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.

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2 Responses to “The Vice Presidential Debate”

  1. Fred O. Katzenheitz Says:

    I think you are too quick to throw the anti-racist stone, good gentleman.

    In fact, Mr. Obama was born to a woman whose husband was a moslem from Kenya. That moves him out of the US mainstream a little bit. Then he grew up partly in Indonesia – also an oddity to the average American. Finally, he has adopted typical post-Christian European agenda, which is also disticntly different from the American norm, which is basically a British/Christian/frontier culture .

    Therefore it is completely legitimate to question whether he is American enough to be president.

    BTW very funny about waiving the white flag – I presume you mean thast we will skip the white flag and the whole surrender process and just move straight to the occupation. Hahaha! Good one. 😉

  2. joe@2parse Says:

    I’m not throwing any stones – I’m warning based on the approach Palin took in the debate. She didn’t go there, but it seemed to me that she was preparing the way.

    Obviously, your talk of “typical post-Christian European agenda” is meaningless blather. The policies Obama is pressing are far more popular with Americans than McCain’s.

    Clearly, Obama’s background is unusual. But it’s not like his father was some big important military person and he was born in a foreign country (like John McCain). It’s not like his family considers itself part of the aristocracy of America (like Bush.) For what it’s worth, it’s been reported that Obama’s father was an atheist when he came to America and fathered Obama – which I’m sure you see as worse than being a “moslem”.

    Obama’s story is just as American as any of these. That’s part of the point of America – at it’s best.

    We, supposedly, are a nation where men and women can rise on the basis of their talents – and not be held back by class, race, ethnicity, gender. That’s the essence of what makes America – a nation of immigrants – different from most of the other countries in the world.

    To question whether or not Obama is “American” enough is to re-define American on racial or ethnic or religious or cultural terms. That America is not the “city shining upon a hill” that Reagan invoked.

    Perhaps it is more accurate to limit America this way – to say we are no exceptional in this way that Founders envisioned – to say these grade school notions of America! are lies we tell ourselves. There certainly is truth to that. But if Americans – those fitting into your “American norm” – are given the choice in how they would define American, I think they would prefer my definition, the idealistic one.

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