Some people contend there can’t be two winners in a debate. In political debates, to maintain proper context, one must weigh judging on what each participant was trying to accomplish. It is possible, and happened in the two debates since I last wrote.
First, in the Joe Biden-Sarah Palin vice presidential debate after my last column (written before the debate) actually appeared, both "won" in that context.
Biden had to show he was far more versed in foreign policy, not appear condescending to a woman and avoid the long-windedness and slips of the tongue he’s famous for. He did most of that, excepting for a number of tongue slips, and more. I thought he appeared more qualified and ready for the vice presidency than Palin.
Therein is a great irony. I think he is far more qualified for the presidency itself than Barack Obama, only he’s not running for president. We’re electing a president. The veep is second fiddle. Strictly from a traditional stylistic debate grading system, I wouldn’t argue with Democratic claims he won over the less experienced debater Palin.
Palin had to show she could hold her own in debating issues, not make critical mistakes, reassure the GOP base and show she could assume the presidency. I saw only one slip and commentators observed that many might have missed it. She re-energized the base. In another ironic twist, I think she is more qualified for the presidency itself than Biden, who appears more qualified than she for the vice presidency. Of the four people on the major party tickets, Democrat Obama appears the least qualified for the presidency.
Like Biden, Palin did more than she had to do. She subtly encouraged Biden’s reassuring Democratic rock-solid commitment to big government, income transfer, judicial appointments that would legislate from the bench, thus reminding Republicans and conservative independents what inevitably would ensue. More importantly from my vantage point as one who has a pretty good understanding of worldwide terrorism, she led him to confirm their ticket remains committed, in effect, to surrender to the terrorists.
In short, both did what they had to do and more.
Moving on to the second presidential debate last week, most analysts had predicted John McCain would come out with gloves off negatively attacking Obama, especially his associations. They billed it a last-ditch attempt to stop any Obama momentum.
He confounded them and perhaps Obama himself. I obviously don’t know his strategy, but it occurs that most people have at least heard of Obama’s long association with his minister, with William Ayers, a Weathermen leader (clue for the uninformed: a terror organization), bomber of the Pentagon, etc.
McCain wasn’t a more stylistic debater than Obama, but he did what he had to do. He didn’t misspeak; assured the base that he wouldn’t surrender Iraq; would appoint judges who would interpret the Constitution, not legislate from the bench; and start tackling the vexing problems of Social Security and Medicare the Democratic Congress has steadfastly refused to do.
He would allow drilling of known oil deposits while investing in alternative fuels, including safe nuclear power. He stressed his independence, maverick streak, long record of working across party lines to get things done that needed to be done and his fierce patriotism.
He pounced on Obama’s statement he would bomb terror groups in Pakistan, an ally, showing again Obama’s inexperience in diplomatic and military matters. While you may do it if necessary, McCain reminded viewers, you don’t threaten an ally in advance in such a way. McCain supporters can claim that in doing what he had to do, he won.
Obama’s folks can also claim victory. As an orator, Obama’s folks can claim a win. His delivery was smooth. He may have further impressed those declared undecideds who respond to simplistic sound bites but have trouble differentiating them from substance.
On issues, he didn’t disappoint those who believe in his philosophy of government. He strongly reassured them he remained on track. He left no doubt that as commander in chief he would leave Iraq, in effect surrendering our gains. He reaffirmed intended policies of income transfer, higher taxes, more social welfare programs, greater government involvement, liberal activist judicial appointments, etc. He no doubt pleased the environmental activists with pledges of huge sums to develop alternative fuels, but ruled out McCain’s oil drilling proposals.
In other words, he didn’t lose many already leaning to him and may have won over some undecided. Since the predebate polls showed him with a slight overall lead, his strategy now may be to continue to hold what he has and try to prevent McCain from establishing any momentum in the days remaining.
Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. Reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.