The TimesOnline Make a Good Point about Biden-Palin Debate

Gerard Baker, writing for the London Times Online, has a nice little piece on the Biden-Palin debate. He concludes:

Last week, Senator McCain probably lost his first debate against Senator Obama by not winning it.

On Thursday night Mrs Palin won her debate by not losing it.

That sounds about right to me, on both counts.

I would add that Palin scored points that were missed opportunities for McCain last week. Many were baffled when McCain’s debate with Obama ended and McCain had not drawn attention to his demonstrable record of seeking to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while Obama had dubious ties to the principals at those entities. Now I wonder if McCain didn’t keep his powder dry so that Palin could use it to good effect in her salvo Thursday night.

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

11 Responses to The TimesOnline Make a Good Point about Biden-Palin Debate

  1. Doug Geivett says:


    John McCain had his own reasons for calling Sarah Palin a quick study. I don’t recall being influenced by him in this regard.

    Agreed, her learning curve wasn’t consistently steep in the upward direction. I’d like to know how she was coached.


  2. JP says:

    I agree she delivered her convention speech with skill, but this was not a skill she needed to acquire as a quick study. She had delivered similarly confident and competent campaign speeches in Alaska.

    She never managed to acquire the skills required to hold a press conference, and despite being dragged over the coals for the shallowness of her understandings in the Gibson interview, was unable to summon up greater depth for Couric or the VP debate, despite taking the better part of a week off the campaign to prepare.

    She clung to talking points such as the “thanks, but no thanks for the bridge” even after they had been exposed as lies.

    When she first appeared on the scene, I liked her, and I was also impressed by her delivery of her convention speech. But as the campaign went on, I found myself thinking “When will she ever learn?”, over and over again, and so the description of her as a “quick study” seems odd to me. It seems that Republicans latch on to this description because it was one of the positives regularly cited by John McCain, without much thought as to its basis in fact.


  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi JP,

    By “a quick study,” in reference to Sarah Palin, I mean that she withstood national and unprecedented media scrutiny with surprising composure, given what little experience of this she had as governor of Alaska. Whoever wrote her convention speech, it has to be said that she delivered it with exceptional skill. In the few weeks she had to catch up on the details of media obsessions, many of which were irrelevant, I’d say she managed much better than average. I admire her for that.

    Does this mean she was qualified to be VP? Of course not.


  4. JP says:

    Doug, a genuine question for you, that I’ve asked of many Republicans without reply:

    You (and many others) call Palin “an incredibly fast study”. What are your grounds for this statement?


  5. Doug Geivett says:

    David, that was a weak moment for Palin, I agree. The audience does play a role when it reacts spontaneously and loudly enough for the broadcast to carry the noise into our living rooms. It struck me, though, that Palin kept her composure, and my impression is that she was able to put that blip behind her in the ensuing exchange.


  6. Doug Geivett says:


    Punting on a first-down is an apt (and funny) analogy. As a debate tactic, it helps the newbie. Palin cleverly insisted on “speaking directly to the American people” about the “things they want to hear,” even if that means circumventing a direct question from a debate moderator or an opponent. That truly was a stroke of genius, because people were convinced she was speaking to them and in an unusually candid and perceptive way, for a politician. Palin was absolutely right to treat the camera as her audience, regardless of the dynamic inside the room.

    “Shucks” and “darn-it” and “golly-gee-willickers” ad libisms aren’t really necessary to connect with grassroots America, and may backfire—if only to a trivial degree. I suspect that middle America is pleased to see one of their own making a serious bid to represent them at the executive level. But they probably prefer to see one of their own do that representing with polish appropriate to the arena.


  7. Doug Geivett says:


    I have to say, I wince every time Palin mis-speaks grammatically. That’s not a deal-breaker for me. She’s obviously bright, an incredibly fast study (a major asset for high level leadership), and very intuitive with people and in the political arena. Her populist style is working wonders in this election, though it must be irritating the Beltway establishment, the media elite, and liberal intellectuals. It would be a relief to hear a different accent than some version of Arkansan or Texan for awhile. (Have you noticed how Obama’s accent shifts, depending on the audience he’s with?) President Bush, I’m afraid, re-calibrated the standard for compelling speechifyin’.

    I’m a little puzzled by Palin’s style. Sometimes she speaks with remarkable clarity, in grammatically impeccable sentences, delivered with authority and persuasiveness. Invariably, these glistening gems are surrounded by more confused expressions—run-ons, redundancies, vacuities, and the like. The former demonstrate her potential. I think the latter could begin to evaporate as she adapts to the arena she’s entered.

    Palin will be the biggest gainer in this election, no matter how the people vote in November. Quite possibly, Hilary Clinton has the most to lose, with Palin on the scene. Although it does seem to me that Obama’s presidential hopes may be irreversibly damaged if he loses this election. Dems are very unforgiving of candidates who don’t win. I have a feeling Obama has peaked too early for his own good—unless he wins. I suspect he entered this race initially to raise his know-ability factor, with plans to take a more realistic shot in a future campaign. It may be unfortunate for him long-term that he beat Hilary. And his interim success may have gone to his head. That could make losing very painful for him.

    The race is close and continues to be fluid. Major unpredictables have occurred in record numbers. There’s still time for more. An international military crisis could well be in the offing. That could be a game-changer, as they say.


  8. Alex says:

    Movie fan,

    Palin certainly did often punt, but then again, so did Obama. I thought there were many similarities between the performances of Palin and Obama. Both seemed to fly into ideals on tangentially related matters, while their older, more experienced competitor would nuance details, tell anecdotes, even weave in a heart-moving story, all with rhetorical ease and routine. I did, however, think Palin’s punts were a bit premature, esp., compared with what’s typical of politicians; usually they punt on 2nd, not 1st down.


  9. lucidlunatic says:

    Movie fan: It did seem to me that she was dodging the vast majority of questions, often blatantly. None the less, she was far better on camera than Biden, whose smirk could not have been doing him much good with undecided voters. Several staunch democrats of my acquaintance interpreted it differently, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. Would my behavior have been different than Biden’s in his place? Probably not.

    On the note of McCain having lost the first debate, I’m not entirely sure. Obama had a somewhat lackluster performance in my mind, and McCain made several strong points. But you could call that one either way and I wouldn’t argue too much.

    Now as for Thursday night, I think Palin surprised many with her performance. She did well, and differentiated herself from other politicians through her behavior (such as the wink and use of sometimes ungrammatical English) which can’t hurt her in this political climate.


  10. David says:

    I noticed a bit of dodging from both candidates, but I guess my assumption was they were balancing between the purposes of responding to the moderator, their opponent, and also giving a positive presentation for their own campaign ticket.

    My favorite one was after Palin gave her stance on gay rights, then Biden agreed but pointed out a distinction to be made. If I recall correctly, he pointed the question back at Palin for clarification, but she merely stated what had already been said before. I think the audience laughter indicated everyone was aware that she had opted not to answer that question.


  11. movie fan says:

    the VP debate was stunning. Palin did a decent job faking about 20% of the questions and didn’t even bother answering the other 80%. she might as well have been singing the ABC’s whenever it was her turn to respond … did anyone else notice this?


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