VP Debate – The Eight-Year Test and The “That’s So Them” Test
For better or worse, here are the two more influential lines of thought that inevitably go through my head during the debates:
1. The Eight-Year Test. Can I handle this person for eight years? I’m seeing the polished version of the candidate, on a good day. This is the person who will be charged with bringing us together during a crisis when we need straight talk. Is this candidate capable of that?
2. The “That’s So Them” Test. The debates have a way of revealing a candidate’s idiosyncrasies. What are the unique characteristics that they can’t hide no matter how much coaching they get? Are they cute and quirky or annoying? Or are they downright dangerous?
So, here is how Biden and Palin scored in my mind.
The Eight-Year Test:
Biden – I could totally be on board with Biden for eight years if Obama couldn’t finish out his term. He was tough, direct, and willing to pry through to answers even when the conversation was taken off course by Palin’s rather deliberate choice not to answer many of the questions. (Hey, at least she told Gwen and Joe she wouldn’t be answering them.) I also found him to be very human in an unforced way.
Palin- If McCain wins, I will demand that Bob Greene and Jack Lalanne move in with him and that Joseph Pilates be resurrected from the dead to join them since I refuse to have him die and leave us with Sarah Palin as our president. I will NOT have another president who can’t convince me that she knows more than I do about foreign policy. While for many Americans she might be a comforting presence in a time of crisis, I tend to only be comforted by the truth, and I have yet to see evidence that she has a firm grasp on it. I’m not saying she’s a liar. I just don’t think she has a wide enough base of knowledge to recognize fact from fiction. And if she doesn’t have it now, I wonder, will she ever?
The “That’s So Them” Test:
Biden- All of Biden’s quirks fell into the cute or at worst quirky category for me. Getting choked up as he spoke about knowing what it is like to be a single parent could have been a disaster. Instead it was the most crystalline point of humanity I saw all night. He gave Palin space, and not in a “give her enough rope to hang herself with” way, which, honestly, she didn’t. He gave her room to speak, and sometimes sputter, without smirks and heavy sighs. At times, he almost seemed like a mentor. I totally bought his “and then my friend said, Joe…” lines. In fact, I found myself wanting to go find him on Amtrak so I could sit down and talk to him about how I think we could fix things around here. He was magnanimous and gracious, and I suspect Palin was grateful for the experience.
Palin – I’m gonna lay it down for you here. I will probably never agree with her politics, but I think Palin has the chance to be an important politician. She has the ambition, and she has an engaging presence. She may even be able to wrap her head around important issues, though she obviously needs more than two months to do it (understandable). But she should drop the “fixins” and the “gonnas,” the “you betchas” and the eye winks. She doesn’t need them. I’ll say it again. She doesn’t need them. Don’t give me the “but Main Street loves it” crap. Bill Clinton is the biggest hilljack bubba we are ever likely to have in the highest office in the land, but he speaks well. Really well. Really, REALLY well. He gets his “kountry” on not by butchering the English language, but with eye contact and voice inflection and friendly body language (a little too friendly in some cases). THAT is Main Street, and she can totally pull it off.
On a more substantive “That’s So Them” note, her refusal to answer questions asked of her is something her past Alaskan debate opponents noticed and warned us about. It’s a problem because either her maverickiness has given her a Bush-like lack of respect for the truth or she didn’t know the answers well enough to take the question. I suspect the latter.
So there you have it. By my estimation, Biden won. Big surprise, right? What that’s you say? What about the policy issues? You big silly, presidential election debates aren’t about policy positions.
Don’t misunderstand me. A grasp on and an ability to articulate policy is an important baseline for performance, but it is only a baseline. Pity the poor candidate (Al Gore) who thinks crossing it with the greatest ease will win. Biden and Palin both knew it. Well, Biden did. Palin may simply have been in the position of not knowing enough about policy for it to overshadow her other assets.