Last night’s debate got astonishingly high ratings, which is excellent it was one of the better national political debates in recent history.
The Governor did a fine job. Yes, she’s had five weeks to go from zero to National Political Figure, and she faked it well enough. In an America not in crisis, and with a pre-Cheney, pre-Gore definition of the job of Vice President, and a more physically robust top of the ticket, her effort would have certainly been enough to tread water, and perhaps even to win against a weaker opponent.
The fact that she hardly answered a single question and instead turned most questions toward her pre-canned answers was typical for national political debates. Evasion, redirection, and finesse are par for the course, and she did it well.
Getting past personal style, winks, gaffes, there was actually a fair amount of substance to the debate. The triangulation where both candidates tried to contrast with each other while both distanced themselves from the Bush Administration was fascinating.
When quizzed as to who was responsible for the mortgage meltdown, both sides pointed at the banks. The current meme in the right wing is that it was irresponsible low-income borrowers (and their liberal advocates). But while that argument might move the base, it plays less well with the undecided voters than the populist “blame Wall Street greed” angle. Palin took that tack, and ended up on the losing side of the regulatory argument. In this fight a Republican candidate is playing well against type when calling for increased Government intervention in and oversight of the free market.
Similarly, when cornered on gay marriage, both candidates got trapped in ideological dogma versus realpolitik. Biden was forced to dance around the fact that Democrats are full-throated for gay rights, but have not yet fully accepted gay marriage; and Palin was trapped into acknowledging that the Republican opposition to gay marriage is not ”intolerant” and at least begrudgingly accepts gay rights as civil rights. This is an amazing turning point for America, in a very short period of time, and indicates to me that the battle for universal gay marriage is nearly won.
Finally, I’m very pleased that the focus on sexual politics was almost nonexistent. If you recall Ferrarro’s run in 1984, she was overtly asked whether having a female vice president would show weakness to the Warsaw Pact nations. There was no such piffle this time, even considering the Republican candidate’s brief and superficial exposure to world affairs. The question of her ability turned on the facts of her experience and knowledge, not on her sex. Just as with the complete absence of racial dynamics in the Presidential debate, this is a great moment for liberalism. There will be sexists in the electorate, and there will be racists, but the race and sex of the candidates are not issues in themselves.
That doesn’t mean that we’re now a sex-blind, race-blind nation, far from it. But I was delighted that the most notable, moving moment of the entire debate focused entirely on sexual politics and was won decisively by Biden:
He was responding to Palin’s personal narrative with his own. “The notion that somehow because I’m a man I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone… I don’t know what it’s like to have a child who’s… who’s not gonna make it… I understand. I understand.” I nearly cried. I still do, watching that again. The loss of a spouse or child is one of the most powerful fears that humans have, and he experienced that fear, and still does. And he showed it in a deeply human, deeply connecting way: he used a euphemism and choked up. In a way that Palin doesn’t when talking about Trig, and that McCain doesn’t when talking about his imprisonment in Viet Nam.
Watch the CNN response dials. The men go way up, and the women peg the needle. Where Palin talks about being a parent connects her with the voters as if it is something novel in politics and proprietary to mothers, Biden just connects, and snatches the issue from her. “The notion that somehow because I’m a man” is the strongest attack on sexism that we’ve seen in this campaign so far, and it came from the white guy, and it won the day.
Update: Seventy-one million households tuned in. That’s astonishing. And I’m informed that the rules prohibited prepared notes, though both candidates read from their note pads throughout the debate.