Democracy Soup

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Sarah Palin and Joe Biden can learn from previous VP debates

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Originally published on on Thu, 10/02/2008 – 9:27am

“The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.” – Dick Cheney to John Edwards during the vice-presidential debate in 2004.

Cheney’s statement was an attack on Edwards’ attendance records. But like a lot of things Cheney has said in the last 8 years, it was false.

But in the case of 2008, you will see two people debating over who would make the better vice president who haven’t met each other.

The cynics argue that the vice presidential debates don’t mean much when it comes to pulling the lever in November. But the VP debates have shown us a slice of what may be to come, and give the voters another voice to promote why their ticket is the best choice.

The most memorable moment was from 1988 when Lloyd Bentsen called out Dan Quayle over Quayle’s comparison to Jack Kennedy. Quayle’s point was that his level of experience in Congress was more than a lot of people had when running for VP, which is technically true. Everyone remembers Bentsen’s line, but watch Quayle’s reaction and Bentsen’s response afterwards to get a full impression of the two men.

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin might want to study Quayle’s reaction. When an opponent gets in a line, take it gracefully. Quayle didn’t do that well.

One highlight Joe Biden might want to watch to prepare for tonight is this brief exchange from the 1984 VP debate between VP George H.W. Bush and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro. It’s a rather patronizing explanation of foreign policy by Bush, and Ferraro calls him out on it.

Al Gore is in an unique position, and really could be of some help. After all, he’s the only Democrat who has gone through two VP debates (Quayle and Cheney have done two on the Republican side.) If you are looking for a nice open, Gore is the master at this.

Gore used a similar open in 1992 as he did in 1996: offering a deal.

1992 — I’ll make you a deal this evening: if you don’t try to compare George Bush to Harry Truman, I won’t compare you to Jack Kennedy.

1996 — I’d like to start by offering you a deal, Jack. If you won’t use any football stories, I won’t tell any of my warm and humorous stories about chlorofluorocarbon abatement.

Even though Gore and Quayle were on opposite sides, Gore did point out that he and Quayle came into Congress together in 1976, so they had a commonality. Though Biden and Palin haven’t met, Biden needs to treat her as an equal on the stage. Gore and Quayle disagreed with each other, but showed respect.

If Biden is looking for inspiration in the opening, watching Gore’s opening statement from the 1992 VP debate is eerie since a lot of it applies to 2008.

But our real discussion is going to be about change. Bill Clinton and I stand for change because we don’t believe our nation can stand 4 more years of what we’ve had under George Bush and Dan Quayle.

When the recession came they were like a deer caught in the headlights — paralyzed into inaction, blinded to the suffering and pain of bankruptcies and people who were unemployed. We have an environmental crisis, a health insurance crisis, substandard education. It is time for a change.

Bill Clinton and I want to get our country moving forward again, put our people back to work, and create a bright future for the United States of America.

Palin should take inspiration from James Stockdale, Palin needs to poke a little fun at herself. Watching Quayle in 1988 and 1992 doesn’t lead one to believe he has a sense of humor. But Stockdale is a different matter.

“Who am I? Why am I here? I’m not a politician — everybody knows that. So don’t expect me to use the language of the Washington insider. Thirty-seven years in the Navy, and only one of them up there in Washington. And now I’m an academic.”

“Why am I here tonight? I am here because I have in my brain and in my heart what it takes to lead America through tough times.”

The middle of the open was filled with moments of silence. Stockdale went for his glasses and fumbled with his notes, and this was the open. If Gov. Palin can get through the open without awkward moments of silence, she won’t give the worst open ever.

But when you go back and read the transcript, ask yourself if Palin will do better than Stockdale overall. It could be close.

The 1992 debate is the best one to show us what Palin might do tonight. Quayle came across as clueless, but he was forceful at repeating the attack points from the GOP. Quayle’s inspiration was Spiro Agnew – be the clueless pit bull (sans lipstick).

If Palin tries to emulate Quayle, she might do okay. If she ignores the questions, and goes after Obama (regardless of whether it’s true or not), the pundits may give her points. But I think she’ll try to justify why she’s here — the more she does this, the worse she’ll look.

But it’s difficult to know which Sarah Palin will show up. I was listening to her interview with conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. She sounded relaxed, articulate, and made some good observations (at least they were coherent).

She was very comfortable around Sean Hannity as well. But when Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric asked her questions that while not tough, weren’t easy either, Palin spit out gibberish.

Gwen Ifill is likely to fall in the same realm of Gibson and Couric, so Palin might be in trouble. If she emulates Quayle, she might come across as clueless, but at least she will speak in complete sentences.

As for Biden, the pundits are telling him to not be too harsh on Palin. But if Biden goes after John McCain, he can be as harsh as he wants. In watching a bunch of previous debates, the candidates aren’t promoting themselves, but their bosses. If Biden remembers that, the GOP sudden cries of “sexism” won’t be as severe after tonight’s debate in St. Louis.


Written by democracysoup

October 2, 2008 at 9:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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