Timid format blunts Biden versus Palin debate

October 3, 2008

A timid format blunts a potentially significant debate between the vice-presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. Each candidate provided a well-rehearsed performance. Governor Palin, with more to lose, was in that sense the winner. The American electorate was the biggest loser

The vice-presidential debate promised to be more interesting than the Obama McCain exchanges. The combatants had not honed their arguments for months on the campaign trail. Sarah Palin appeared more on trial while remaining interesting, and for many Americans ‘more like us …‘not like a politician’.

After a dream start, Ms Palin had lost ground in the polls

Prior to the debate concerns had begun to emerge about her being a possible liability. A story about her personal finances was an added unwelcome distraction

Backdrop to the debate

The back drop to the run-in of the presidential campaign has been the financial crisis, started in America, but the toxicity from which has spread contagiously around the world far beyond financial institutions.

The world watched anxiously as President Bush’s rescue plan was defeated in the House of Representatives. The two presidential candidates were sucked into the political maelstrom, to no great advantage for either. As the one and only vice-Presidential debate started, renewed attempts to rescue the bail-out plan were going on [October 2nd 2008].

An echo of British Politics

The debate anticipated a theme heard these last two weeks in British Politics. During the annual party conferencs, The vastly experienced Gordon Brown landed one of his few telling blows on his rival David Cameron. This is no time for electing a novice, he said. Cameron responded well, but was forced to spend more time than he would have liked defending the charge.

Palin on trial

In this respect the folksy but inexperienced Palin was seen as far more under trial than the experinced Biden. Her recent performances combined with McCain’s age made the debate all the more significant.

What did the debate reveal?

Disappointing little. The format was depressingly structured to avoid putting the candidates to the test. There were no unexpected supplementary questions that might had taken a candidate out of rehearsal mode. So Biden’s reputation for over-egging a case was concealed. Palin’s vulnerability under close questioning was also concealed.

Video clips of the debate reveal that Biden avoided patronising Palin. Palin avoided sounding vacuous.

At a time when the electorate needed more information about the leadership potential of the democratic and republican Presidential teams they learned precious little. It was an opportunity missed.

The only consolation is that at least one famous Presidential election in the USA was believed to have been won and lost because of the physical apperance of the candidates on television.

The uncharismatic (and apparently unshaven and sweaty) Richard Nixon lost out irretrievably to the glamor of John Kennedy. Maybe the stakes today are too high for either party to risk the Presidency being decided on a brief televised beauty contest.