My daughter had soccer practice from 6:15 to 7:15, so I couldn’t watch most of tonight’s Veep debate, but I did manage to listen to most of it on the radio. I’m not sure how much the lack of visuals influenced my impressions, but I thought I’d offer a brief analysis nonetheless.
I’ll start with obvious: Sarah Palin didn’t fall flat on her face. She stayed composed, she sounded confident (even when her clear lack of knowledge on an issue suggested she shouldn’t be), and she kept her energy up throughout the evening.
That said, she wasn’t very good. If the kind of performance she gave at the convention was the kind of performance she gave tonight, McCain would have enjoyed zero bounce in the days that followed. Her answers were erratic, wandering, mostly content free, and often had nothing to do with the questions asked… and to my ear, her performance grew steadily weaker over time. (I don’t know if that’s because she actually got worse, or because she just plain wore on me.) I’m sure a lot of folks on my side are probably disappointed that Palin wasn’t as embarrassing as she was in the Katie Couric interviews, but towards the end of the debate, I’m not so sure she wasn’t. That sort of monumental ineptitude is hard to sustain over a full 90 minutes, but I bet you could find a handful of 30-second clips, particularly near the end, that could stand alone as the Palin we’ve all come to know and mock over the past couple weeks.
We all knew from her convention speech that Palin could act, but the big question tonight was whether she could do improv? Um… not really.
Biden on the other hand did just fine, and actually grew stronger as the evening wore on. I wish he hadn’t laughed out loud at her insults—that came off as a little creepy—but I noticed no major gaffes, and he certainly appeared in command of the issues. He also seemed to focus mostly on McCain, not Palin, which in the end is a winning strategy.
So who won? On points, clearly Biden, a take that appears to be supported by the instant polls. But in the end, I don’t think it matters anymore. The Palin surge has long since faded, and I’m not sure there was anything Palin could have done tonight to put the bloom back on the rose. McCain appears to be losing the battle for the swing voters, and while Palin may not have done him much harm tonight, I don’t think she did him much good either.
One final comment. There was much debate both within and without the netroots over the proper response to Palin’s nomination, and there were many who strongly warned against attacking her personally, for fear of creating a backlash. But for those of us who persisted in relentlessly savaging both her qualifications and her character, well, I think tonight we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. For Palin, tonight’s debate was all about personal redemption, an effort to reclaim some of those post-convention highs, and reassure voters that she is prepared to stand a 72-year-old heartbeat away from the Oval Office. She did okay in that regard, but I’m not sure she succeeded.
Meanwhile, while Palin was essentially defending herself, Biden was busy attacking McCain, which is, after all, the role of the Veep nominee in a presidential campaign. Perhaps Palin helped herself a little tonight, but she failed to take even a sliver out of Barack Obama’s hide, and in that sense failed utterly in her primary role.
At least, that was my take from listening to the debate on the radio. I suppose the tracking polls over the next few days will prove whether my impression was right or wrong.