Read here for more on viewers' feedback on Robert Kaiser's blog posting "Analysis: Vice Presidential Debate" in Washington Post and HERE and HERE
The thing I noticed most with Gov. Palin was that her answers generally were acceptable, but she acted as though she was reading from a script, i.e. her answers often had nothing to do with the question she was asked, and she just recited talking points.
She was totally incoherent in those interviews. Tonight she was talking in sentences and sounding frightening faux-reasonable. What happened? Will her performance play to the "heartland"?
Robert G. Kaiser: What happened, I think, was that she realized she could ignorePalin said nothing concrete. She couldn't produce any evidence and avoided answering questions that she struggled with. I think Biden wins hands down.
questions and say what she had practiced saying, which she did.
Robert G. Kaiser: I think this was a significant shortcoming in
her performance. There were no real arguments from her, many assertions.
I stayed up way past my bedtime to listen to this debate, and what I heard was not reassuring. I'm sure you know that Europe is appalled at the choice of Gov. Palin as Sen. McCain's running mate, and nothing she said tonight is going to change this view. I'm sure she's a lovely person who would make a lovely neighbor, but she's simply not qualified to be president.To me, Sarah Palin was blah. Talking points, no real substance -- very disappointing. I ended up liking Biden, which was pretty shocking. He seemed pretty straight.
I'm a little disappointed that I thought they both did fine. No major gaffes or blunders. Sen. Biden stuck to the point more than usual. I don't think Gov. Palin changed many minds, but she didn't come across as a fluffy airhead the way she did in the Couric interviews. Everyone who was waiting for something major now has to wait longer (this is not necessarily a bad thing).
I thought they both did well. I was impressed.
Did you get the feeling that Sarah Palin really didn't answer many of the questions she was asked? She danced around many questions and kept referring back to Alaska and energy, even if she wasn't asked anything that had to do with energy.
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, if we read the transcript tomorrow, we will see how often Palin did her own thing, without being intimidated by the actual content of the questions. This is a tried and true debate tactic; candidates have used it for as long as we have had debates. Does it work
Do you think there was any kind of game-changer tonight, or did both sides do what they needed to do and that was it?
Robert G. Kaiser: No game-changer. I think it's important to recognize that the game has turned against McCain since the financial crisis burst upon us. His decision today to give up on Michigan was a very telling moment in this campaign, and an ominous sign, as The Fix has said already. I hope we can link to him here.What happened, I think, was that she realized she could ignore questions and say what she had practiced saying, which she did. Actually, someone who debated her in Alaska said that's what she did there. ... What I'm wondering is if the, urk, Joe Six-Pack will see that or will buy the illusion of straight-talking. I guess we'll see...
My sense is that Palin did not really "do what she needed to do" tonight, because I doubt that she managed to radically alter perceptions of her in this debate. But I could be wrong!
As for the negatives: Biden seemed less energetic but progressively warmed up. Some of his responses were data-heavy. He did have some poignant statements, particularly when he spoke about his background/family and his connections with ordinary citizens.
My goodness, Palin's delivery is one big run-on sentence. Anyone have a count how many times she completed each statement with the word "also"? I'm embarrassed that a major political party thinks it can trot out someone so inexperienced.
Palin did not look like an idiot. Biden did not look like a condescending jerk. Hooray, everyone's a winner! I hate how completely scripted and practiced this entire thing has become. The president of the United States does not always get to practice for days to answer questions. I want to know how these people will act in a crisis, not how they will read the State of Union.
As a teacher, Gov. Palin's answers reminded me of one of the problems with No Child Left Behind. Some teachers will teach the answers to the test. It seems as though this was a test for her. She memorized answers, but it was for the wrong version of the standardized test. That did not seem to stop her from reciting the answers she memorized.
They both seemed to do okay, and they both mostly just played to their respective strengths. It is hard to see this changing the race in any significant way.
Robert G. Kaiser: I think you're right, and I think that's bad news for the Republicans.
She's got moxie and confidence in spades -- I'll give her that -- but otherwise seems mostly bluster and bluff and not a lot of real substance based on lengthy experience. One thing I noted that was good: She looked directly at the camera as though addressing each of us. It appears Bidden picked up on this and followed suit -- good move.
If Iran or North Korea ratchets up the conflict and Palin doesn't know the answer, she can't decide not to deal with the problem (answer the question) and say "I know energy." Does ignoring debate questions mean she'll ignore future problems?
Robert G. Kaiser: No it does not. She had a very specific assignment from her handlers tonight: stay on message, mention McCain as often as possible, attack the Democratic ticket, and avoid any topic that makes you uncomfortable -- I'd bet those were key ingredients in her instructions. And I think she followed them.The things Palin pushed hardest -- continued presence in Iraq, drilling our way out of the energy crisis -- are positions the voters already have decided aren't working. Too much of what she had to say was clearly scripted and often pulled out of a bag of answers like refrigerator magnets and stuck on the screen regardless of the question.
First, I hated the format, which turned the first half of the debate into a muddled mess ("I want to go back to the last question before I answer this one") and kept things at a pretty superficial level. I think Palin did fine if you didn't actually listen to her answers. I also think she'll get clobbered by Tina Fey this week on Saturday Night Live for the winks and the "darn rights." I personally think it's a sad day for our democracy when people are impressed with a vice presidential candidate because they're spunky, decide not to answer the questions asked of them or plan to avoid "the filter of the media." But maybe I just expect a little too much of our elected officials.
How can Palin emphasize her so-called energy expertise while suggesting that you don't really need to know what caused climate change in order to fix it? Her answer to this issue, and to the few other issues that she actually did address, were wishy-washy -- and if boiled-down, empty. Biden was dry and fact/number/data-heavy as mentioned, and while most people won't understand every issue he touched on, at least he came across as being informed and knowledgeable.
If we have indeed entered an era where the average person can't be expected to understand all the issues facing the country, we need to at least be able to leave the big decisions to people who do. I think Biden comes across as someone who gets it, while Palin comes across as someone who barely understands the big issues any better than any other average American.
Any hockey mom with a college education could have done as well with the coaching Palin's had.
Why is it that Gov Palin and Republicans believe that her experience in a state with a smaller population than Hartford, Conn., and no tough budget decisions, is relevant? Joe talking about family touched my heart -- that was the most real moment of the whole debate.
What is your reaction to Palin's comment that she "wasn't necessarily going to answer the questions in the way that Gwen or Sen. Biden wanted her to"? I think there is something to be said for following the rules of a debate. While both vice presidential candidates seemed to stick to their time limits, only Biden seemed to truly answer the questions directly and with substance.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for this. I too remarked on that answer, which was obviously a bit of preemptive defense. She and her handlers knew from the outset what she was supposed to say, and she planned to say it whether or not it answered Ifill's questions. Or so it seemed. And as I said earlier, this is hardly a new debate tactic.Did I hear correctly? Did she say the Constitution left room for interpretation of the vice president's role; that she did not disagree with Cheney's assertion that he was not necessarily part of the executive branch?
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes you did.I thought she was struggling mightily, but her ability to continue to spout those talking points covered it somewhat. I laughed when she messed up one of them, "toxic mess on Main Street that is affecting Wall Street." But, as Maura Liason said it on Sunday (Fox News, no less), anything more than "babbling incoherently" for her was a success.
Robert G. Kaiser: I don't think I agree with Maura. Palin is in a deep hole now; most Americans don't think she is qualified to be president. To do well tonight she had to change that perception. As I've said, I don't know if she did that, but I tend to doubt it.As a woman, I think Biden handled his interactions with Palin really well and struck just the right tone -- not condescending, not overly cautious. The smile was genuine, I think! He spoke to her a long time after the debate, when the families were on stage -- I wonder what they talked about. She listened, but didn't engage as much as he did.
Robert G. Kaiser: I agree with you, and suspect that Obama and his inner circle are very relieved. Their guy did not fall into the many pitfalls that theoretically at least were in his path.It is incredible that we still do not have an answer from McCain or tonight from Palin about whether they will talk to the Spanish government if elected. It is scary what type of foreign policy will emerge from a McCain-Palin administration. If you cannot talk to a EU nation and a NATO member, how in the heck are you going to start using diplomacy with countries like Iran?
Robert G. Kaiser: In fairness, McCain has made it clear that he muffed that question and didn't mean to rule out meeting with your prime minister. But he couldn't come right out with a confession of error either.I think Palin was a little too flip with her "[aw shucks] we made some blunders in Iraq." Obviously, those blunders cost lives. Her folksiness can backfire on her if she isn't careful.
Am I alone in finding it ominous that Gov. Plain was not able to cite a single occasion on which she fundamentally changed the way that she thought about an important issue?
Robert G. Kaiser: Don't know how much company you have, but I have a powerful hunch that all we really learned from that answer is, it was a question that Palin's trainers had not anticipated, so she had nothing ready to use to answer it.I'm a registered independent leaning toward Obama ... if I had any questions, this solidified it for me. Palin said both she and McCain are "mavericks" -- I don't think we need both the president and vice president shooting from the hip. I think that Biden showed that Obama/Biden is a much safer choice -- especially when I have a 2-year-old boy whom I don't want to have to send to Iraq in 18 years.
As one who was hoping Gov. Palin would fall on her face (again), I have to note that she did all right, though her importuning appeals to the "American people," as she kept saying, were equal parts bluster and folksy maneuvering. It pains me to realize that her folksiness probably plays well to many voters. As for me, I just wonder why she can't enunciate the "g" that ends her participles, and why she can't segment thoughts into sentences that begin and end.
I think one of the greatest failures of Palin's answers tonight was when asked if, with the change in the economy, there was anything that has been promised by the campaign that might need to be reconsidered. First off she tried to avoid the question, but wasn't allowed -- but to flat out say we wouldn't have to change anything is a dangerous answer. She could have talked about reprioritizing, etc. -- something aside from nothing.
Robert G. Kaiser: Given that that was Jim Lehrer's first question last Friday, I was surprised she didn't have an answer ready for it -- as Biden did.Is it me or did Sarah Palin not understand what "Achilles Heel" means? Not your positive attributes, your negative ones.
Robert G. Kaiser: We have to check the transcript, but I had the same reaction you did. She also, I think, misunderstood Gwen's question about nuclear weapons.I have the feeling that a lot of people made up their minds in the past ten days, to the detriment of the McCain campaign. Palin didn't go down in flames, but her performance was still like a caricature of herself. She showed she can spew talking points, but not that she can think on her feet. Biden wins.
I'm one of those students watching for extra credit that Palin spoke of. Palin spent the majority of the time defending McCain (rather than on the offensive side) and evading questions. This is a matter of business, and she didn't provide viewers with anything substantial. She may be feisty, but I wouldn't call her the pitbull America needs to run the country.
My elementary school boys (who have signed up for a debate club and watched the debate) were shocked and dismayed at Sarah Palin's use of colloquial slang "darn it," "doggone it," "heck" (these are words they are taught not to use even in regular speech). I am left with an image of her rolling her eyes and saying "there you go again, Putin." Eye-rolling is considered rude by most families I know, and it saddens me that this kind of behavior is legitimized in a national debate. I fail to understand how her unprofessional demeanor passes for good style.
Robert G. Kaiser: What an interesting comment. Thank you for it. You remind us all how diverse a country we live in. Obviously, the McCain aides prepping Palin tonight told her to do just what annoyed you.Some noticed, as I did, that Palin occasionally referred to her notes; however Biden did about the same amount of note-reading.
Robert G. Kaiser: Under the rules, I believe, neither could bring notes into the debate, so the notes referred to were made while it was going on.I have been glancing at several of the large newspapers and their stories. Most of them mention that Palin seemed to hold her own. However, when I read some of the online conversations like this one, it sounds as though people felt that she provided canned answers and/or didn't answer questions at all.
Robert G. Kaiser: I haven't been able to read the stories, but I refer again to the "heavyweight" evaluation of the McCain-Obama debate on Friday, which I thought was wrong then, and which I think polls now confirm was wrong. Obama won the debate and did himself a lot of good, though the stories called it a tie and a lot of pundits thought McCain won.
Robert G. Kaiser: We'll be back next Tuesday for the next Obama-McCain encounter.
These debates are seriously imperfect. Gwen had no good choices when the candidates wandered off the reservation. Sometimes I wish we could import some of the BBC's splendid inquisitors to anchor a debate here. I nominate James Naughtie, my favorite, who is merciless when questioning British politicians on his Today show every morning on BBC radio. By comparison our media are a tribe of wimps -- polite wimps to be sure, but, well, less interesting.