02 October 2008

VP Debate Winner?

UPDATE: Uh oh. I fell into the trap. Turns out Biden didn't misspeak when he said "Bosniaks." (And not only am I ignorant on the correct classifications of the peoples of the earth, but I misspelled it below, too.)

Forget everything you've read. Forget the spin. The debate didn't go to Joe Biden, despite his political acumen, his ability to connect, and his gravitas. And the debate certainly did not go to Sarah Palin, who exceeded expectations by showing not only her fire but her ability to compete, make compelling points, and connect with the American voter.

The big winner of tonight's debate is Barack Obama. I expect, barring any shocks, that we'll see another point or two--if not more--reflected in the polls by mid next week. On every point, on almost every question, Joe Biden brought it home for Barack Obama. He didn't attack Palin, and he didn't even egregiously attack McCain. Joe Biden brought the positive arguments for Barack Obama to the table. Those arguments resonated so clearly because of Biden's inside-out knowledge of all things Washington. Certainly, Biden spoke to his running mate's record effectively. But he did Obama the most good when he simply spoke about the issues of the day.

Where Sarah Palin spoke in eloquent generalities, Joe Biden offered specifics. Iraq? Barack Obama has a plan to end this war in 16 months. Health care? John McCain will give you $5,000 to go replace a $12,000 coverage plan. The Constitution? The Constitution clearly makes no exception to deny status to same-sex couples; furthermore, Article 1 of the Constitution clearly--clearly--puts the office of the Vice President under the auspices of the Executive Branch. Though so much more goes into the final tally, Barack Obama may have won the VP debate on that last point alone.

If Sarah Palin made an extraordinary gaffe tonight, it wasn't the one viewers expected. Anyone who saw the Couric interviews hoped like witnesses passing a car wreck to see something gory tonight. Alas, the Governor held her own. But she made the mistake of validating the deceptive and covert actions of the most unpopular and widely mistrusted Vice President in American history, and Joe Biden seized the moment to shed equivocation (not that he's much one for that) and state in no uncertain terms that the Constitution of the United States clearly sets the office of the Vice President under the jurisprudence of the Executive Branch. After nearly eight years of deceit, dishonor, and secrecy, this is something the American people very much needed to hear.

Excepting that, for a moment, Palin came off decently. The top of the debate began with two personalities very much in their element. While the stakes were extraordinarily high for both, neither of them wore the stress. Since the announcement of her status as running mate, Sarah Palin has been tasked, fairly or no, with winning this campaign for John McCain. Joe Biden meanwhile, with his history of running at the mouth, could have threatened Obama's current status as leader in the race. Neither VP candidate blew it. Palin was good, though a couple times she looked starkly lost. Biden, however, was great, though I'm pretty sure he said at one point "the central war in the front on terror." Not a major goof, but an indicator all the same that he was not perfect. (I also thought I heard Biden call the Bosnian people "Bosniacs," but there's no telling.)

The result is that McCain doesn't lose ground tonight, but Obama fortifies his position and really begins to open his lead. The deciding factor? Sarah Palin spoke to the people who already agreed with her. Joe Biden, I strongly believe, spoke to those who have not yet connected. And he landed it.

On the economy:

[I]t was two Mondays ago John McCain said at 9 o'clock in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Two weeks before that, he said George -- we've made great economic progress under George Bush's policies.

Nine o'clock, the economy was strong. Eleven o'clock that same day, two Mondays ago, John McCain said that we have an economic crisis.

That doesn't make John McCain a bad guy, but it does point out he's out of touch. Those folks on the sidelines knew that two months ago.
On Iraq:
[W]ith 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.

. . . 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.
On Iran:
The fact of the matter is, it surprises me that Senator McCain doesn't realize that Ahmadinejad does not control the security apparatus in Iran. The theocracy controls the security apparatus, number one.

Number two, five secretaries of state did say we should talk with and sit down.

Now, John and Governor Palin now say they're all for -- they have a passion, I think the phrase was, a passion for diplomacy and that we have to bring our friends and allies along.

Our friends and allies have been saying, Gwen, "Sit down. Talk. Talk. Talk." Our friends and allies have been saying that, five secretaries of state, three of them Republicans.

And John McCain has said he would go along with an agreement, but he wouldn't sit down. Now, how do you do that when you don't have your administration sit down and talk with the adversary?

And look what President Bush did. After five years, he finally sent a high-ranking diplomat to meet with the highest-ranking diplomats in Iran, in Europe, to try to work out an arrangement.
On Israel:
[N]o one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden. I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure Barack Obama shared my passion.
Short and sweet, that clip, but Biden can literally make that claim and back it up.

On Afghanistan:
With Afghanistan, facts matter, Gwen.

The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge -- the surge principles used in Iraq will not -- well, let me say this again now -- our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.

He said we need more troops. We need government-building. We need to spend more money on the infrastructure in Afghanistan.

Look, we have spent more money -- we spend more money in three weeks on combat in Iraq than we spent on the entirety of the last seven years that we have been in Afghanistan building that country.

Let me say that again. Three weeks in Iraq; seven years, seven years or six-and-a-half years in Afghanistan. Now, that's number one.

Our allies are on that same page. And if we don't go the extra mile on diplomacy, what makes you think the allies are going to sit with us?

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.
On same-sex couples:
Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera.
On the office of the Vice President:
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.
At each turn, on every point, in every clutch situation, Joe Biden looked entirely at ease. Perhaps that's because he's got 35 years under his belt of doing what he does. Maybe it's because he's at his absolute best when he's allowed the forum to communicate complex issues in comprehensible ways. And maybe it's because tonight, Joe Biden understood that the only way to lose the debate for his boss was to forget the issues and tuck into the character battles that have defined much of this campaign. Perhaps, and this may be most convincing of all, Biden won the debate for Obama because Biden's character--and therefore Obama's judgment--is most appreciable when discovered deep at the heart of American policy.

Transcript here.