Friday, October 3, 2008

The Great Debate

The much anticipated Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin has come and gone. If it proved anything, it proved (yet again) how impoverished our political culture is. Had third party candidates been allowed to debate, as would have happened if our country were a tad more democratic, it would have been different – for at least those ninety long minutes. But the ruling duopoly won’t hear of it, and “we, the people” don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Thus the mind numbing continues. Since, for last night’s debate especially, the two parties negotiated rules designed to keep gaffes to a minimum, last night’s debate was a particularly egregious example.

The consensus the morning after, as at the debate’s end, is that Biden “won.” No surprise there. According to the conventional wisdom, he wisely forbore from “condescending,” though the temptation must have been overwhelming. How much better it would have been if he had smashed Palin to smithereens! There is no doubt that he could have done so easily; who couldn’t? But, alas, he did not. And so the prospect of a McCain presidency is not quite vanquished yet.

Biden, even more than Obama, is a problem for lesser evilists determined to stop John McCain. To vote for a ticket with him on it, the first order of business has to be to block out every word he says about “humanitarian interventions,” Middle East politics, “supporting the troops,” protecting creditors, and all the rest. The man is an unabashed Clintonite – a corporate ass-kissing neo-con in sheep’s clothing. Joe Biden is one step removed from Joe Lieberman. So far, Obama, as he surges right -- and Hillary Clinton too, at least lately -- have stayed two steps removed.

And then there was Sarah. Clearly, her major in broadcast journalism (and minor in political science!) paid off; she’s good with the camera. [Of course, any of a half dozen more knowledgeable CNN anchors, “half her age and twice as hot,” would have done even better.] But, admittedly, she was one feisty little barracuda. Who could look at her, though, and not fear for the planet! Our ruling class must be rather dispirited these days – crying all the way to the bank (or what’s left of it) – but surely they can’t be so beaten down that they’d risk even a small chance of entrusting their interests to that woman! Too bad for them they have no choice; not if they are Republicans. It all seemed harmless enough when Ronald Reagan invited the Christian Taliban in; after all, the GOP could use a few useful idiots. Then came Karl Rove’s ungodly machinations, and now the lunatics run the asylum. The lions of American capitalism are reaping what they have sowed. The only thing to regret in this, of course, is that so might we all.

Thanks to Biden’s unseemly niceness, it looks like comedy writers will have Sarah Palin to kick around a while longer. Coming on as feisty and folksy in a caricaturish way, she provided good material last night. That’s the silver lining.

Palin was well-coached, but it is worth noting that not all McCain’s men could keep her from flubbing. Since theater is all in these debates, she is sure to lose points for not even pausing to commiserate with Biden when he became (characteristically) emotional alluding to the death of his first wife and his daughter. After prepping at John McCain’s desert ranch, one of his seven (or more) houses, she was too on message for that. In fact, as commentators are sure to have noticed, she was so much on message that she didn’t even try to answer the questions she was asked. Instead, she’d repeat her talking points, no matter what the context. On her allegedly strong point, energy policy, she was fatally vague about everything, except the rectitude of “drill, drill, drill!” On all the foreign policy points on which Biden’s (and Obama’s) policies are vile, hers, insofar as they can be ascertained, are far worse.

After eight years of having to look at and listen to George Bush, we Americans have become used to simultaneous displays of arrogance and stupidity. Sarah Palin is George Bush on steroids and in high heels. Could it be that Walmart moms, as distinct from horny Nascar dads, find that appealing? It’s hard to believe.

But I will give her credit for one thing. She uses the words “working class.” From the time Bill Clinton campaigned for “the great, forgotten middle class,” Democrats have been unusually loathe to utter those words. Joe Biden’s performance last night was a case in point. It was of a piece with the terminally boring Gwen Ifill’s question to Biden about whether Obama’s tax the very rich policy wasn’t an instance of (dreaded) class war. Gene Debs must have been gyrating in his grave.

[Before the debate, Palin’s handlers tried to impugn Ifill’s impartiality on the grounds that she is writing a book about Barack Obama and the new generation of African-American politicians. In other words, they tried to play the ref. Palin too said at one point during the debate that she was not obliged to bow to the referee’s dictates; no doubt, she’d been coached to say that, should the occasion arise. But Ifill was so willing to let Palin stray off point that, in the end, Palin’s belligerent comment was gratuitous; there was nothing for her or her handlers to complain about, except how boring it all was. That an Ifill moderated debate would be boring was utterly predictable. Everyone and everything associated with “Jim Lehrer’s News Hour” on PBS is boring.]

Anyway, Sarah did about as well as she could. For those of us who aren’t particularly surprised (just disappointed!) that she didn’t fall to pieces or mutter incoherently, there were no big surprises – except one enormous one that, if we’re lucky, the mainstream media will notice. Whether because she didn’t understand what she was saying or because she actually believes it or was told to say it, she strongly intimated that she supports Dick Cheney’s “constitutional” expansion of Vice Presidential powers and, by implication, the noxious doctrine, dear to the Bush administration, of a “unitary executive.” Of all the many reasons there are to fear the prospect of a Palin vice presidency (or presidency, should the geezer “maverick” croak while in office), this is a big and unexpected one to add to the list.

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