The weirdest moment in last night's vice presidential debate (at least for me) happened before the debate officially had even begun. Not realizing their mikes were being picked up by the networks, Sarah Palin (while shaking Joe Biden's hand) asked him "Can I call you Joe?"
Now, in normal life, this is a petty innocuous question. It's a bit of politeness, asking someone if you can refer to them informally, by using just their first name. But this isn't normal life, this is a debate viewed by millions, between two people who not only have full names, but also titles (Senator, Governor). Knowing that Palin only asked this because she had some zinger up her sleeve, I was waiting for it all night, until (near the end) Palin finally pulled it out -- "Say it ain't so, Joe!" Whew. That was less "zingy" than I had expected... and she followed it up by trying to be Reaganesque: "there you go again pointing backwards again," which (to my ears) fell pretty flat indeed.
So, in keeping with the spirit of the debate, I ask Senator Joe Biden, "Can I call you Joe?" Because I'm going to be typing his name a lot today.
Now, I refuse to get too wrapped up in the question of who "won" the debate. In general, unless one candidate obviously self-destructs, this question is answered among most Americans quite subjectively and quite personally. I thought, much as I did with the first presidential debate, that last night was largely a draw. Neither candidate completely fell on their face, both candidates spoke fairly well, and neither one completely outshone the other.
But that's not to say I didn't think Biden did better. I did... but then I'm hardly an "undecided voter" at this point, so it's almost impossible to tell what such people really thought.
I will say one snarky thing up front, though -- I think Tiny Fey is going to parody Sarah Palin's "wink, wink" to devastating effect on tomorrow night's Saturday Night Live.
Because I've had a day to find a transcript (since this debate was on Thursday rather than Friday), I'm going to turn the Friday Talking Points part of the column over to what I consider to be Biden's best lines from last night. But first, our weekly awards....
Bill Clinton has to get at least a nod of acknowledgement here, for finally getting some fire in the belly on the stump for Obama. Maybe it took John McCain putting Clinton in one of his campaign ads to get Bubba annoyed, but for whatever reason it is good to see. Clinton, when he's "on" is one of the best campaign speakers of all time in American politics, and his erratic nature throughout just about the entire campaign season was disappointing in a lot of ways. But if the "old" Bill Clinton is back, then send him out stumping some more! For this effort, Clinton gets an Honorable Mention this week.
But the clear winner of Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was Senator Joe Biden, for his debate performance. In all the media hype preceding the event, Sarah Palin's weaknesses were talked about, but then the media talking heads would always try to appear fair by pointing out Biden's supposed weaknesses as well: he talks too much, and sometimes he gets caught in gaffes of his own. While much of the story last night was about how Sarah Palin exceeded the laughably low expectations set for her (by her own interviews with Katie Couric), the other side of the coin was that Joe Biden also blew away his critics in a disciplined and gaffe-free performance.
A lot of it had to do with the unbelievably tight format the candidates had agreed to (probably at Palin's request) -- only 90 seconds to answer questions, and then just two minutes of back-and-forth afterwards. Compare that to the first Obama/McCain debate, where they had an initial two minutes followed by nine minutes of back-and-forth. This seemed to make everyone -- Biden, Palin, and even Gwen Ifill -- talk really fast, in order to cram as many words into 90 seconds as they possibly could. I'm surprised the debate wasn't sponsored by Red Bull, or a major coffee company.
But whatever format, Joe Biden was impressive. He was relaxed when he needed to be, forceful when he needed to be, emotional and human at times, and (most importantly) he absolutely did not give the Republicans any reason to slap some sort of "sexist" label on him, for "treating Sarah badly." Biden (quite intelligently) barely even mentioned Palin, preferring instead to focus intensely on John McCain instead. This was the right thing to do, and it paid off in a big way for Biden.
So, Joe, for your wonderful debate performance where you showed many Americans for the first time exactly why Barack Obama drafted you as his running mate, you are clear and away the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Senator Joe Biden on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Remember Election Day, 2006? Remember the Democrats sweeping into power in both houses of Congress? Remember the joy and hope we all felt back then?
Well, the 110th Congress just folded its tent and packed it in until January, meaning that we can take a look back at their two years in office now. And, I have to say, I'm underwhelmed.
This was our only chance to hold George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of them responsible for what they have done to American democracy. And now that Congress has given themselves a four-month vacation, there will be no further chance to do so until after the Bush administration has left office.
Now, I wasn't one of those who were loudly calling for impeachment on day one, and I took some heat for my stance. For one thing, we didn't have anywhere near the votes in the Senate, so it would have been largely futile. More importantly, I saw rushing to impeachment as putting the cart before the horse. I thought the congressional committees would do their job of investigation, and present some evidence of wrongdoing... and then we could all discuss whether impeachment was the way to go or not.
Those committees did make a halfhearted attempt to do some investigating. But Bush and his minions thwarted them at every turn, ignoring subpoenas and stonewalling worse than Nixon ever did. And history will little note nor long remember the Democrats' response. Instead of immediately identifying such obstructionism as a blatant attempt to run out the clock, and immediately responding by appointing an Independent or Special Prosecutor (think: Ken Starr); Democratic committee chairmen instead spent their time waffling and sending "strongly-worded" letters to Bush and the Department of Justice. Like I said, not exactly one for the history books.
OK, to give credit where credit is due, we did get rid of Alberto Gonzales and Michael "heckuva job" Brown. But that's not good enough. Not by a long shot.
So, collectively, the entire Democratic delegation to the 110th Congress receives a joint Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, for allowing Bush to run out the clock and skate away. For shame!
[Contact your congressional representative's local office to let him or her know what you think of Congress' inaction.]
Volume 50 (10/3/08)
Wow, is it really Volume 50 already?
We now turn the rest of the program over to the best, most effective lines Joe Biden had during the debate. Everyone has their own favorite moments, and this stuff can appear to be pretty subjective, but I'm not just quoting the lines I liked the best, but rather the ones I think are the most effective talking points.
In general, I thought Biden was incredibly effective. He tripped over his own tongue once or twice, which I chalk up to the frenzied 90-second pace. But he never stumbled badly. The only verbal "tic" that began to get a little annoying (just a little, not a lot, because he used it effectively every time) was his habit of enumerating his answer -- "That's number one... and number two..." Pretty minor. Overall, I'd give Biden a solid "A" for his performance. The best thing Biden did (which Obama did not, in the first debate) was to hit McCain's voting record again and again. Throw a specific number at them! "McCain voted against puppies and kittens 477 times in the Senate." This is basic Debating 101, and Biden nailed this aspect of it, over and over again. Obama needs to learn this trick before next Tuesday. Biden also made good use of forcefully rejecting Palin's talking points, saying over and over again "that is just not true" or "that is a lie" or something similar. Americans respect you when you stand up to falsehood, it shows strength and character.
These are given in the order they appeared in last night's debate. Transcript is from RealClearPolitics, any transcription errors are theirs.
Early on, Biden starts hitting McCain on his record, in this instance on being a deregulator.
So what you had is you had overwhelming "deregulation." You had actually the belief that Wall Street could self-regulate itself. And while Barack Obama was talking about reinstating those regulations, John [McCain] on 20 different occasions in the previous year and a half called for more deregulation. As a matter of fact, John recently wrote an article in a major magazine saying that he wants to do for the health care industry deregulate it and let the free market move like he did for the banking industry.
So deregulation was the promise. And guess what? Those people who say don't go into debt, they can barely pay to fill up their gas tank. I was recently at my local gas station and asked a guy named Joey Danco. I said Joey, how much did it cost to fill your tank? You know what his answer was? He said I don't know, Joe. I never have enough money to do it. The middle class needs relief, tax relief. They need it now. They need help now. The focus will change with Barack Obama.
Here's another good example of throwing McCain's record in Palin's face, and of calling her a liar at the same time. This is in response to the fully-discredited claim that Obama voted to raise taxes on "those families making only $42,000 a year."
The charge is absolutely not true. Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote [Sarah Palin is] referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way. It was a budget procedural vote. John McCain voted the same way. It did not raise taxes. Number two, using the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes. It's a bogus standard it but if you notice, Gwen, the governor did not answer the question about deregulation, did not answer the question of defending John McCain about not going along with the deregulation, letting Wall Street run wild. He did support deregulation almost across the board. That's why we got into so much trouble.
Biden strongly defends taxing the rich, and strongly makes that case that middle class families will not see their taxes go up. Nice use of Reagan's name, as well.
Well Gwen, where I come from, it's called fairness, just simple fairness. The middle class is struggling. The middle class under John McCain's tax proposal, 100 million families, middle class families, households to be precise, they got not a single change, they got not a single break in taxes. No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama's plan will see one single penny of their tax raised whether it's their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax. And 95 percent of the people in the United States of America making less than $150,000 will get a tax break.
Now, that seems to me to be simple fairness. The economic engine of America is middle class. It's the people listening to this broadcast. When you do well, America does well. Even the wealthy do well. This is not punitive. John wants to add $300 million, billion in new tax cuts per year for corporate America and the very wealthy while giving virtually nothing to the middle class. We have a different value set. The middle class is the economic engine. It's fair. They deserve the tax breaks, not the super wealthy who are doing pretty well. They don't need any more tax breaks. And by the way, they'll pay no more than they did under Ronald Reagan.
OK, this one was a cheap shot, but I have to say I enjoyed it. Biden's talking about McCain's health care plan, and ends with a zinger.
I call that the "Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere."
Biden goes on to destroy the enormous fallacy in Palin's logic on whether global warming is man-made or not. Palin's carefully-memorized talking point is that it is not productive to figure out what is causing global warming, since we should focus on solutions. Biden eviscerates this idiocy.
Well, I think it is manmade. I think it's clearly manmade. And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden -- Gov. Palin and Joe Biden.
If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That's the cause. That's why the polar icecap is melting.
On Iraq, Biden was clear and concise.
Gwen, with all due respect, I didn't hear a plan. Barack Obama offered a clear plan. Shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Draw down our combat troops. Ironically the same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq and George Bush are now negotiating. The only odd man out here, only one left out is John McCain, number one. Number two, with regard to Barack Obama not quote funding the troops, John McCain voted the exact same way. John McCain voted against funding the troops because of an amendment he voted against had a timeline in it to draw down American troops. And John said I'm not going to fund the troops if in fact there's a time line. Barack Obama and I agree fully and completely on one thing. You've got to have a time line to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis.
We're spending $10 billion a month while Iraqis have an $80 billion surplus. Barack says it's time for them to spend their own money and have the 400,000 military we trained for them begin to take their own responsibility and gradually over 16 months, withdrawal. John McCain -- this is a fundamental difference between us, we'll end this war. For John McCain, there's no end in sight to end this war, fundamental difference. We will end this war.
He follows up with "McCain was wrong, Obama was right."
John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops. Let me say that again. John McCain voted against an amendment containing $1 billion, $600 million that I had gotten to get MRAPS, those things that are protecting the governor's son and pray god my son and a lot of other sons and daughters.
He voted against it. He voted against funding because he said the amendment had a time line in it to end this war. He didn't like that. But let's get straight who has been right and wrong. John McCain and Dick Cheney said while I was saying we would not be greeted as liberators, we would not -- this war would take a decade and not a day, not a week and not six months, we would not be out of there quickly. John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years. John McCain said there would be enough oil to pay for this. John McCain has been dead wrong. I love him. As my mother would say, god love him, but he's been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war. Barack Obama has been right. There are the facts.
OK, this one was a cheap shot as well. McCain was confused, and really didn't mean what he said when he said it. But it's a valid thing to point out to people who haven't heard the story, since if they look into it they'll be left with only one conclusion -- McCain was confused. And "McCain = confused" is a good thing to plant into voters' minds.
The last point I'll make, John McCain said as recently as a couple of weeks ago he wouldn't even sit down with the government of Spain, a NATO ally that has troops in Afghanistan with us now. I find that incredible.
When Palin took Biden to task for tying John McCain to George W. Bush, Biden was ready. Nice use of repeating the phrase "I haven't heard how McCain is going to be different."
Look, past is prologue, Gwen. The issue is, how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's? I haven't heard anything yet.
I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's.
It may be. But so far, it is the same as George Bush's. And you know where that policy has taken us.
We will make significant change so, once again, we're the most respected nation in the world. That's what we're going to do.
Excellent summation of why Obama is running for president, when asked how a Biden administration would be different than an Obama administration if the worst happened. Nice dig in the middle of it, too -- Biden knows what the Bush Doctrine is.
God forbid that would ever happen, it would be a national tragedy of historic proportions if it were to happen.
But if it did, I would carry out Barack Obama's policy, his policies of reinstating the middle class, making sure they get a fair break, making sure they have access to affordable health insurance, making sure they get serious tax breaks, making sure we can help their children get to college, making sure there is an energy policy that leads us in the direction of not only toward independence and clean environment but an energy policy that creates 5 million new jobs, a foreign policy that ends this war in Iraq, a foreign policy that goes after the one mission the American public gave the president after 9/11, to get and capture or kill bin Laden and to eliminate al Qaeda. A policy that would in fact engage our allies in making sure that we knew we were acting on the same page and not dictating.
And a policy that would reject the Bush Doctrine of preemption and regime change and replace it with a doctrine of prevention and cooperation and, ladies and gentlemen, this is the biggest ticket item that we have in this election.
This is the most important election you will ever, ever have voted in, any of you, since 1932. And there's such stark differences, I would follow through on Barack's policies because in essence, I agree with every major initiative he is suggesting.
Excellent summation of "McCain doesn't get it" and "are you better off now than you were eight years ago," all wrapped into one answer.
Look, all you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or go to Katie's Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me where I spend a lot of time and you ask anybody in there whether or not the economic and foreign policy of this administration has made them better off in the last eight years. And then ask them whether there's a single major initiative that John McCain differs with the president on. On taxes, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on the whole question of how to help education, on the dealing with health care.
Look, the people in my neighborhood, they get it. They get it. They know they've been getting the short end of the stick. So walk with me in my neighborhood, go back to my old neighborhood in Claymont, an old steel town or go up to Scranton with me. These people know the middle class has gotten the short end. The wealthy have done very well. Corporate America has been rewarded. It's time we change it. Barack Obama will change it.
Biden responds to Palin's praise for Dick Cheney, and how the Constitution is somehow "flexible" on what the Vice President does. This may have been Biden's best line of the entire night. No mincing words here. Tell us how you really feel, Joe!
Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.
And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.
The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.
Near the end, Biden shows some honest emotion, even choking up at one point. This could have come off as inauthentic, but did not. Women across America reached for a tissue to blot their eyes after this answer.
Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid's going to make it.
I understand what it's like to sit around the kitchen table with a father who says, "I've got to leave, champ, because there's no jobs here. I got to head down to Wilmington. And when we get enough money, honey, we'll bring you down."
I understand what it's like. I'm much better off than almost all Americans now. I get a good salary with the United States Senate. I live in a beautiful house that's my total investment that I have. So I -- I am much better off now.
But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand.
I understand, as well as, with all due respect, the governor or anybody else, what it's like for those people sitting around that kitchen table. And guess what? They're looking for help. They're looking for help. They're not looking for more of the same.
And finally, Biden directly attacks the "maverickness" of John McCain. Once again, tell it like it is, Joe!
Look, the maverick -- let's talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.
He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.
He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against -- he voted including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.
He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.
He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table.
Can we send -- can we get Mom's MRI? Can we send Mary back to school next semester? We can't -- we can't make it. How are we going to heat the -- heat the house this winter?
He voted against even providing for what they call LIHEAP, for assistance to people, with oil prices going through the roof in the winter.
So maverick he is not on the important, critical issues that affect people at that kitchen table.
That's it for this week's debate wrapup. Next week's debate is Tuesday, so this column will return to a more traditional format as a result.
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant