Friday, October 3, 2008

Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy. " "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." These were two of the most memorable Vice Presidential and Presidential debate zingers in recent memory. The first was said by Senator Lloyd Bentsen when Senator Dan Quayle compared his experience to John Kennedy in 1988. The second was uttered by President Ronald Reagan to former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984. We didn't hear any memorable lines of that magnitude last night from either Joe Biden or Sarah Palin. So who won the debate and what does it matter, if at all?

Norton decided he'd grab a nice cigar and watch the Vice Presidential debate in one of the few local watering holes where he can still enjoy a good cigar without being forced outside to watch it through the window. Norton likes his cigars. Norton's original thought of taking a drink of beer every time Palin said, "maverick, experience, reform, or terrorists," was quickly abandoned. He thought better, because he would probably be drunk within the first fifteen minutes.

Ok, enough talking about myself in the third person. Since I live in Phillies' country and the Phillies/Brewers game was on, I had to resign myself to the non-smoking section of the bar to watch the debate. This turned out to be interesting, because I stumbled upon the conclusion of a "Women for Obama" meeting. I watched the debate with this group.

Palin did not fall flat on her face, so from that respect, she succeeded. She had a problem answering the questions posed to her by debate moderator Gwen Ifil, but that wasn't in her game plan anyway. Palin said, "And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also." She was well prepared for the debate and stuck to her canned talking points almost flawlessly.

Just like her convention speech, when she's scripted, Palin is very good and appeals to a certain group of voters. Unfortunately for John McCain that group of voters, at least now as opposed to at the time of the GOP convention, is almost exclusively within the conservative Republican base. Palin's image has hardened. The conservative base, well at least most of them, love her. Liberals and most moderates think she is in way over her head and vastly unqualified for Vice President.

Biden was very good, and he did not fall into the trap of "beating up" on Palin and invoking sympathy. He answered the questions posed to him, and thankfully for him, he had a time limit on his answers. CNN's post debate poll showed that 87 percent believe Biden is qualified to be President, up over ten points from prior to the debate. Only 42 percent believe that Palin is qualified to assume the office of the Presidency, little changed from before the debate.

I believe the most telling moment in the debate came towards the end of the debate. Many times you can tell a lot about a person not so much by what they say, but by the fact that they remain silent when they should have said something. Biden said: "But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand." Biden choked up when he got to the point of alluding to the 1972 auto accident which took the lives of his first wife and year old daughter and nearly that of his two sons.

Here's Palin's verbatim response. "People aren't looking for more of the same. They are looking for change. And John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate over all these years." Not a single empathetic word. Apparently debate camp didn't cover this topic.

In the end, I don't believe this most anticipated event of the fall campaign changed many minds. It may have saved Palin's place on the ticket, but finding an independent voter whose opinion of Palin was changed by Palin's performance is a task worthy of Diogenes.

One final point, the group I stumbled upon, "Women for Obama," consisted of a large percentage of women who worked and voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary. They audibly gasped as Palin continually uses phrases like "darn right, you betcha, joe six-pack, and maverick." The general consensus I received among this diverse group of "Hillary Country" women, was they felt Palin was an embarrassment. The choice of Palin by McCain did little to convince these women to vote for McCain, but may have hardened their support for Obama.

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