Tonight is the debate between Biden and Palin. Naturally enough, the media is speculating about how it will play out. Being an experienced debater (two state championship titles-Maine and Ohio), I think I might as well present my own assessment.
In Biden’s favor is the fact that he is an experienced politician. He also seems to have a quick wit and a sense of humor, which will help in presenting that critical positive image. On the minus side, he is famous for his gaffes and mistatements. The debate setting provides him with an excellent opportunity to add some truly memorable gaffes to his collection. Of course, the gaffes never quite seem to stick in a truly harmful way. Perhaps Biden has a small piece of Reagan’s teflon coating in his pocket. Or perhaps he seems like such a likable fellow that people tend to see the gaffes as mere quirks.
The debate setting also helps Biden in that the time limits help deal with one of his main problems: his tendency to ramble on. Once he gets rambling, he tends to get off message and sometimes (like in the infamous clean coal incident) he says things that contradict the official positions he is supposed to hold. Biden, I suspect, will be saved by the bell tonight.
One challenge Biden does face is the fact that he is debating a woman. For all the talk about equality and women being just as good as men, it will cost him points if he is seen as being too rough on her. After all, many people still feel in terms of the classic gender roles, even if they consciously try to think in terms of the more liberated new roles. Of course, he cannot be too easy on her or otherwise act in ways that might be perceived as patronizing. That would also cost him points-especially with female voters.
Biden thus faces a serious challenge. He must come out ahead of Palin without seeming too aggressive or patronizing. He cannot fully treat her like a male oppponent (this would be seen by some as being too aggressive), but also has to avoid seeming to treat her in a special way because she is a woman (which might be seen as sexist or patronizing).
In Palin’s favor is the fact that some people find her likable and that she is clearly a fighter. On the minus side, her recent interviews have been horrible. They seem to show that she is woefully unprepared for the job. For example, other than Roe versus Wade, she does not seem to know anything about the Supreme Court decisions. Even more disturbing, she doesn’t seem to know what she reads for her news about the world. While she did great when reading a pre-written speech in a friendly setting (the RNC), she does not seem to be ready to think on her feet. This bodes ill for her performance in the debate.
She has, however, been coached extensively and this might help her. Also, she seems to do poorly when she is closely handled by her keepers. If she is able to be herself, she might do very well. Or she might not. After all, it is unclear who the real Palin might be-there is just not enough known about her.
She can use the fact that she is a woman to her advantage. As noted above, Biden has to steer between the Scylla of appearing too rough and the Charybdis of appearing patronizing. If Palin can push him either way, she can score political points.
Of course, the importance of the VP debate might be overblown by the media. Perhaps they will have a ho-hum exchange that will have little or no impact on the polls. Even if it is a memorable event, it also might be fairly insignificant. After all, people seem to be most influenced by the Presidential candidates rather than the VP candidates.
In any case, I’ll watch the debate. But, it will be mainly for the reason people watch Nascar: I’m hoping for a memorable disaster.