@wcupa.edu.