For those who didn't get a chance, here is the debate on Google Video, and here is the transcript.
Joe Biden, debate word cloud:
Sarah Palin, debate word cloud:
I had some minor trouble watching the VP debate, as I suspected. Also, Palin's mannerisms and wordsmithing drove me up the wall. Also, probably the first use of "shout-out" in presidential election debate history. Also, those were little things. Well, at least they were to me. Also. As for conservative columnist Rich Lowry:
I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.
Palin does not seem to be as effective as some other treatments for this little problem, which promise to let you choose the moment that is right for you. But her presence in the McCain campaign now seems to be explained. Even justified. Demanded!
Ok, ok, enough jokes about the still-feisty, surely virile McCain, who despite his 72 years is as rambunctious and impulsive as ever. The real problems I had with Palin were never that she seemed incapable of stringing English sentences together, or wasn't winking enough.
The real problem with Palin on the issues is that when she was taken off her talking points into the details, or asked to give a nuanced judgment of an issue, she crashed and burned. And she didn't crash and burn because she was providing too much information. She crashed and burned because she had no context for the things she was talking about.
As Mr Willems was so fond of saying, meaning is contextual. When an idea, incident or word appears, it plays in the foreground against the contextual background. It locates itself among the nodes of a web of concepts. It means something because everything else means something.
That's why it was so brazen for Palin to say, early in the debate,
I'm still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again. 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.
What she said was that she wasn't interested in maintaining a conversation. She would be responsive if she chose. And when necessary, she would disregard the context and launch into stream-of-consciousness mini-essays on American life. Okay, she didn't say that in so many words, but...
Here is one of the most bald-faced examples. Gwen Ifill began with the question to Biden, what would your administration look like if you were forced into the Presidency? Biden explained that he would carry Obama's torch, essentially, by focusing on the middle class, doing health care and clean energy, restoring a foreign policy focused on diplomacy and cooperation.
But this question is perhaps the key question about Palin, the one that matters more than any other. If we had a President Palin, what could we expect? Could she cut it? Rather than answer this question, Palin avoided it almost entirely, and none too smoothly veered off into the economy. I'll italicize the point when she really went off the rails. We begin a little into Palin's answer, without omitting much of the point:
PALIN: ... What I would do also, if that were to ever happen, though, is to continue the good work he is so committed to of putting government back on the side of the people and get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington.
I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C.
PALIN: So that people there can understand how the average working class family is viewing bureaucracy in the federal government and Congress and inaction of Congress.
Just everyday working class Americans saying, you know, government, just get out of my way. If you're going to do any harm and mandate more things on me and take more of my money and income tax and business taxes, you're going to have a choice in just a few weeks here on either supporting a ticket that wants to create jobs and bolster our economy and win the war or you're going to be supporting a ticket that wants to increase taxes, which ultimately kills jobs, and is going to hurt our economy.
BIDEN: Can I respond? Look, all you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or go to Katie's Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me where I spend a lot of time and you ask anybody in there whether or not the economic and foreign policy of this administration has made them better off in the last eight years. And then ask them whether there's a single major initiative that John McCain differs with the president on. On taxes, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on the whole question of how to help education, on the dealing with health care.
Look, the people in my neighborhood, they get it. They get it. They know they've been getting the short end of the stick. So walk with me in my neighborhood, go back to my old neighborhood in Claymont, an old steel town or go up to Scranton with me. These people know the middle class has gotten the short end. The wealthy have done very well. Corporate America has been rewarded. It's time we change it. Barack Obama will change it.
PALIN: Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he's a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.
Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards. No Child Left Behind was implemented. It's not doing the job though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind. We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching. We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line. My kids as public school participants right now, it's near and dear to my heart. I'm very, very concerned about where we're going with education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.
Yes, there was a moment later where Biden got emotional that was really raw and human, a great moment, and Palin kind of just talked over it. But for me, this was one of the bigger moments in the debate.
I don't know how much of it to unpack, so let me just summarize this way. A Palin presidency would, according to Palin, be a small-government presidency, engaged in eliminating greed and corruption from Wall Street with a little Main Street elbow grease. Biden points out that the Bush presidency wasn't good for Main Street, and John McCain didn't disagree with him much over the course of that presidency. Palin clearly struggles to respond, first saying that the past doesn't matter about as clumsily as possible, then seizing on one word in Biden's point to launch into another issue wholly removed from the preceding context, again about as clumsily as possible.
Why did she have so much trouble? Maybe because Biden was telling the truth in a way that is pretty hard to argue, at least without seeming completely out of touch. (McCain's agreement with Bush was positive for the country! Main Street is doing just fine! Main Street doesn't understand how great things are!) But also, I think, because Palin can't articulate the difference between the McCain vision and the Bush vision, and what McCain will do for the middle class that George Bush wouldn't, and how she might disagree with the policies of the last eight years, as a dyed-in-the-wool Washington outsider.
She couldn't hook into the last eight years, because she hasn't been plugged in for the last eight years. Her populist rhetoric ran dry pretty fast in the debate. Imagine how fast it would run dry in a four-year presidency.
I'm not saying Biden or Obama were perfect in their debates. But if you watch them fairly, you can definitely see their concerns playing out against their ideologies of support for the middle class, clean energy, and a responsible foreign policy. And for all that I disagree with McCain's trickle-down, belligerent alternative viewpoint, at least he has a viewpoint to speak of. And then there's Palin.
One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?