10:01: Ifil asks about Biden’s positions on Bosnia and Kosovo, in relation to the Darfur situation. He contrasts his positions on Bosnia and Kosovo to McCain’s. He emphasizes need for US to act unequivocally to bring African Union forces in to stop genocide in Darfur. Palin notes that, for the most part, Biden differed from Obama on Iraq in the war’s early years. She expresses agreement with Biden’s position in Darfur. She observes that as governor she saw to it that Alaska divested some investments it turned out to have in Sudan. Biden’s problem: wouldn’t the reduction in foreign assistance that he advocates make it more difficult for US to help Darfurians?
10:07: Ifil: “How would a Biden administration be different from an Obama administration” if Obama didn’t complete his presidency? Biden: “God forbid that would happen.” But he says he would continue Obama’s policie and then moves into boilerplate right out of his last dozen speeches. If Palin can come up with something better, she’ll really score. Palin: “As for disagreeing, we’re a team of mavericks.” McCain “has never asked me to check my opinions at the door.” Notes the need for “a little bit of reality to be brought from Wasilla to Washington, DC.” Strikes a populist tone. Biden’s reply: “Go to Home Depot where I spend a lot of time” and ask if their lives have improved in the last eight years – borrowing Reagan’s question in the 1980 debate, but Palin right on it: “Say it ain’t so, Joe – there you go again!” Biden laughs. But he knows whose borrowing was more effective. Palin talks about her family’s involvement in education and again strikes an effective down-home note. Ifil: “Everyone gets extra credit tonight.”
10:13: Ifil asks what the Vice Presidency is worth. Palin doesn’t get into specifics. Biden explains what Obama asked him to do as Veep: “I’d be the point person for legislative initiatives in our Congress” (traditionally the Veep’s role if he previously served in Congress), but doesn’t get into other details.
10:15: Ifil: “Do you believe, as V-P Cheney does, that the Executive Branch doesn’t hold complete sway over the Vice-Presidency?” Palin emphasizes the “flexibility” in the current role of the Veep. Biden: “Cheney’s been the most dangerous Vice-President we’ve had in American history.” Continues that “the primary role of the Vice-President is to support over the President.” Insists that Cheney’s idea “that the V-P is part of the legislative branch” is “bizarre” – but Al Gore worked in a similar fashion under Clinton.
10:18: Ifil asks how Palin’s experience as Governor will help her on the national scale. Palin emphasizes not only her political experience but her experience as a middle-class wife and mother. She quotes Reagan (and John Winthrop’s) “shining city on a hill.” Finishes with some stirring rhetoric. Biden insists that what some call his “excessive passion” won’t change. He cites various achievements from his legislative record. Speaks affectingly about his wife and daughter’s death in 1972, and raising his two sons. “I understand what the people sitting around the kitchen table are looking for, and they’re looking for help, not more of the same.” Palin notes McCain’s ability to win the support of figures as ideologically diverse as herself, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani and speaks of McCain’s “maverick” persona. Biden insists that “McCain hasn’t been a maverick” on health-care or education or Iraq or “anything that really affects what people talk about around their kitchen table.” He gets more passionate. Evidently aware he has to make a powerful impression somewhere before debate ends.
10:24: Ifil asks an unfocused question for the finale about compromise and consensus. Biden talks about fighting the Bork nomination (20 years ago! He doesn’t talk about Clarence Thomas, probably nervous about alienating more conservative black voters). Palin discusses, more relevantly, her work on Alaska’s budget and emphasizes the need to “bring both sides together.” Ifil’s followup brings things over the argument over the bailout. Biden: “I believe that if McCain were here” he’d acknowledge Biden was good at bringing people together. He insists he questions “the judgment, not the motives” of his fellow legislators. Palin notes in Alaska she’s made appointments regardless of party affiliations. She points out “the policies and proposals have got to speak for themselves.” She emphasizes that Obama’s program will increase taxes and “say no to energy independence.”
Final statements. Palin comes first. She notes that “I like being able to answer these questions without the filter of the mainstream media telling people what they’ve just heard.” She continues: “I know what the hurts are, and thank God I know what the joys are of living in America.” She quotes Reagan again: “Freedom is always one generaton away from extinction.” Concludes: “There’s only one man in this race who has ever really fought for you” – the only reference to McCain’s Vietnam experience in debate. A strong finish. Biden’s statement rather more soporific at the start. He starts talking about “dignity and respect” as it was taught in “the neighborhood I grew up in.” He quotes his dad: “Champ, if you’re knocked down, get up.” Not too strong a finish. He concludes: “God protect our troops.”
At debate’s end, Palin shakes hands with Biden at the end and perkily says, “Thank you so much!” and brings Todd and the young’uns onto the stage.
PBS roundtable: David Brooks thinks Palin was “every bit [Biden's] equal” and that she held her own. Mark Shields: Dems “are disappointed she didn’t implode” and that Palin “came through far better than those around her expected.” Brooks perceives that her down-home touches were highly effective. He notes that Palin mentioned McCain far more frequently than Biden mentioned Obama. Shields notes that Biden failed to take advantage of some opportunities to tie Palin’s rhetoric to the Bush administration. He notes high energy level of the debate. Brooks observes that Biden seemed much more coached than Palin and failed to show his more human aspect until he started to discuss his family toward the end of the debate. Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian, comes on and discusses Palin’s successes, but thinks Biden’s performance was solid; he doesn’t think it was a “game-changer.”
The winner: Palin, especially since expectations for her were so low. If she and McCain can follow up on it effectively, they can turn the whole ballgame around.