Biden Wins Debate As Palin Avoids Answering Questions

The second debate resulted in another win for the Obama/Biden ticket but it will probably not have much effect on the race. The major accomplishment of this debate was to put an end to the idea that to beat expectations is to win. Sarah Palin did beat expectations, thanks to a combination of extremely low expectations and the lack of follow up questions, but still lost the debate.

The preliminary poll results show a win for Biden. CNN found that Biden won 51% to 36%. CBS News found that among independents Biden won 46% to 21%. Both candidates improved their overall opinion among those responding. Media Curves showed independents thought Biden won 69% to 31%.

As predicted before the debate Palin spent most of the evening avoiding answering questions and therefore avoided winding up in the position of obviously not knowing an answer as occurred in her recent interviews. This tactic helped in terms of allowing her to beat expectations but failed to help win the debate for two reasons. First, while it is common for politicians to avoid answering some questions, she did this to the point of absurdity so that most viewers would notice. Secondly, in the event that some viewers might not notice, she even announced her intentions, saying early in the debate, “And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.”

During the debate the American people might have had some interest in her track record, but they did expect her to answer some questions.

Biden won a number of key points. Palin repeated the same lies which have been debunked numerous times before regarding Obama’s record on taxes, such as the claim that Obama had voted to increase taxes 94 times. This number is calculated by counting a wide variety of measures as a tax increase, and someone in the Obama/Biden campaign realized that it was inevitable that McCain, having been in Congress longer, would have voted for even more tax increases than Obama using their logic. Biden responded to Palin’s attack by responding that, “using the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes.” Biden made an error on the specifics of his defense of the claim that Obama voted to increase taxes on those earning $42,000 a year, but this claim has previously been debunked. More importantly, Obama’s tax plan would give a far larger tax cut to such individuals than McCain’s.

Biden also had a strong answer to cut through Palin’s strategy on global warming (which was my immediate reaction the first time I heard an argument from Palin along these lines). Palin has been trying to downplay her denial of the scientific consensus on the human role in global warming with evasions such as, “I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?” Biden easily showed the weakness of her approach in arguing, “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.”

As would be expected, Biden was especially strong on foreign policy. While Palin tried various strategies to obfuscate the issue, Biden cut through her distortions on Iraq with a clear statement of how Obama and McCain differed on the war:

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.

Biden also showed that John McCain has been wrong on the Iraq war and responded to accusations that Obama had voted to cut off funding to the troops:

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.

Biden responded to the attacks on Obama for supporting negotiations with enemies without preconditions, noting that our allies and five secretaries of state have supported this idea. He contrasted this with the policies of George Bush and the view of John McCain:

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.

Palin was desperate to keep Biden from comparing McCain’s policies to those of George Bush,  accusing him of “Just looking backwards, Senator?” This is an especially weak argument, showing the danger of how Palin and McCain would repeat the same mistakes of the past by failing to pay attention to history.

Palin tried to turn her outsider status into an advantage, but this is difficult when John McCain is heading the ticket. At one point Palin said, “I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C.” Does she mean bring the reality of the metamphetamine capital of Alaska to Washington, D.C.? The idea that “reality from Wasilla Main Street” is any substitute for actual knowledge of the issues contributed to Palin’s defeat in the debate.

Palin appeared to be following Dick Cheney in seeing the vice presidency as being outside the Executive Branch and in seeking more power for the position:

IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?

PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.

I doubt that John McCain would give Sarah Palin much authority at all should they be elected. In any event, it would be safer for them politically if voters did not see Palin as having much power. Palin’s comparisons to Dick Cheney are especially unwise as many people would agree with Joe Biden that “Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history.” Their views on Dick Cheney was also the topic of an interview quesiton with Katie Couric which was released today.

Despite this comparison with Cheney, Palin generally tried to separate McCain from the failures of Republican rule by repeatedly bringing up the maverick line. Biden finally had enough of this and responded with his best statement of the night:

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.

As I wrote earlier, the only way Sarah Palin is a maverick is in her approach to the debate.

These debates often include a question where a candidate has to own up to a flaw and the trick is to answer without doing harm. The variation on this form of question  was, “can you think of a single issue, policy issue, in which you were forced to change a long-held view in order to accommodate changed circumstances?” While Palin babbled without a good response, Biden was well prepared:

Yes, I can. When I got to the United States Senate and went on the Judiciary Committee as a young lawyer, I was of the view and had been trained in the view that the only thing that mattered was whether or not a nominee appointed, suggested by the president had a judicial temperament, had not committed a crime of moral turpitude, and was — had been a good student.

And it didn’t take me long — it was hard to change, but it didn’t take me long, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference.

That’s why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don’t like and the American people wouldn’t like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

And so that — that — that was one of the intellectual changes that took place in my career as I got a close look at it. And that’s why I was the first chairman of the Judiciary Committee to forthrightly state that it matters what your judicial philosophy is. The American people have a right to understand it and to know it.

But I did change on that, and — and I’m glad I did.

This was an excellent answer on many levels. Biden managed to give an actual answer but had an example where no reasonable person would see it as a flaw to change his mind. I was also happy to see him bring up Roe v. Wade and civil liberties. While foreign policy and the economy have dominated the debate and the campaign, the differences between Obama and McCain on these issues are just as important. Biden’s concerns regarding Roe v. Wade and civil liberties apply to the election of John McCain as president just as mush as they dd to the nomination of Judge Bork to the Supreme Court. It is a shame that other civil liberties concerns were not raised during the debate, such as Palin’s attempt at banning books in Wasilla.

Biden won a number of debate points but none of these will overshadow the main event between Barack Obama and John McCain. Most likely the race will continue just as it was prior to the debate, with Obama moving out to a significant lead, and with the vice presidential candidates no longer having a significant role.


  1. 1
    Fired Up! says:

    I thought Dancing With The Stars came on Tuesdays and Wednesdays? Why did I feel that Sarah Palin was dancing around the issues once again. I have been a die hard Republican for 20 years and I am outraged that Palin with the lack of knowledge and know how thinks that she can whew me with her looks and charms this is why we are suffering now. I want someone that can give straight decicive answers and not take me through a ballroom dance. It hearts me to my heart but I think I will be voting in the other direction this year.

  2. 2
    Lauri says:

    You people are all out of your mind.  It was as clear as day that Sarah won this debate.  Funny how you all interpret things to your own benefit.  Sarah was stellar and you know what?  I was teetering between candidates and last night made up my mind.  Yes, I was one of those “undecideds” but guess what?  I DO want change and change will not happen with a trained politician like Biden in office.  At least 9 or 10 of his so-called “facts” were incorrect.   He is a talker just like Obama.  I’m tired of the talking.  Time to ACT.  I’m no longer in the “undecided” category.  For me…McCain/Palin all the way.  Stellar job, Sarah!

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    If you don’t want a  “trained politician” who has been in office for a long time you are making the case for Obama. Not only has McCain been in office longer, but he supports the same failed policies of the past.

    Can you name which facts from Biden were incorrect or are you just making up a number like a trained politician? He did make some minor errors, bur they were trivial compared to the outright lies told by Palin during the rare times when she actually pretended to provide any facts.

    Talker like Obama? Have you bothered to go beyond the campaign talk and look at his actual proposals which are far more than talk? Have you noticed that when he has talked on the issues he has been right while McCain has repeatedly been wrong?

  4. 4
    Boots says:

    Last night Sarah definitely again won Miss Congeniality.  AND she showed us she is ready to be President………
    of the Wasilla PTA.

  5. 5
    Alfred says:

    I would like to nominate Sarah Palin for an Emmy in the category of “Best Memorization of Talking Points.”

  6. 6
    whoami says:

    so laurie you dont think palin was wrong when she didnt answer the question that was given her and jumped to another subject ?

  7. 7
    Angellight says:

    Even though McCain Camp sucessfully neutered Gwen Ifil by a predebate attack on her credibility, we should not be fooled by Palin’s Acting/ sparring abilities (although she had her Notes with her) to sucessfully weave and bob and her canny ability not to answer questions she does not like in contradiction to her also not being able to intelligently answer complex questions on the spot! It seems as if she feels the American people have no need to be given intelligent, thoughtful answers to the pressing questions of today, and that we would rather be winked at and called hockey moms and Joe Sixpacks while our economy is in ruins! We need our candidates to present truth, not lies and talking points of lies which have nothing to do with reality. We have been lied too enough in this country. We need leaders who are of high moral character and who think their word is thier bond.
    Starting to question McCain’s mental fitness
    McCain’s interviews have become increasingly angry, hostile and unhinged. He seems to be on the verge of some kind of mental collapse. A big part of McCain’s erratic behavior is due to Obama having gotten deep, deep, deep inside his head. If McCain’s brain was x-rayed, it would reveal Obama sitting comfortably upon McCain’s cerebral peduncles. But, it is more than that. I believe McCain’s increasing instability is being caused by the stress of the campaign and his 72 year old body not being able to get the rest that it requires to function properly. That isn’t ageism—that is a simple fact of life. I wondered how McCain, being in advanced years, would respond under the grueling pace of a general election. I think we are all beginning to find out and it really isn’t a pretty site. He is on the verge of some kind of mental collapse.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    The above track back is from a conservative blog which thinks liberal blogs are wrong about the debate. Despite his views, Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan.

    Besides differences in experience and political ability, Ronald Reagan did a respectable job in debating Jimmy Carter. Palin wasn’t even in the debate, and post debate polls show that independents agree with liberals that Biden won.

  9. 9
    Gary Rumpman says:

    Hey guess what? The real winner was whomever you were cheering for. If you were liberal, Biden won. Conservative? Palin won, there is no doubt. The only things elections teach me is that 90% of the population should not vote, but should rather should just immerse themselves in their interests like retardation (also known as watching professional sports) and/or whining about why they aren’t getting their way when they are obviously right and everyone else if wrong.  

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:


    That is not true. Three post debate polls have also showed that independents felt that Biden won by a large margin.

    Anyone who cared about whether the candidates could actually answer questions coherently felt that Biden won.

  11. 11
    come on says:

    Too bad debate “scores” are meaningless.   Televised debates are pure salesmanship directed at the voting public.

    Don’t assume a politcally-savvy (or even engaged) electorate.  Televised debates are about likeability, not points scored (provided you don’t make a jerk of yourself).   Palin  won huge on that score.  She’s like your favorite sassy aunt, and Biden is as likeable as Dracula.

    Nice going, Sarah.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:

    The post-debate polls contradict your analysis. People might have liked her, but independents also thought she was not qualified to be vice president. Likability might put some politicians over the top, but not when a large majority does not believe they have the minimal competence necessary for the position.

    Palin lost badly, with independents agreeing by a large margin that Biden won and that Palin is not qualified to be VP.

  13. 13
    come on says:

    “large majority”?  I know that this is a liberal forum, but let’s not give into exaggerations.   I’ve seen no poll that supports that statement.  

    Palin likely lost a scored debate NARROWLY to a 30+ veteran Washington insider with plenty of baggage.   Neither candidate gave a performance that would sway many independents over the other.   Likeability gets partisans to the polls who might otherwise stay home on election day out of disinterest or simple laziness.  Likeability is  important in a VP to many Americans– don’t kid yourself.

  14. 14
    Ron Chusid says:

    It was not narrow at all. Check out the actual polls, with links in the post. It wasn’t close. Independents favored Biden by a large margin. Likability is not enough in the face of someone as incompetent as Palin. Maybe many voters even learned a lesson from voting for Bush based upon likability.

    As for partisans, that is the one area where I have been writing here that choosing Palin helps McCain. By bringing out more conservative voters who might have stayed home, Palin might help McCain avoid losing in a blow out. The problem is that putting Palin on the ticket also makes McCain lose too many independents, probably preventing him from being able to win in many swing states.

  15. 15
    come on says:

    Well said, Ron.   

    I wasn’t advocating that’s it is “right”  to chose a likeable candidate–only that it does happen, as you seem to confirm.  I’m also not pro-Palin– mainly ambivalent.   In my opinion, she humbled Biden a little, which I enjoyed.

  16. 16
    Ron Chusid says:

    We can also add Fox into the mix:

    Fox:  Biden 61 Palin 39

    Hardly close, and conservatives can’t even use their usual cries of liberal bias here. Plus the internals of the polls add even more signs of how badly Palin lost on many measures.

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:

    come on,

    I don’t disagree that being likable matters, and can even determine the result of an election. It is only in the case of this debate where likability didn’t make Palin win as her negatives in terms of knowledge were too great. It also didn’t help her that she is on the wrong side of  so many issues.

    This also doesn’t mean that likability wasn’t a factor. It is possible that without likability her poll numbers after the debate would be much lower. It is hard to tell on that one as there is a certain percentage in each party who will back the candidates of their party regardless of how bad they are. Palin’s numbers are getting down towards that level.

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