Archive for the ‘Gwen Ifill’ Tag

My thoughts on Biden-Palin debate

The Vice Presidential Seal.  Who will get to use it post January 20th, Biden or Palin?

The Vice Presidential Seal. Who will get to use it starting on January 20th, Biden or Palin?

Like many Americans, I was very eager to see Joe Biden and Sarah Palin go head-to-head in the first and only Vice Presidential debate. Though the two are the Number Twos on their respective tickets, I have found the veep debate has been very much worth watching in both of the past two election cycles (I thought Cheney scored clear victories in both 2000 and 2004).

This time, to use a boxing analogy, there clearly wasn’t a knockout, nor even a knockdown; but I think that there were several solid blows landed, all of them by Biden, who I’d say won on points. He didn’t commit any gaffes, nor did Palin say anything really dumb. Without repeating things that the pundits have already gone over to death, here are some disparate observations of mine that haven’t been talked about (much) in the media. Please forgive the meandering format.

The first thing that struck me during the debate came when the candidates came out and shook hands. Palin asked her Democratic counterpart “Can I call you Joe?”, a request to which he apparently assented, though his mike didn’t pick up his response. I guarantee you that this was carefully planned and done for the audience at home, to play up the governor’s friendliness and make her seem down to earth. Do I have evidence? Yes: the transcript. The word “Joe” crossed Palin’s lips exactly two (2) times: once a reference to the average American “Joe Six Pack” and the other at the end of “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” which was probably her best line of the night.

Palin tried to paint Obama as a big tax hiker, a claim that I think Biden countered effectively, stressing that 95% of taxpayers will get a tax cut and that no taxpayer making under $250,000 would see an increase under Obama’s plan. He stressed the importance of helping the middle class and their importance to our economy and painted McCain’s tax plan as simply tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. He repeated the point—effectively, I think—and parried the Palin attempt to paint the Democratic ticket as big tax hikers. His line that McCain’s health plan is “the ultimate bridge to nowhere” was pretty lifeless, though I guess he had to get that in there somehow to remind voters of Palin’s flip-flop on the bridge.

I think that Biden also effectively defended his ticket from the charges that they want to cut-and-run from Iraq or, as Palin put it, hoist “the white flag of surrender.” Delaware’s sernior senator pointed out that Obama’s plan for withdrawing from Iraq is pretty much the same as that of its Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and will draw down U.S. troops over about a year and a half. Biden’s best line of the night came after Palin talked about McCain’s exit strategy, or, as Biden put it, the lack thereof: “With all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan.” Personally, I think the plan is just to keep repeating the words “victory,” “Iraq,” and “McCain” together in the same sentence a whole bunch of times until voters simply feel that McCain will win the war while Obama will surrender somehow.

Throughout the night, Biden tried to tie McCain’s positions to those of George W. Bush, on both domestic issues and foreign policy and; he wanted to show that there was no difference between them the nominee and the, very unpopular, incumbent. One effective moment for Biden was when he brought up each of the globe’s current hot spots seriatim and asked how McCain’s views differ from Bush’s, with the clear implication that they don’t. [Note: FireFox’s spell checker doesn’t recognize “seriatim” as a word.]

Additionally, I was surprised to learn that we spend as much every three weeks on combat operations in Iraq as we have in the past 7.5 years in rebuilding Afghanistan. If this is true, that’s almost a good sign: it won’t cost that much to significantly increase our efforts to get that poor country on it’s feet. C’mon, guys, cough up the dough.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag?  Too bad it's nothing special.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag? Too bad it's nothing special.

On climate change, an area where there is some disagreement between McCain and his running mate, Palin admitted that it’s real and that there’s “something to be said for man’s activity” in causing it, but she didn’t want to argue about the causes, just the solutions. Biden voiced what I was thinking at that point: without knowing the causes you can’t solve the problem! He pointed out that McCain has voted against alternative energy frequently and tried to make Obama look friendlier to renewables, though I don’t think he was as effective on the point as he could have been. “Drill we must,” he said, but it’ll take 10 years for that oil to hit the markets. Unfortunately, Obama’s plans—and any plans—for new technology will also probably have a time horizon of about a decade.

Joe Biden went toe-to-toe with Palin over how their family lives put them in touch with regular Americans, a possible strength for the truly and obviously middle class Governor of Alaska. Biden got genuinely choked up when talking about the death of his first wife and young daughter in a car accident that also critically injured his two sons. For a guy who has spent over a third of a century in the United States Senate, he doesn’t do too bad on the “seems like a normal guy” test.

Anyway, Palin beat expectations in the debate, but I don’t think by enough to make any real difference; vice presidential debates rarely do. To the surprise of no one, Biden’s answers on foreign policy were much more nuanced and contained more specifics and details. I didn’t get the impression that Palin’s on foreign policy questions had any depth to them, though she seems to have done a good job of studying her briefing books. I think she’s fortunate that the debate format didn’t allow for questions from the other candidate or for serious follow up questions from the moderator, either of which I think would have exposed her shallow grasp of the various issues.

She came off as being on message and my assesment of her political skills has accordingly gone up; she avoided a possible disaster and a bad performance from her in this debate could have been a mortal blow to McCain’s chances. But I still don’t think that Sarah Palin will make a good vice president at this point in time—she should have been groomed for higher office longer before being thrust onto the national stage. One thing they definitely should have worked on is her pronunciation of nuclear; she says noo-cu-lar, like George W. Bush does. That’s not a good sign.

The political futures markets have given a good sign to Barack Obama and his supporters, however. Following the debate, Intrade contracts on an Obama victory have risen to 67.0 and those for a McCain victory have fallen to 33.0, movement of about 4 points or so up and down, respectively. The chances that Palin will be withdrawn as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee fell in post-debate trading from 10.5% to just 4.1%. The chances that Biden will be withdrawn from his ticket only fell from 5.7% to 4.9%.

Anyway, the race goes on. The next presidential debate, which will be town hall format, will be held Tuesday night starting at 9:00 pm EST. The election itself will be held one month from today, on November 4th.

Veep debate moderator may not be impartial

With the first and only Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin just over 24 hours away there is now concern about the neutrality of the moderator, PBS journalist Gwen Ifill.  The McCain campaign is saying that they think she’ll do a good job; nonetheless they’re calling into question her impartiality, largely over her upcoming book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, which is scheduled to be released January 20, 2009—Inauguaration Day.

Doubleday, the publisher says the book “surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.”  In addition to Obama, the book also deals with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Ifill says she has yet to even write the chapter on Obama and that her reputation as a journalist indicates that she can and will be impartial during the debate.

Some conservatives are playing this up.  In an article for National Review Online columnist Michelle Malkin says that “She’s so far in the tank for the Democratic presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out.”  Ouch.

Dick Morris, on Bill O’Reilly’s program pointed out another possible conflict of interest that I hadn’t considered.  Morris says that her book will sell much better if Obama wins the election than if he doesn’t and that she stands to make $300,000 or more in additional royalties if the ticket that Palin is on loses. 

I recall that Ifill did a very good job moderating the Cheney-Edwards vice presidential debate in 2004 and I think she is a professional journalist who shouldn’t intentionally make any decisions that would favor Biden unfairly; good reporters are used to keeping their personal views out of their work.  However, there could still be unconscious bias, which woul be just as bad.  And even if there is no bias, the perception that there could be would be bad.  Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.

Given the circumstances, Ifill probably should have recused herself, and probably shouldn’t have been asked to host the debate to begin with once it was known that Obama was the nominee.  But McCain could have vetoed her selection; it wouldn’t have been a big deal and could have been done politely and in a low key manner.  So why didn’t he?  One possibility is that his campaign wants the story after the debate to be on the media and how unfair they are to Palin and stacked the deck against her.  That this issue over Ifill is coming up the day before the debate, when it is impractical to get a new moderator or reschedule, lends credence to this possibility.

Expectations are that Biden should win, given his much greater experience and knowledge.  I think that much of the talk on this issue is being orchestrated to further lower expectations for Palin, making it easier for her to exceed them.  We’ll have to see how it goes.  The debate begins at 9:00 pm EST Thursday.

Presidential debates

The first of three presidential debates between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama will be held this Friday, September 26th.  The Commission on Presidential Debates reports that the schedule is as follows:

  • First presidential debate: Friday, September 26
    Moderated by Jim Lehrer
  • Second presidential debate: Tuesday, October 7
    Moderated by Tom Brokaw
  • Third presidential debate: Wednesday, October 15
    Moderated by Bob Schieffer

The first debate will focus on domestic issues, the third on foreign policy, and the second will be town hall format featuring a variety of questions from citizens.  Conventional wisdom states that stakes are higher for Obama, whose campaign has been partly based on his ability to inspire people.  The two candidates have very different styles, as demonstrated at the Saddleback forum and the Public Service forum; both candidates spoke at both events, but did not share the stage.

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden will debate once, on Thursday, October 2nd.  Conventional wisdom is that Biden, a much more skilled and experienced politician, should outperform Palin, especially on foreign policy matters.  As with the first and third presidential debates, the candidates will be seated at a table with the moderator, Gwen Ifill.  All four debates will begin at 9pm EST and will last 90 minutes. 

The AP has an interesting story on notable presidential debates through history, “Hazards in a half century of presidential debates.”