Thursday, October 2, 2008

VPs: Bring it On

Tonight's VP debate was very interesting in many ways. I will admit to screaming a few times at the tv screen when ridiculous things were said and for those interested in the score: ridiculous things said by Biden two, ridiculous things said by Palin six. But taking the debate as a whole, there were three aspects that stand out to me and will probably be what most people and media remember from this debate. 

First, Palin was relatively good and much better than she has been in the media interviews. This was hands down the best she has done since her speech at the republican national convention. She, for the most part, was able to answer questions without going into long stories that led to nowhere and she spoke in simple terms. More importantly, she showed herself to be a Washington outsider, which is clearly how the McCain campaign wants her seen. 

Second, don't like the question? Its cool, just answer the question you made up in your head. At two points in the debate Palin either did not understand the question or misheard it because she provided speech that never approached an answer to the question posed. The first time was when the moderator asked her whether she believed there should ever be an instance in which the United States should use nuclear weapons. Rather than answer this question, Palin instead talked about how we should stop nuclear proliferation. I agree with her. Nuclear proliferation is an important issue and we should stop it, but the question was asking about when she thought the United States should use nuclear weapons. The goal of these types of questions is to try to establish how risk adverse a candidate is in foreign affairs. If you say never, then you are very risk adverse, if you say only if attacked by nuclear weapons, you are considered rational, and if you say always, you are nuts. Clearly, this is an oversimplification, but the basic idea is that your answer to this question is supposed to be a kind of bellwether to how you approach crises. Do you panic? Do you over-react? Do you under-react? Are you decisive? Do you Plan? etc. Palin completely avoided this softball question and missed another opportunity to show that she might actually be competent in some foreign affairs issues. 

The second question that Palin completely disregarded is the standard job interview question: What is your greatest weakness? Instead of saying that she might have a weakness, she instead talked about all her strengths. From someone who used to do a lot of job interviewing, when I have a job candidate not answer a direct question like that it immediately tells me one or both of the following about the person. One, this person has a real weakness that he doesn't want me to know or two this person is unable to analyze himself, which means that he will be very difficult to work with because he will believe he is always right. Either way, whenever I had a candidate not answer that question it usually ended the chance that person had of getting the job. Unlike Palin, Biden made sure he answered this question and I think it will payoff because beyond my own feelings about this question, most people get annoyed when people pretend they have no weaknesses. 

The third memorable aspect of the debate were two responses delivered by Biden. The first was his comparison of McCain's health care tax credit as the ultimate bridge to nowhere. It was such a well timed response that even the audience and the moderator could not help but laugh. I think it spoke volumes to what people think about that particular policy proposal by the McCain-Palin ticket. The second aspect was Biden's response on the kitchen table issues. His response here was incredible and possibly one of the best moments in recent debate history. After being accused of being out of touch by Palin in a very gimmicky and winking manner, Biden told a story about his family that was deep, sincere, emotional, intense and real. I don't think he actually cried, but he came across as really understanding what people are going through. This, I think more than anything else this is what will be remembered from this debate. He took her attack and made her look small and childish, while he displayed deep empathy for being in tough positions. 

Overall, I think the debate went slightly to Biden, but in the end nothing happened tonight that should shift voters. While this last note may be lost on most voters Palin's closing statement was probably the sign that the McCain-Palin ticket is in trouble. She attempted to present voters with a clear division of which ticket to choose in Novemeber. The key aspect of this type of tacit is that you never say which ticket you are discribing. The key is to have the voter associate everything postive you are saying with your ticket and everything negative with the opponents. The problem that she had though is all of the McCain-Palin ticket's ideas that resonate with voters are issues they borrowed from Obama. Thus, when she listed the choices, it sounded like she was saying you can vote for the change ticket (Obama-Biden) or more failed policies and half baked ideas (McCain-Palin). It could just be me, but her closing statment seemed to confirm to me, who is winning control of the messages of this campaign.


Anonymous said...

After reading several accounts, enjoyed your in-depth remarks best.

Ralph said...

Very astute comments (which hadn't occurred to me) about Palin's closing statement and other points in the debate.