Friday, October 3, 2008

Biden v. Palin

I didn't watch the vice-presidential debate live. I'm an early riser, and was not prepared to stay at it until 10:30 pm (I'm in the Eastern time zone). I was only awake long enough to see the Phightin' Phils conclude their second victory over the True Blue Brew Crew.

I have so far seen the first few minutes of the debate on my DVR. What I've seen is consonant with the reviews I've been reading on the Web. It was, in a sense, a draw.

I think we can make an analogy to the military concept of asymmetrical warfare. That was what allowed al Qaeda to attack the much, much, much more powerful U.S.A., on September 11, 2001.

Biden, who is completing his sixth term in the U.S. Senate, has more experience dealing with issues such as foreign policy, taxation, regulation of financial services, etc. than all but very few in either house of Congress. As expected, he spoke smoothly and eloquently about those topics, with effortless command of the basic facts. (How far either candidate may have been molding the truth to fit their stories is a somewhat different question.)

Palin was eight years old when Biden was first elected to the Senate. She has been mayor of a tiny town, and, very briefly, governor of the second-least-populous state. The balance of power was seemingly all against her.

But that background gives Palin certain advantages that Biden can't match. She can portray herself as an outsider at a time when both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government are held in low regard.

Her folksy charm is something that would not fit Biden's style, and he wisely did not go there. But she felt no inhibitions about saying such things as "bringing folks together", "darn right", "Joe Six-pack" and, of course, "hockey moms".

In the words of the document I've linked to above, she fought on her own terms.

Neither side had much to gain. Biden is obviously a "safe pair of hands". He could not significantly add to the reputation he has built up over several decades. On the other hand, Palin could not have sold herself as a born-again policy wonk. That would not have been credible, regardless of the quality of her performance.

On the other hand, there was a downside risk for each candidate. I think Biden would have come off badly, had he seemed too condescending toward Palin. And the danger for Palin was that she would have appeared to be in over her head. They both avoided those traps.

So that seems to leave things unchanged: Obama is still in the lead, and McCain remains in need of something with which to break the Illinoisan's momentum. It was always clear that this debate was not going to be that "something". The Republican ticket's goal was survival, and they achieved that.

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