Debate’s over. Lots of punches thrown. Each candidate appears to have followed his/her debate prep points; Biden didn’t lose his cool, Palin didn’t trip herself up or freeze.
Since Palin is the newcomer entering the debate with a trail of flubs behind her from the last week or so, I think her performance helped her more than his helped him, because this debate was far more about her than about anyone else. Tonight will probably keep McCain from slipping further in the polls and preserve his chance of making a comeback, but it wasn’t really the tour de force that will rally the ticket back into the fight.
Basically, Biden was good enough, and Palin was better than most people expected (partially due to the expectations game, which I think the Republican advance team won hands down). This probably became a dead-heat race again tonight, and will officially become one in a few days to a week.
Full text of the debate liveblog below the break. CBS video here. More liveblogs and commentary here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Additional roundup at Instapundit. Check the WitSnapper liveblog from the first presidential debate here.
8:57 I love the “expectations” game before events like this, played in the hopes that even a mediocre performance will seem like a resounding triumph (when graded on the curve). It’s fun to watch, if only because it’s our one chance to see each campaign trash their own candidates to hell and back.
9:01 Gwen Ifill opens the debate. Despite predictions that she’d try to defuse the book issue with a disclaimer, none was forthcoming. The candidates come out smiling; you hear Palin say, “Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?” Punctures the formality, and brings him down a couple of status pegs. Interesting move; I wouldn’t have thought of it. (Lucky for her she was audible over the mike.)
9:03 Biden starts, and immediately blames the Wall Street meltdown on Bush. He’s begging McCain to run against Congress…will McCain listen?
9:04 Biden talks about “wasting money in this rescue plan.” No mention of his millions in earmarks in the first bailout bill.
9:05 To demonstrate public fear about the economy, Palin opens with an vignette of a kids’ soccer game. Guess hockey isn’t big enough in the lower 48. Less blame than Biden, despite Congress’s shameful performance and abysmal ratings.
9:06 Biden talking about McCain’s description of the economy as “fundamentally strong.” Didn’t Obama and Barney Frank do the same thing?
9:08 Palin explaining McCain was talking about the American workforce. Not good that she has to waste time on running cleanup duty for him. Denounces “politics as usual,” tries to cast Biden as its personification.
9:09 Ifill asks a leading question about who’s to blame for the subprime meltdown. Palin goes after predatory lenders, which is fine as far as it goes, but of course no one can say anything about the people who bought houses they knew they couldn’t afford. (Whoops, I sort of take that back…she talks about “not living outside our means.”)
9:11 Biden blames McCain (even though, of course, “he’s a good man”). Says McCain was saying “deregulate, deregulate, deregulate,” even though McCain spearheaded a tighter oversight movement in 2005, and was blocked by Democrats in the Senate like Biden.
9:12 Palin going after Biden and Obama on tax hikes. She’s “going after” a lot of people. Guess the rumors about her going on the offensive tonight were spot-on.
9:13 “Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes?” I think that will go down in history as the gaffe of the century. Biden says Palin “didn’t answer the question about deregulation,” though that’s not what the question was.
9:14 Palin not taking the bait, staying on taxes. Now she points out McCain’s record on regulatory strictness, but time is called.
9:15 Ifill all but accuses Palin of “taking things out on the poor.” That’ll make it into the news. Biden goes with the “95% of the people will get a tax cut” statistical impossibility.
9:17 Palin takes exception to “redistribution of wealth” class-warfare lingo coming out of Biden. Comes to the defense of small businesses and the tax load they bear, brings up Biden’s “paying more taxes is patriotic” gaffe. (Ouch.) Hits Obama on new spending proposals.
9:19 Ifill challenges Palin on the McCain health care plan. Palin comes back with specifics, which is a refreshing change. This ain’t the Katie Couric fiasco (at least not yet).
9:20 Biden takes Palin’s “small businesses” and turns it into “Exxon Mobil.” Invokes Scranton, his “hometown” that he left when he was ten. Says “redistribution” is actually “fairness” (and “taxation” is “patriotism”). Makes a “Bridge to Nowhere” comparison, which the audience laughs at. He does realize that that was a Congressional earmark, right?
9:21 Biden is definitely following his “stick to the talking points” orders from debate camp.
9:22 Palin makes some reference to two-facedness on the bailout, but doesn’t go into detail. Points out Obama voted for the energy bill that gave the oil companies the tax breaks he rails against; goes into how she took on the oil companies in Alaska, and had to “undo” the damage from that coddling.
9:24 Ifill challenges her on the two-facedness reference (good call); Palin still isn’t specific.
9:25 Biden touts his and Obama’s support for alternative energy, but finishes on a Big Oil note again. Touts a windfall profits tax, and says Palin passed one in Alaska (ouch).
9:27 Ifill brings up the bankruptcy bill that McCain voted for; unfortunately Palin sounds unaware of Biden’s glaring vulnerability on this, as he lobbied for the bill while his son was a lobbyist consultant (Correction added later. — Ed.) for a major credit card company. Missed opportunity. Ifill turns to Biden and says he voted for it and Obama against. Biden says he and Obama simply disagreed. Why is Biden saying “I’m not sure, but I think John McCain supported that?” If you’re not sure, keep it to yourself.
9:29 Ifill asks Palin if that’s so; she says no. Segues into energy independence. Pretty clumsy segue, but I doubt anyone but livebloggers like me will remember thirty seconds later.
9:30 Ifill goes to climate change, and asks her what’s true and what isn’t. Palin says “I don’t want to argue about the causes,” which is probably the best answer she could give (she’ll likely be slammed either way), but that she doesn’t think every last action of mankind is responsible. Cites some “I was the first governor to…” bullet points.
9:32 Same question to Biden: “I think it’s man-made. I think it’s definitely man-made.” Adds that we can’t come up with a solution until we all accept that. Hopefully he’ll catch hell for that answer, because he should. Apparently he thinks that, while we should drill for oil, it won’t be available for 10 years and alternative energy will arrive quicker. Oooooookay.
9:34 Palin corrects him: it’s “Drill, Baby, Drill,” not “Drill, Drill, Drill.” Nice…unashamed of drilling advocacy. Carries on the tradition of pronouncing it “nook-ya-ler.” Both candidates support carbon emission caps. Oy vey.
9:36 Ifill brings up benefits for same-sex couples. Does anybody really care about this anymore? Biden supports them unconditionally; Palin, whose home state has a law granting these benefits, says she wouldn’t support them if it involves redefining marriage. Asserts that a McCain administration would not oppose granting benefits. Biden says neither he nor Obama support redefining marriage. Boiling it all down, it looks like everyone’s in agreement.
9:39 Topic turns to the surge. Palin sings its praises, as well as those of Petraeus and McCain. Points up differences between Biden and Obama, scolds him for voting to defund the troops. “Cannot afford to lose,” stresses that early withdrawal would be a disaster. Biden stays with the “16-month” plan (the starting and ending dates of that timeline keep changing somehow). Emphasizes the need for a timeline. Palin calls the Obama-Biden plan a “white flag of surrender.” Points up Obama’s refusal to admit the surge worked (not quite true, but his record on the subject is not flattering nonetheless). Recalls Biden’s assertion from the primary that Obama is not ready to be Commander in Chief.
9:44 Biden says John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops. McCain’s vote in that case was because the funding was tied to a timeline; something tells me that’s going to come back to bite Biden.
9:45 Biden goes off on Pakistan’s nukes. Compares it to Iran’s prospective nukes, despite the fact that Pakistan is a longtime ally. Stresses that the center of the War on Terror is in Pakistan, and for that reason we need to leave Iraq. Palin recalls that Gen. Petraeus backed McCain up in calling Iraq the center of the War on Terror. Says Ahmadinejad “is not sane or stable.” (Heh!) Groups him with Kim, the Castro brothers, et al., and recalls Obama’s proposal to meet with them unconditionally.
9:49 Ifill says past SecsState support engagement with enemy countries; Palin points out that Kissinger in particular said “not at the presidential level.” Biden says “not true; he [Obama] did not say he would sit down with Ahmadinejad,” which is itself not true. Biden seems to think there is no diplomacy that does not involve the President directly and personally. Brings up the false rumor again that McCain wouldn’t meet with the PM of Spain.
9:51 Palin endorses a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, and moving our embassy to Jerusalem. Always standing with Israel, etc. Biden says “no one in the U.S. Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden” (debatable). Says Bush policy toward Israel is “abject failure;” cites Hamas taking government in Gaza, and Hezbollah joining government in Lebanon. Palin says there have been “huge blunders” in this administration as there have been in other administrations (I see a Dowdified sound bite in the making), and that the American people are going to say “enough is enough” with finger-pointing. Biden says he hasn’t heard how McCain’s policy in the Mideast will be different from George Bush’s. (Come to think of it, what have we heard about Obama’s, other than early withdrawal from Iraq and sitting down with Ahmadinejad?)
9:56 Palin advocates sanctions on North Korea and Iran. (Yawn.) Moves to Afghanistan; says a modified surge strategy would work in Afghanistan (debatable, but worth fleshing out). Calls Obama out for saying that all we’re doing is air raids in Afghanistan. Biden says that the Iraq surge strategy will not work in Afghanistan according to commanders on the ground (errrmmm, yeah, that’s why Palin said you’d need to modify it). Cites Obama working with Lugar to get hold of loose nukes, when all Obama did was offer an amendment that dealt with conventional weapons. Palin corrects him on the prospective Afghanistan surge, saying that she was talking about principles, not a carbon-copy of the Iraq surge. Biden says Obama has been calling for more troops in Afghanistan for two years (isn’t that what most people would call a surge?)
10:01 Biden says he pushed for strengthening U.N. sanctions in Iraq before the war (which were falling apart before the invasion, thank you France/Germany). Advocates military support for Darfur. Palin points out Biden’s vote for the invasion; says she’s just a Washington outsider who doesn’t understand the “for it before against it” logic. Talks about her work divesting all Alaska Permanent Fund investment away from Darfur.
10:05 Biden says a country that commits genocide and harbors terrorists forfeits its right to sovereignty, or more specifically its right to say “none of your business” to foreign countries. (Remember when Obama said genocide was insufficient cause for military action?) Palin points up inconsistency in Biden’s “support” of both McCain’s and Obama’s positions. Good line: “John McCain knows how to win a war.”
10:07 Ifill brings up the “heartbeat away” question, turns to Biden. Biden says “I would carry out Barack Obama’s policies;” reverts to talking points as ordered. My eyes glaze over. Rejects “Bush Doctrine” of pre-emption and regime change (which actually started with Clinton in 1998). Palin says “what do you expect, a team of mavericks won’t agree on everything,” but says she would “continue the good work” of McCain’s administration in “giving government back to the people.” Glazing over again. A longtime pro like Gwen should have seen this softball for what it was, methinks.
10:10 Biden “spends a lot of time” at Home Depot. Wow, he’s got my vote. “Walk with me in my neighborhood…” Well, please decide which one is yours, Senator. Wilmington? Scranton? D.C.?
10:11 “Say it ain’t so, Joe! There you go again!” Palin scolds him for looking backward using two back-to-back catchphrases. Gives a shout out to a third grade class in some small town (missed the name), says they get extra credit for watching tonight.
10:13 Palin looks back on both of their earlier answers to questions asking about the possibility they’d be asked to be VP (“earlier” meaning earlier in the year, long before they were tapped); says they were both “lame jokes, because nobody got it.” Biden says he has a history of getting things done. Well, he has a long history of showing up, I’ll give him that.
10:15 Ifill asks if Cheney is right that the VP isn’t completely controlled by the executive. It’s a simple question; the VP presides over the Senate, so the answer is obviously yes, Cheney is correct. Biden takes the obvious tack: “Vice President Cheney is the most dangerous vice president in American history.” Cheap shot, which is another thing Ifill should have seen coming. Says the VP has “no authority” over the Senate, which a constitutional scholar like him should know isn’t true.
10:18 Palin describes how she knows what it’s like not to have health insurance. Invokes American exceptionalism, cites “shining city on a hill” rhetoric from Reagan (ignores John Winthrop, by the way). Biden has a record of change? Oy vey. Invokes death of his wife and daughter, which of course is grossly manipulative, but in fairness to him, if you’ve ever been through such a horrible thing you’re allowed. Palin tries to take back mantle of change with the “maverick” label again, using it to describe both herself and McCain. Took on her own party when occasion called for it. Cites ideological diversity of McCain’s supporters: Lieberman, Romney, Lingle, Giuliani, et al. Biden jumps in (does he get that time?) and tries to throw dirt on McCain’s “maverick” label, but does so fairly weakly (especially on the war).
10:24 Ifill asks for single issue for which each candidate has worked for “change” “changed a long-held view in order to accomodate changed circumstances.” [Correction added later. — Ed.] Biden cites his role in changing standard for confirming judges to include ideological criteria (if he’s responsible for that, he should be strung up). Palin cites items she failed to veto? WTF? Says something about being able to work with the state legislature without caring who gets credit. Fortunately this isn’t the note she goes out on, because it’s very weak.
10:27 Biden talks about his ability to reach across the aisle (despite “3rd most liberal senator” ranking from The Hill National Journal [Correction added later. — Ed.] ). Says he doesn’t question people’s motives. Palin says when it comes to bipartisanship, she doesn’t just talk the talk. Goes back to lower taxes, lower spending, and energy independence, and how it distinguishes her and McCain from the other ticket.
10:29 Palin closes by thanking Ifill and Biden, points out that she loves talking to the American people “without the filter” of the mainstream media. (Nice jab.) Invokes Reagan again (“Freedom is always just one generation away from extinction.”) Punches the freedom theme. Biden also thanks everybody. Takes more shots at Bush, CEOs, and Exxon Mobil. Am I the only one who thinks that Biden’s themes are a lot darker than Palin’s? “Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States of America.” I see a McCain ad in the works juxtaposing that with primary debate footage of him saying the opposite.
10:33 Debate’s over. Mikes are still live, or at least Palin is still audible over hers, but she doesn’t say anything embarrassing.
UPDATE: Watching the footage later, I see that regarding Ifill’s question to Palin about “taking things out on the poor” was balanced out (if you can call it that) by an equally incendiary question to Biden immediately preceding, asking him to explain how his and Obama’s tax hike on those earning $250K or more “is not class warfare.” So each side got a ridiculously leading question. Ifill’s balanced, if not fair.