03 October 2008

some alarms but no surprises

Once again I stayed up way too late last night in the expectation that something wonderful would happen, and while the evening's debate did not plummet to the level of unrestrained boredom that the first Presidential event elicited, there was certainly no suggestion of it actually having an impact on the course of the election.

Leading up to the event and in the wake of a series of some pretty disastrous encounters with the media, the expectation was set that all Palin needed to do was come out of this without any further gaffs, and in that respect she can happily hang another 'Mission Accomplished' banner on her bus. Her performance was well scripted and stuck to message, and I'm sure to the same portion of the electorate that voted for Bush because they didn't want to elect someone smarter than themselves, her folksy language (well gosh darn it, Joe Biden's wife sure will get her reward in heaven) will resonate.

However (as Mr Tim Twittered some time ago) its impossible to watch any of the recent campaign except through the lens of 'The West Wing'. You can almost imagine Palin's debate prep focusing on staying to her talking points, never acknowledging the validity of the moderator's questions, replying with the answer you want to give, rather than answering the actual question asked. Everything she said read like a script, from the nauseating soccer-mom reference almost as her opening statement to her 'stop living in the past' quips everytime Biden referenced anything that had happened in the last 8 years of Republican governance. While heavily scripted her delivery resembled a kindergarten teacher humouring her students, I was convinced she was going to call him a sillybilly at one point.

This manner was extremely infuriating, winking at the crowd, calling out to a 3rd grade class, talking about 'us ordinary folks on main street', while simultaneously getting away with denying the causes of climate change (suggesting you don't need to understand the cause of something to work on the solution) and blatant homophobia (its nice that the potential President would try and be 'tolerant' of different people's lifestyle).

Biden wisely stayed away from attacking her directly, focusing on John McCain and his support for and continuation of the policies of the current administration. He was more direct in his condemnation of the Bush presidency than Obama was during the first debate and it was good to hear less of "my opponent is right", and more "he's just plain wrong", particularity on Iraq.

What did alarm me, however, was Palin's assertion that the VP's powers were loosely defined in the Constitution, and she would look for them to be expanded. Biden reacted well, and delivered a pretty blunt attack on Dick Cheney, the first time I've seen candidate highlight the illegality of his actions. His affirmation that the VP's position lies solely in the Executive Branch, and its only legislative function being to cast a tiebreak vote in the Senate, is a welcome return to normality after eight years of Cheney as Prime Minister.

Also of concern were Plain's closing remarks, where she highlighted how refreshing it was to talk directly to the people, without the media getting in the way. While I have no love for the mainstream media, I have been impressed with their refusal to tow the party line on her nomination, she is unqualified for the position and they are not afraid to draw attention to that. Her remarks were a pretty clear sign that we won't be seeing any more interviews with her outside of live footage at campaign stops and with very friendly crowds.

So in the end nothing really happened, no mistakes were made, and both candidates return to being essentially irrelevant. The whole experience is a bit like 'Waiting for Godot', sure nothing happened in this debate, but if you just wait for the next one I'm positive something life-changing will occur.

Roll on Tuesday 7th.

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