Well, Sarah Palin managed to not drown in tonight’s debate, but I’d say it was a pretty clear victory for Biden. The first thirty minutes or so I thought both candidates were turning in sub-par performances, but then Biden really hit his rhythm and after that it wasn’t close. Biden sounded like someone talking about issues from a knowledgeable perspective, while Palin nearly always spoke in broad generalities and was clearly sticking to a limited set of talking points. It was kind of like they were giving a book report and Biden had actually read it while Palin had scanned Spark Notes for fifteen minutes beforehand. And maybe it’s just me, but I thought she leaned too heavily on that folksy charm business. I think when she said “doggonnit,” she jumped the shark and became a parody of herself.
I was watching this on CNN and their instant audience reaction graph consistently demonstrated that Biden was greatly outmatching Palin with independents. At the end of the day, that’s all this is about: who’s reaching independents. If CNN’s audience sample was at all accurate, Biden won independents in a route.
Now, in my opinion, there were two factors that contributed to Palin managing to get out of this debate alive. The first is that the expectations were so low for her in the first place. It was very low bar she had to reach. The second is the fact that the debate had no follow-up questions. So basically, she got away with broad answers that lacked much in the way of specifics, because no one could say, “but specifically, Gov. Palin…” If you watch her interview with Katie Couric, the real train wreck answers were the ones where Katie pressed for specifics in her follow-up questions. Without those two conditions, Palin’s performance tonight would have been judged a complete disaster.
It’s kinda sad that she can turn in a “good” performance simply by not having a total melt down.
There were two key moments in tonight’s debate, and they both belonged to Joe Biden. The first was this gem where Biden called b.s. on Palin’s claim that the Democratic ticket shouldn’t be looking backward at the Bush administration when criticizing McCain. This is a near-perfect example of the rhetorical device of repetition:
And the second was this emotional response as Biden talks about the tragedy that befell his family right around the time he was first elected to the Senate, and Palin’s tone-deaf response:
I hate to be so callous about it, but Biden opened up and revealed this very deep pain he experienced — not in telling the story of his wife and daughter’s death, which is well known, but in getting a bit choked up as he did so — and then Palin completely failed to offer even the mildest sympathy to him. It was almost as if she didn’t know what he was talking about. It made her look a bit cold.