I don't know how many people tuned in last night to the debate expecting Sarah Palin to run off stage in tears. The media definitely played that up as a halfway plausible outcome. They're hardly disinterested parties when it comes to stoking expectations of a catastrophic moment of good television, so the lead up was full of references to Biden's historical tendency to say apolitical things and Palin's recent tendency to say incomprehensible things.
Surprise! Neither performed down to their worst! Republicans and Democrats alike breathe a sigh of relief. Independents, one supposes, continue their steady pace toward Obama.
Sorry fellas, this wasn't a tie. No. It wasn't even close. Anybody who claims that Joe Biden did anything other than destroy Sarah Palin last night betrays either their bias toward the Republican ticket or a perception that one Texas Governor once called the 'soft bigotry of low expectations.'
Sarah Palin did not run off stage in disgrace. Did you really think she was going to do that? What she did do--from the beginning--was make a point to not answer any question she didn't feel like answering. That's nothing new among politicians. People always say don't answer the question you get; answer the one you wish you had gotten.
A cynical strategy to be sure, but one that has worked time and again. Not last night, though. It seems to me that in order for the evasion to work, it has to be stealth-like evasion. In other words, you have to at least give the appearance that you're answering the question (RE: That ridiculous episode in the primary where Edwards claimed his biggest weakness was that he has too much of an emotional connection with the people who are struggling, and Clinton said she was impatient to see change happen. Meanwhile, Obama, who went first, said he's not always the most organized), you have to at least pay lip service to the question you've been given. What Palin did last night, and did early was assume this position that she's a maverick, and as a maverick, she was not going to "answer the questions the way [Joe Biden] or the moderator want to hear, but I 'm going to talk to the American people."
WTF? If that's not the most ridiculous piece of debating tactics I've ever heard, I don't know what is. Take a defensive position, as if you're being attacked when you're not, and then say you simply are not going to accept the most basic premise of any debate, which is to address issues specifically on the table. I feel like John McCain and Hillary Clinton when they lecture Obama on striking targets in Pakistan. It's a position both of them clearly share but, according to them, you just don't say that out loud. I want to say, Sarah--can I call you Sarah?--Sarah, I know you're not going to answer the questions, but that's not the sort of thing you say out loud. You don't announce that you're not going to answer the questions. You show up, and when asked a question, you say whatever the hell you want. BUT YOU DON'T SAY THAT!
Anyhow, I thought that was an obscene blunder. To me, it seemed like her mistaking different aspects of her coaching. For me, it brought forth images of her what her debate prep must have been like. If she became too bogged down with a question, I see her handlers (be it Joe Lieberman or whoever), reminding her, 'Sarah, you don't have to answer the questions the way they want you to.'
But not answering the questions was the strategy. The tactics for implementing that strategy were a series of talking points that she returned to again and again throughout the debate. But when she turned her evasiveness into a talking point, she mistook strategy for tactics, undermined both.
On the flip side, Biden was masterful. I've seen criticism of his wonkishness, but that's exactly what he needed to do. His job was the opposite of Obama's from last week. Obama's job was to show he not only belonged on the stage, but that he could go toe-to-toe with John McCain. He did that.
Biden's job last night was to project the contrast between the two tickets, to never portray Palin as being explicitly unready, but to be so dominant on issues and facts, that anybody who could be persuaded would see that she clearly was out of her league. I believe he did that.
I don't believe this is the beginning of the end for the McCain campaign. I think it's the middle of the end. It seems like people are wanting less and less to vote for John McCain, and I tend to think that is a bad place to be a month before an election (actually, the election is underway in states all over the country). He's got very few options left in turning this thing around.
For all that was made about the votes lost to the 2004 Swift Boat campaign, Kerry probably lost more votes in key states because Karl Rove got homosexuality on the ballot. Today, not only is that issue far less polarizing, it isn't going to be on the ballot on any swing-able state. There are no major swing issues out there. Make no mistake, if Obama loses, it will be racial prejudice that kills his campaign. But I think racial prejudice is the reason it's as close as it is. If Obama can make people feel comfortable with him, as he seems to be doing of late, I think he'll win over 300 electoral votes.