Vice-presidential candidates Sarah Palin (left) and Joe Biden (right) at the vice-presidential debate Oct. 2, 2008, at Washington University in St. Louis. Copyrighted AP photo by Don Emmert. Below: Biden by Jeff Roberson/AP, Palin by Ron Edmonds/AP.
If I was going to title this post like an episode of Friends, it would be: The One Where Rich Admits his Geekiness.
I was on my junior high and high school debate teams, and in fact continued after as a debate coach and speech competition judge, even scoring some forensic matches here in the Bluegrass.
For a long time, having a debate background meant, like other debaters, I would get my nose out of joint when I heard the quadrennial Presidential exchanges called debates. They didn't have a topic, there was not an affirmative and negative side, no one asserted a single case and was required to present prima facia evidence taped on to little note cards. There was no stream of long opening arguments followed by rebuttals and cross examinations.
Now, more-years-than-I'd-like-to-admit removed from that world, I know that the school debate style I grew up with would not work in a nationally televised Presidential contest. (Frankly though, scholastic debates could be incredibly entertaining, because in an effort to win, competitors can make arguments way off the reservation. Hey, the kids aren't trying to become the leaders of the free world.)
But watching last night's vice-presidential debate, I did find myself in judge mode, because there were two competing styles there, both winning in their own ways. I would have to think that eight or nine-out-of-10 debate judges would have had to have signed their ballots for Democratic candidate Sen. Joe Biden, if for no other reason than he brought the substance.
Republican hopeful Gov. Sarah Palin had a breezy, likable style. But if I was sitting in a judges seat, I'd probably be digging admonishments like, "Address the topic!!!!!" -- and I'm not a exclamation point guy -- through my triplicate ballot and into my desktop when Palin blew off questions so she could say what she wanted to say. Kinda hard to win a debate when you don't address the topic. And Biden's deft navigation of foreign affairs would have closed the deal: You win, you get Prince William County in the next round (In Virginia, the Northern Virginia schools were the princes of darkness in the debating world). In fairness, Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain had a similar, though not as decisive, foreign policy run on Democratic candidate Barack Obama, last Friday.
Of course, the biggest difference in these and scholastic debates is not format. It's that it is about ideas, philosophies, personalities, and who people will ultimately pull a lever for Nov. 4.
~ The non-partisan pundits seemed to be leaning over backwards last night to declare the debate a tie or a victory for Palin. Then, the polls came out this morning showing most viewers scored it for Biden -- 51-to-36 percent in the CNN Poll, 46-to-21 percent in the CBS News poll. The same thing happened over the weekend, after the first Presidential debate. The pundits praise McCain but the polls said Obama, and the popular feeling Obama won seemed to be affirmed by him extending his lead in most polls this week.
Are the talking heads overcompensating, having been beaten over the head with "liberal bias" charges? Or, is there a big presumption on the part of commentators about what registers in the heartland? Media Matters' Jamison Foser had a blog post this morning titled, "Why DC pundits shouldn't presume to speak for 'non-elite' Americans." MSNBC's First Read blog also contemplates the disparity between the pundits and the populace.
It will be interesting to see what Tina Fey does with this week's material.
~ Trying to sort out facts from misstatements, stretches of truth and flat out lies? Two strong fact-checking sources are the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact website, the guys who bring you the "pants on fire" rating, and the Washington Post had its Fact-Checker blog running live. Hint: No one had a clean night.
C-SPAN has an interesting debate website I think I'll look at during the next debate, Tuesday night. It's filled with blogs, twitter, mashable video and bunches of other tools.