So the big event came and went, and nearly 70 million people tuned in, second only to the Reagan-Carter debate in 1980.
The bar was not very high for Palin following the disastrous interviews with Katie Couric, so even showing up and being able to say a complete sentence would have made the debate a success for her. She didn’t make any major gaffes that came anywhere close to the train wreck spectacle that the Couric clips did. She was very folksy in her mannerisms and language (“Say it ain’t so, Joe”) which I think helped her to connect more directly with the audiences watching on TV in a way that they could relate to her. Thematically, she sounded most comfortable talking about energy.
Some liberal bloggers were alleging that Palin was reading off cheat sheets or prepared notes. Both candidates had a notebook to write on the podium. While she definitely looked down at times like she was reading from prepared text, the truth is not so sinister.
When I took the GRE to apply for grad schools, you are given several blank pages of paper. Before the test begins, you are allowed to write down mathematical formulas and the outlines for the essay questions so you can have them handy and not waste any time during the test itself. My assumption is that something similar happened here: Palin wrote down several prepared responses during the course of the debate and read off of her notes when she had to.
When the focus shifted to foreign policy in the second half, Joe Biden turned on the jets and never looked back. Given years of experience on the Foreign Relations Committee, he has a near encyclopedic understanding of every major issue in American foreign policy. He sounded confident, authoritative without coming off as condescending to Palin and the audience, and based on my impression, did not appear to hesitate in responding to any topic.
Most post-debate polls and analysis declared Biden the winner, and I agree. He looked and sounded like a President, Vice President, or Secretary of State (he was rumored to be on the shortlist for this job if John Kerry had won in 2004). While Palin showed she had clearly prepared and learned from her interview experiences and was able to connect more on an emotional level than Biden (except for when he choked up) and snuck in a few jabs at Barack Obama, she was essentially running the same play over and over again. It was substance without depth, and it became blatantly obvious as the debate progressed when you compared Biden’s responses on some questions to hers.
On to McCain-Obama Round 2 on Tuesday…