The Vice Presidential Debate


By Joe Campbell
October 2nd, 2008

For the most part, I’m agreeing with what I’ve read and heard about this debate. Palin regained her confidence and was able to bluster her way through some tough spots without the long awkward silences that were evident in the Couric interview. Neither candidate made any significant gaffes. Palin got the name wrong of the commander in Afghanistan – and Biden, clearly knew she did, but chose not to correct her. Palin started early in the debate with a warning to the moderator, Gwen Ifill – saying she didn’t care if Ifill thought she hadn’t answered the question, because she was talking to the American people.

All that I think was evident.

There is one thing though that bothered me. Palin very clearly wanted to call into question Barack Obama’s whether Barack Obama was truly American enough. She said – on seperate occasions – that he wanted to “waive wave the white flag of surrender,” that he was planning on socializing health care, and that he voted against funding for the troops. She kept hammering that last point home despite Biden’s two very strong attempts to correct her. But she kept coming back to it:

I have great respect for your family also and the honor that you show our military. Barack Obama though, another story there.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive – but my distinct impression was that Palin was attempting to plant  seeds of doubts about Obama’s Americanism in these voters. What came across in this debate was that Biden respected McCain, but thought he was incredibly wrong and dangerous. Palin respected Biden, but thought Obama was foreign-ish, un-American, and untrustworthy.

I think someone listening and taking logical stock of the debate would have to come down on the side of Biden. Someone who is not discomfited by Obama – to question whether or not he is American enough – wouldn’t be swayed by Palin’s charges. But for those voters who have an innate distrust of Obama – whether for reasons of race or class or whatever else – Palin was deliberately trying to play into those fears.

I hope I’m wrong – but my fear is that this debate is a prelude. If I’m right, after John McCain’s last debate with Obama (and to some under-the-radar extent before), a deliberate campaign will be launched to aggravate questions of race and of foreign-ness and of American-ness. I’d like to think John McCain is a man who wouldn’t stoop to that to win the presidency. I hope that that’s true. But I’m not sure it is – and it seems clear that this is McCain’s only path to victory.

The problem is that when making a charge like Obama wants to waive a white flag of surrender to the terrorists, the accusation itself sullies him. Biden didn’t defend adequately against these charges – but I’m not sure how he should have. I don’t know.

This debate left me much more concerned about how this campaign will end, although no one else seems to have picked up on this, so maybe, hopefully, I’m concerned for no reason.