Pundits and politicos everywhere are busy assessing the vice-presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin and, in a rush to evaluate the result, are missing a crucially noteworthy point.  It was not a debate, not even an enlightened discussion of issues.  Pardon me for being a party pooper, but the Biden-Palin shoot-out was a small caliber affair, little more than combat with derringers -- a shallow media event highlighting James Bryce's discerning impression that America "suffers from the want of what we call distinction in its conspicuous figures."  No joke!

After close to four decades in the United States Senate, one would think that Biden's intellect would be more deliberative than it is. When asked how the burden of the Wall Street bailout would affect the feasibility of his campaign promises, he hastily answered that the bailout would necessitate a slowdown in assistance to foreign countries, but then went on to name programs, like those he and Sen. Obama propose for energy, education, and healthcare which, he appeared to insist, will not be financially compromised.  Biden might just as well have answered that the bailout will not affect any of the Democratic Party's major initiatives.  His response continues to strike me, and I bet others who live outside the Beltway, as an ethereal and frivolous approach to dollars calculated in the trillions. This gentleman comes across in my eyes, in both his manner and mentality, as a consummate example of Washington irresponsibility, out of touch with the daily financial grind of most citizens while strenuously professing everything to the contrary.

He also played fast and loose with many facts.  The financial crisis in which the country is embroiled was in large part precipitated by the fraud and wrongdoing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two institutions inclined toward yellow-dog Democrats and their leftist causes. Both President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain proposed, in 2003 and 2005 respectively, that these institutions be strictly regulated. Their efforts were militantly opposed by the Democratic leaders. So Biden's allegation that the deregulatory tendencies of the Republicans were responsible for the crisis on Wall Street is at best misleading and at worst a blatant lie.

Aside from the foregoing observations, the Delaware lawmaker's blanket critique of Sen. McCain's policies was . . .well . . . disingenuous.  Biden, please remember, not long ago stated publicly that he would accept an invitation as McCain's vice-presidential running mate.  Either the Delaware senator's political convictions have the consistency of jello, or he is a pitiable opportunist looking to further his own personal ambitions.  If there is a third option, for the life of me I do not see it.

Gov. Palin, to her credit, alluded to Biden's willingness to embrace McCain on a bipartisan ticket, but failed to expand on the point.  Perhaps her most insightful comment all evening consisted of her reminder that she had been in the national political arena only five weeks. Most everything else she said about the economy and foreign policy one might expect to hear in a high school speech class.  Light, frothy platitudes her words were, with a pinch of folksiness thrown in to assure their palatability for the consuming public.  Her exclamatory "Oh, no, say it ain't so, Joe" was so banal it could make a marble statue of Thomas Jefferson blush with embarrassment.  David Crockett would probably have relished the comment and, who knows, perhaps even the tail of his coonskin cap would have stood up to applaud.

As disappointed as I was with the "debate," I am a long way from maintaining that these candidates uttered no truths, because they both did so. Biden's constitutional point that the vice-presidency is essentially an executive, not a legislative, office is well taken.  Although the vice-president is the presiding officer of the Senate and votes there in the event of a tie, he belongs to the executive branch of government and is not a "member" of the body over which he presides.  Palin's admission that the "no child left behind" program has failed to live up to its billing also possesses merit.

So, bottom line, who was the faster draw in this shoot-out, such as it was?  Joe Biden at least tried to answer the questions, and seemed to have a firm idea about what an adequate response entailed.  I think that this aspect of his performance is commendable.  Sarah Palin, on the other hand, seemed outside her element, however deftly answers rolled off the tip of her tongue. Her charisma captivated, as a Hollywood starlet, a viewing and listening audience who appreciates physical attractiveness and the gift of gab.  Like Andrew Jackson and Ronald Reagan, Palin appealed to the hoi polloi, citizens who are fundamentally content to think in terms of patriotic aphorisms and slogans.  In spite of being a neophyte on the national political stage, the Alaskan governor was astutely aware of a reality that seemed to escape her opponent: specifically, that the St. Louis affair was not a debate necessitating a compelling statement of relevant facts with buzz saw recall.  It was a farcical event called a debate, amounting to nothing more than a media circus of the type made to order for this governor.  Because of the fact that Palin understood where she was and what she was doing, when combined with her remarkable – albeit raw -- political skills, she emerged victorious over the senator and can add yet an additional notch to her fast political gun.

October 3, 2008