Joe Biden vs. Ned Flanders: The Debates Continue


Despite the forewarnings in my post yesterday that Sarah Palin might very well do better than expected, I have to confess to feeling quite worried during the first 15 minutes of tonight’s Vice Presidential debate. Partly because Sarah Palin was pulling out her best “Soccer Mom” references, but also because Joe Biden wasn’t doing what Joe Biden does best. He seemed more like a lawyer, more reigned in than usual. And I’m sure this had to do with his desire to be succinct, professional and not at all condescending to Gov. Palin. But thank God as the debate continued, America got to see the passionate, articulate and extremely intelligent man Joe Biden is. Now it’s been said that Americans don’t respond well to someone who seems “too smart” (more on that later), but I thought Sen. Biden allowed us to see the man behind the intellect, something I have always admired about him.

As for Sarah Palin, I believe she did about as good as she could possibly do. And by that I mean she didn’t appear like a deer in headlights, she didn’t find herself at a loss for words, and she didn’t faint outright. But, as friend and fellow blogger Christian Divine pointed out, she was really just Ned Flanders. Without the sincerity.

Palin stuck to her script, didn’t answer the questions she was asked, and played in to her soccer mom persona in perfect 70’s Disney fashion. And what was with all that winking?

There were so many moments from this debate that stuck out for me. But I think it was Sarah Palin’s comment on believing that the office of vice president should have more power that most worried me. That and insultingly calling Obama and Biden’s plans for an eventual withdrawal from Iraq a “waving the white flag of surrender.” Luckily, it seems most people didn’t buy that line for a second as indicated by CNN’s reaction meter of Ohio uncommitted voters:

Dial Line stays flat, flat, flat. Biden touts Obama’s plan, the dial line shoots up. Especially at the idea of Iraqis taking responsibility. Women especially like the idea of the Iraqis spending their own money. Timetables get tepid support. Palin’s accusation that Obama and Biden are waving the “white flag of surrender” sends the line plummeting… 

Following the debate, only one member of the focus group said they had decided to support the McCain-Palin ticket based on the debate; a half-dozen or more said they would now back Obama and Biden.

However, GOP pollster Frank Luntz asked his focus group on FOX (which was, one should note, sponsored by Budweiser, owned by Anheuser-Busch, of which Cindy McCain’s Hensley company is the third largest distributor), and the results were overwhelmingly in Palin’s favor. So who were these people and how could they possibly walk away believing Sarah Palin actually won this debate? Let’s take a look:

But thankfully, this seems to be quite the anomaly and not in keeping with most of the polls so far.

The CBS Focus Group claims Biden the winner with early numbers from a nationally representative poll of 473 uncommitted voters give Biden a more than significant edge: 46 percent say he won compared to 21 percent for Palin. 33 percent said it was a tie.

After the debate, 66 percent see Palin as knowledgeable about important issues – up from 43 percent before the debate. But Biden still has the advantage on this – 98 percent saw him as knowledgeable after the debate. That figure was 79 percent before the debate.

Once again, 64th United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had this to say about tonight’s debate:

On question after question, [Joe Biden] demonstrated knowledge, careful thought, and a willingness to make hard decisions. And with every answer, he vindicated Senator Obama’s judgment and showed why he is considered one of our nation’s wisest and most experienced leaders.

He was equally at home with global and local issues, demonstrated an amazing grasp of facts, and gave proof that he is prepared to be a partner who will contribute much as vice-president to solving our nation’s problems.

Americans could not help but conclude that any president would be stronger and more confident with Joe Biden by his side.

Let’s take a look at what else is being said and by whom:

CNN’s Bill SchneiderPalin’s answers do not lack confidence, they lack coherence.

Torie Clarke, who worked with McCain back in Arizona and with the Bush Administration’s Department of Defense, had the following remarks on ABC: I’m so surprised at what we are talking about before and after the debate. Before the debate the speculation was all on Sarah Palin, how well can she do, can she answer the tough questions? Nobody was paying attention to Joe Biden. I think Joe Biden had his best night tonight. He came with one mission, and that was to go after John McCain, and he did it, backed up by facts. I think he did a better job tonight of tying McCain to the Bush administration than Obama did last week.

Matthew Dowd, who worked for George Bush’s communications team while in the White House: I think Sarah Palin did reasonably well. The death spiral she has been on for the last week, she survived. She’s lived another day. She did well. But I think, when the polls come out in the next two, three days, Joe Biden won this debate.

The New Republic’s Michael CrowleyBiden was about right–neither too hot nor too cold… [Palin] won’t be off the ticket, but there will be no second round of Palinmania, either. This was a highly entertaining cultural spectacle which probably won’t have much effect on a race that is now clearly Obama’s to lose.

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall: ...basically a win for Biden because he just did a lot better and it’s Obama-Biden who want the trajectory of the race to stay as is. [Palin] made herself less of an embarrassment and gave core Republicans a reason to stop being embarrassed. But there were a bunch of flatly false or nonsensical things she said — and we’ll see those picked apart over the next few days.

Politico’s Ben SmithThough [Sarah Palin] was chosen for her emotional connection, she was the drier of the two candidates… Biden, meanwhile, was — as he should have been, given his experience and skill at this — a more effective presence, and a more lucid one. He effectively, and emotionally, used the forum to drive the Obama campaign’s core message that McCain isn’t the man for the economic moment. 

The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein: An Obama aide summarizes the night’s proceeding as such: Palin did a good job, as expected, but Biden was the star of the evening, hitting the right tones, coming off passionate and informed and not seeming demeaning in the slightest to his combatant.

Moreover, he adds, when you look back at the tape there was little to any substance in Palin’s answers.

“She could not articulate one place where her ticket differs from Bush,” he writes.

And then, of course, that Republican who pretended to be a Democrat, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman: I think tonight is not a kind of final college exam. I think the point is who she is as a person…Whether she can answer every detailed question, I don’t think that ultimately matters to the American people so long as they think she passes those other personal thresholds.

As for debate gaffes by both candidates, USA TODAY’s Ken Dilanian and Richard Wolf reported these factual errors:

Tax votes

The claim: Palin said Sen. Barack Obama voted 94 times to increase taxes.

The facts: Non-partisan FactCheck.org called that count, which has been cited before by Republicans, “inflated and misleading.” Examining the 94 votes at issue, FactCheck.org found that 23 were for measures that would have produced no tax increase at all; they were against proposed tax cuts.

Seven were in favor of measures that would have lowered taxes for many, while raising them on a relative few, either corporations or affluent individuals, according to FactCheck.org, which is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

The 94 tally includes two, three and even four votes on the same measure.

Tax rate changes

The claim: Palin said Obama’s plan to raise the top income tax rate would affect “millions of small businesses.” Biden responded that the vast majority of small businesses do not report more than $250,000 in income.

The facts: The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, citing 2003 data from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, said in a report that 436,000 tax filers with small-business income — 1.3% of the 32.8 million filers with small-business income — were subject to the top income tax rate. Another Tax Policy Center analysis concluded that “roughly 97% of small businesses would not be affected at all by increases in the top two tax rates.”

Len Burman, who runs the Tax Policy Center, said in an interview Thursday: “The vast majority of small businesses would not be affected by the Obama tax increases” because they are not in the top two tax brackets. He added, “Most small business owners have relatively modest incomes.”

Health care

The claim: Palin said Obama wants a “universal, government-run program” and “health care being taken over by the feds.”

The facts: Obama’s health-care plan does not call for a government takeover. In fact, it isn’t even universal. It would only cover all children. Obama’s plan would give Americans the opportunity to have government health insurance, but they also could pick a private plan.

Energy

The claim: Biden said he has “always” supported clean coal. He said “a comment made at a rope line was taken out of context” by John McCain’s campaign.

The facts: In the video, recorded at the beginning of Biden’s bus trip across Ohio last week, he is seen responding to a question about why the campaign is supporting clean coal. “We’re not supporting clean coal,” he says. “Guess what? China is building two every week, two dirty coal plants. And it’s polluting the United States, it’s causing people to die.”

As the exchange continues, Biden says: “China’s gonna burn 300 years of bad coal unless we figure out how to clean their coal up, because it’s gonna ruin your lungs, and there’s nothing we can do about it. No coal plants here in America. Build ’em, if they’re gonna build ’em, over there and make ’em clean because they’re killing you.”

Mortgage crisis

The claim: Biden said McCain said he was “surprised” by the subprime mortgage crisis.

The facts: McCain’s use of the word “surprised” came in response to a leading question in New Hampshire last December. At the time, he compared it to the dot-com collapse of the late 1990s, adding: “I was surprised at other times in our history. I don’t know if surprised is the word.” Later in the same interview, he said, “When I say ‘surprised,’ I’m not surprised when in capitalist systems that there’s greed and excess.”

Troop funding

The claim: Palin said Obama voted against funding U.S. troops in Iraq.

The facts: Palin’s charge is true, but FactCheck.org has said the statement paints “an incomplete picture.” Obama voted against troop funding once and said at the time that he wanted to fund the troops, but the bill in question didn’t include a requirement that President Bush begin bringing troops home. “Obama cast at least 10 votes for war-funding bills,” FactCheck.org says.

Troop levels

The claim: Palin said success in Iraq has allowed U.S. military leaders to reduce troops to the level before Bush’s “surge” at the beginning of 2007.

The facts: Before the surge, there were about 130,000 troops in Iraq. While plans for troop reductions would get us close to that level, we are not there yet. There are still about 152,000 troops in Iraq.

Diplomacy

The claim: Biden said Obama did not say he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “This is simply not true about Barack Obama,” he said.

The facts: At a news conference in New York City in September 2007, Obama was asked, “Senator, you’ve said before that you’d meet with President Ahmadinejad … would you still meet with him today?” He replied: “Yeah, nothing’s changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries.”

Oil company tax breaks

The claim: Biden said McCain’s supports “another $4 billion tax cut for ExxonMobil.”

The facts: This is a claim that Biden has made before. FactCheck.org has called it “somewhat misleading.” McCain proposes cutting the corporate income tax for all companies, not just oil companies. The figure of $4 billion comes from the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund, which found in an analysis that McCain’s tax plan would cut taxes by about $4 billion for the top-five U.S. based oil companies. “But it would also produce a tax cut for companies in other sectors of the economy — a fact Biden fails to mention,” FactCheck.org says.

New spending

The claim: Palin said Obama has proposed $1 trillion in new spending.

The facts: Both the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the conservative National Taxpayers Union have come up with figures close to that — over four years. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, however, also says Obama has proposed nearly that much in spending cuts.

Tomorrow will clearly offer even more observations. For now, I’ll simply leave you with this:

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Joe Biden vs. Ned Flanders: The Debates Continue

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