Archive for the ‘VPOTUS’ 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.

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Palin protected from the probing presence of the press

If this woman can't handle questions from the American press corps, do we really want her meeting with foreign leaders when it counts?

She can give a speech, but if this woman can't take questions from the American press corps, do we really want her meeting with hostile foreign leaders when it counts?

Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin visited with foreign heads of state yesterday and today, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and Pakistan’s newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari. Palin has accumulated little to no foreign policy experience so far in her political career and didn’t travel outside of North America until last year. This is her first opportunity to meet with foreign leaders.

The meetings are designed in part as a photo op, to show her meeting world leaders and thus enhance her foreign policy credentials in the eyes of voters. It is also to continue her crash course in foreign affairs ahead of the upcoming Vice Presidential debate with Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. To this end she also met with former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissenger.

The meetings have all been tightly choreographed and carefully controlled. Palin has taken no questions from the media. Initially, John McCain’s campaign wanted to exclude reporters even from the photo ops, in case they might overhear something worth reporting or maybe ask a question. However, the five major TV networks threatened to boycott the meetings and not broadcast the pictures and video if no reporter could be present. The McCain campaign relented; a journalist was allowed to be there, but not to ask any questions.

Today, the foreign policy crash course continued with Palin and McCain scheduled to meet with the Presidents of Urkarine and Georgia, Viktor Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili, respectively.  They were also to speak with U2 singer Bono and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Previously, Palin had cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as evidence of her international exposure and her foreign travel has been so scant that her campaign initially counted a touchdown in Ireland as a visit.  She has backed away from both claims.

Today, First Lady Laura Bush, while openly acknowledging Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience, characterized her as a “quick study.”  We’d better hope so.

Evolution of the vice presidency and Cheney’s claims

This man claims he's not a member of the executive branch of government

This man claims he is not a member of the executive branch of government.

Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney has claimed that he is not, in fact, part of the executive branch of government. The claim was part of his bid to be able to destroy large amounts of records produced by his office and to avoid handing those over to the National Archives under the Presidential Records Act. Apparently, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington told Congress that the vice president belongs to neither the executive nor legislative branch of government, but rather is attached by the Constitution to Congress, by virtue of being President of the Senate.

In modern times, Vice Presidents have only very rarely presided over the Senate, as the position carries almost no power; virtually all the presiding officer of the Senate does is recognize people to speak. Veeps pretty much only appear when a vote that is important to the president is expected to be very close so that they can be ready to cast a tie-breaking vote, the only power of the office specifically enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.

Modern vice presidents have little to do with the legislative branch, beyond lobbying members behind the scenes, but they are immersed in the operations of the executive branch. This represents a considerable evolution of the office. America’s first Vice President, John Adams, presided over the Senate most of the time it was in session; he angered Senators by becoming involved in actual debate and trying to steer the affairs of the chamber. George Washington’s administration did not allow Adams to attend cabinet meetings, on the theory that he was a member of the legislative branch and that his presence would violate the separation of powers. Most would be surprised to learn that the first vice president to attend cabinet meetings was Thomas Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921).

Modern vice presidents do attend, and in the absence of the president preside over, cabinet meetings and meetings of the National Security Council; they perform numerous ceremonial duties, like attending funerals, presenting awards, and giving speeches; and they largely serve as point man for the president, so their actual responsibilities and influence can vary greatly with their relationship to the top guy. Cheney has been a particularly active number two, as was Al Gore before him (they’re probably the two most active and consequential vice presidents in history, excluding those that were elevated to the presidency). By statute, the vice president also serves ex officio as one of 17 members of the Smithsonian Institution’s board of regents, one of very few legally required duties.

Back when the office was rather unimportant, vice presidents mostly seem to have spent their time commenting on how pointless the office was. John Adams, for instance, declared it to be “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” John Nance Garner, the first of Franklin Roosevelt’s three vice presidents, said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm piss” (often bowdlerized to “a bucket of warm spit”). The aforementioned Thomas Marshall claimed that most of the “nameless, unremembered” jobs assigned to him had been concocted essentially to keep vice presidents from doing any harm to their administrations.

Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States since 1974

Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States since 1974

There is an interesting anecdote that I can’t help sharing about Calvin Coolidge’s time in the office, back when the office did not have an official residence. Coolidge was living at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. when it was evacuated in the middle of the night due to a small fire. He got tired of waiting outside and attempted to go back in; a fireman tried to stop him, but then decided to let Coolidge proceed when he identified himself as the Vice President. However, before he could actually enter the hotel, the fireman stopped him again and asked, “What are you the Vice President of?” Upon learning that he was the Vice President of the United States, he sent Coolidge outside again to wait with the rest of the huddled masses. “I thought you were the vice president of the hotel,” the fireman explained.

Since 1974, the Vice President has been entitled to live in a large Victorian house on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Vice President Gerald Ford became President before he could use the home, and Nelson Rockefeller, primarily used the home for entertaining since he already had a residence in Washington. Walter Mondale was the first Vice President to actually move into the home and every Vice President since has lived in the house.

Anyway, I think it makes the most sense to view the vice president as both a member of the executive branch and a member of the legislative branch, but all of his papers and documents produced pursuant to his role and duties within the executive branch, which constitutes the vast bulk of Cheney’s duties, would definitely fall under the Presidential Records Act; it might be permissible to withhold documents produced in his capacity as President of the Senate. Of course, given Cheney’s extreme predilection for secrecy, this would probably lead to much more litigation. Congress could perhaps settle the matter more quickly by legislating on the matter, specifically extending the act to cover all or most of the Vice Presidents papers.