"There Ya Go Again."
It was billed as Ali-Frazier and instead it turned into Ali-Forman.
At first, it looked as if it was going to be another Republican hit job. How can you expect Gwen Ifill, a woman who'd written a scathing book critical of Barack Obama, to moderate a Vice Presidential debate in a non-partisan fashion? Ifill got off to a shaky start at the very beginning referring to the Republican candidate by her official title of "Governor" while introducing the Democrat as just plain "Joe Biden of Delaware."
Fortunately, Shep Smith of Fox (the network I watched the debate on so you wouldn't have to) brought his A game to Wash U, reminding us of Ifill's book while raising concerns about her impartiality. Afterward, Smith also immediately pounced on Palin for changing the subject several times and calling her out on a few of her outright lies.
Biden, it's plain, got his marching orders from the First Gentleman at Camp Obama: Don't hit below the belt and certainly not above it. Otherwise, if Biden had been as merciless as he was with his fellow Democrats during the caucuses and primaries, he would've come off as looking misogynistic.
Biden got some good shots in, making a reference to a bridge to nowhere. Still, it was plain that Biden was wearing pillows for boxing gloves and he didn't want to come off as looking condescending and patronizing as George HW Bush did in 1984 with Geraldine Ferarro. However, it was smart of Biden to keep hammering away at both Bush and McCain. The vice presidency is meaningless except when Constitutional succession is mandated and Biden was smart to stay focused on the more immediate threat, which is McCain.
As expected, Biden shone the brightest when foreign policy came up in the second half of the debate. How tempted he must've been to make a snide reference to Palin claiming that Alaska's proximity to Russia and Canada let her absorb foreign policy credentials by osmosis.
Palin, for her part, was merely toeing the GOP line fed to her: The surge is working. Ahmadinjedad can't have nukes (which is true, as Biden pointed out, since the theocracy running Iran would have sway over that and foreign policy). We need to win these two wars.
The most chilling comment that Palin made, I think, was when she said, "I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it..."
Yeah, that attitude has worked spectacularly well over the last eight years, wouldn't you say, Sarah? And speaking of which Biden said, "Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history."
Palin was more coached than a Pekingese before a dog show, hammering home the mantras "Energy independence" and "alternative energy (nothing quite says "alternative energy" like the Governor of one of the nation's biggest oil-producing states), invoking Reagan's name, even resurrecting his "There you go again!" And, most of all, "maverick, maverick, maverick."
Biden was right to call Palin on her claims of McCain's maverick status, rightly saying that he has not differed one iota where it counts the most from the Bush administration. Palin reinforced this by refusing to blame the Bush administration directly for anything, especially Iraq, preferring to not point the finger of blame, as if the disembodied "blunders" that have plagued Iraq arose independently without any direct tie to the White House.
But, in the end, a muzzled Biden made the debate's outcome look even closer than it ever should've been and it didn't help any that, like Palin, he lied on some key issues (like his unwavering support of clean coal) and his status as the ultimate Beltway insider made Palin look more like a maverick than she has a right to claim. As proof, here's USA Today's fact check, which actually keeps both Biden and Palin honest.
The transcript of the debate can be found here on CNN's website.