Friday, October 3, 2008

Idiots at the Gates: The VP Debate

As a political scientist, and professor, it is impossible for me to teach a class without having the sufficient knowledge of events. Needless to say, I cannot avoid the unavoidable, regardless of how much I want to. Such was my attitude about the vice presidential debate last night. I was hoping that maybe both would go down in flames, caught plagiarizing a Kennedy speech or asserting that a Russian invasion of Wasilla could be imminent, but of course I was not so entertained. Instead, I had to endure the sight of two over-prepped word trippers going out of their way not to extend themselves beyond their talking points.

I suppose if one objectively wanted to decide a winner, it would have to be Governor Palin, even then it is only to the extent that she did not look blankly into the screen and declare her expertise on the war in Iraq summates from Alaska sharing a border with the Middle East. True, Biden avoided the same gaffes, but there is a calculation with Senator Biden that seemingly does not exist with Palin. I have a hard time imagining any politician not being able to name a newspaper or magazine. I guess this is what now constitutes success in our polity. Not being a complete screw up. For what it is worth, and it is not much, folks who were polled after the debates gave the edge to Biden.


Debate poll says Biden won, Palin beat expectations

(CNN) -- A national poll of people who watched the vice presidential debate Thursday night suggests that Democratic Sen. Joe Biden won, but also says Republican Gov. Sarah Palin exceeded expectations.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. said 51 percent of those polled thought Biden did the best job, while 36 percent thought Palin did the best job.

But respondents said the folksy Palin was more likable, scoring 54 percent to Biden's 36 percent. Seventy percent said Biden was more of a typical politician.

Both candidates exceeded expectations -- 84 percent of the people polled said Palin did a better job than they expected, while 64 percent said Biden also exceeded expectations.

How Palin would perform had been a major issue for the Alaska governor, who had some well-publicized fumbles during interviews with CBS' Katie Couric leading up to the debate.

Respondents thought Biden was better at expressing his views, giving him 52 percent to Palin's 36 Tell us who you think did best

On the question of the candidates' qualifications to assume the presidency, 87 percent of those polled said Biden is qualified and 42 percent said Palin is qualified.

The candidates sparred over which team would be the better agent of change, and Biden came out on top of that debate, with 53 percent of those polled giving the nod to the Delaware senator while 42 percent said Palin was more likely to bring change.

Respondents overwhelmingly said moderator Gwen Ifill was fair during the vice presidential debate, repudiating critics who said that Ifill, of PBS, would be biased because she is writing a book that includes Biden's running mate, Sen. Barack Obama.

Ninety-five percent of those polled said Ifill was fair.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Obama was selected as a winner over Republican Sen. John McCain in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp.

My students, however, thank goodness for young people, were having none of it this morning. They kept asking, "But why didn't she answer any of the questions? Why did she keep harking on energy when she was asked about something else?" And my favorite, "Is Joe Biden's hair real?" Well, I could only give them an answer on the last one (obviously, no), but unfortunately all of the frustration over the lack of specifics in answering questions is hardly anything new. It is the norm in debates and political interviews. It is a specialty of politicians in free societies. You would think that they would understand how annoying this is to the average voter, but apparently the campaign managers have yet to receive the memo.

So, who did him or herself the greatest service in this debate? As aforementioned, Sarah Palin probably did the best just by not acting like a Ms. Teen USA contestant. In light of the embarrassment that was her previous interviews, there were murmurs from the right that she should step down. This debate showed that with proper brainwashing and programming that she too can be conditioned like any other religious person. What the debate also did was shore up the illusory justification to keep her on the ticket, particularly for the heterosexual fetus and gun worshipers. That may not seem like much of a gain, but this is a campaign that is all about meeting lowered expectations.

Another oddity of the Palin experience at the debates, at least one that I noticed immediately, was her call for "expanding" the powers of the Vice President.

Nothing better exemplifies the degeneration of conservatism as an ideology in this country than when its adherents begin advocating ideas that are contradictions to their own claimed values. You would think that someone would have taken her to task for this (outside of a cursory denunciation of Dick Cheney), since there is no Constitutional provision for such expanded powers (after all, conservatives are supposed to believe in the strict construction of the Constitution), and the fact there was no definition of what these new powers would be. Does she want to be the new Secretary of State, Defense, and Vice President? It took the President well into the 20th century to visit Congress and deliver an annual state of the union address in person. What we would call delegated and inferred powers for the President were not commonly accepted until after World War Two. When someone says that the ceremonial insurance policy of the President (whose only real power is casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate) should have more powers (a position that our first VP once referred to as insignificant), and does not specify what those expanded powers may be, it would behoove someone to inquire about it.

Lastly, after Thursday night's debate, Governor Palin decided to criticize her own Presidential candidate for pulling out of and conceding Michigan. Tactically, she is correct. I have never seen a Presidential candidate openly concede a state a month before an election before (by doing so, it virtually guarantees that the state will go to Obama). Still, is it wise to be openly criticizing your own Presidential candidate? After all, the fellow picked you out of the doldrums of your snowmobileland to potentially an irregular heartbeat or melanoma spell away from the Oval Office. If I did not know any better, I would swear the Republican VP candidate is feigning a show of assertiveness.

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