Sunday, October 5, 2008

Biden-Palin debate: These guys are good

Just finished watching the 90 minute debate betwen Joe Biden and Sarah Palin and I've got to give them a lot of credit: These guys are really good at talking the talk.

I certainly would have tuned in to the debate, popcorn at the ready, for the entertainment value of it all, hoping (and expecting!) to experience the sheer joy of a total train wreck-- especially with Biden's tendency for manic-obsessive running of the mouth and Palin's newfound reputation as an airheaded cliché dispenser. But after 1.5 hours of constant talk from these guys, I can't recall a single full-blown gaffe. Come to think of it the whole thing was kind of boring. They've been trained to utter perfection on getting their campaign's standard lines through.

I've given some job interviews myself in the past weeks and seen lesser people crash into a brick wall at even the gentlest of questions, but these two are bulldozers, smashing their way right through the questions and going on and on and on like they've been doing it their whole lives.

Another thing they're good at, I must say, is maneuvering their way around the questions they're actually asked. They can quickly dispose of the moderator's attempts to steer the direction of the debate, then go on reciting the lines they've rehearsed. Here's an example, where moderator Gwen Ifill asks them to elaborate on their weaknesses:
IFILL: The conventional wisdom, Gov. Palin with you, is that your Achilles heel is that you lack experience. Your conventional wisdom against you is that your Achilles heel is that you lack discipline, Sen. Biden. What is it really for you?

PALIN: My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence and that's extremely important. But it wasn't just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom... [blah blah blah]

BIDEN: You're very kind suggesting my only Achilles Heel is my lack of discipline. Others talk about my excessive passion. I'm not going to change. I have 35 years in public office. People can judge who I am. I haven't changed in that time. And, by the way, a record of change... [blah blah blah]
Basically Gwen Ifill gave a dressed up version of the old job interview question, What's your greatest weakness? It's a question I've asked applicants before, partly to get an idea of how a person thinks of themselves, and partly because I've exhausted my creative questions and fallen back to the standards (Anyone who's serious about the interview should have an answer at the ready).

Biden gave a quick line sidestepping the moderator's question, then gets back on the issue of change and talks about the bills he wrote and the stuff that John McCain has voted against. Palin didn't give even one sentence addressing the issue of her weakness, but instead went on talking about experience as a positive. Maybe she wasn't listening, or didn't understand, or simply decided not to respond directly?

In any case, in practice these answers sounded totally natural and a casual watcher wouldn't give a second thought to them. So it caught me off guard when, after a lenghtly rhetorical spew from the candidates, Ifill said "Governor, Senator, neither of you really answered that last question about what you would do as vice president". Aside from calling them out on it that one time, she mostly let it pass.

Oh, as for who won the debate? Joe Biden had the better answers and clearly had a better grasp on the stuff they were talking about, Sarah Palin held her ground with her folksy charm offensive (2 darn rights, 2 doggone its, and 1 hockey mom), and both candidates scored points simply by not being an embarrassment.