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Debate Thoughts

Thursday, 2nd October 2008

Sarah Palin did an admirable job of memorizing her talking points. Unfortunately for her, the questions of tonight's debate occasionally strayed from the topics she had canned answers for. She even said herself, &lquo;I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you [Sen. Biden] want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people....”

This is why when asked about McCain's health care plan, she instead talked about taxes and jobs. when Biden pointed out that McCain voted the same way as Obama on what Palin called a tax increase, Palin responded by talking about her record as Mayor. When asked what a McCain/Palin administration would have to do differently because of the economic crisis, she instead started talking about energy policy. When asked to respond to Biden's comments about McCain's position on subprime mortgages, she answered by talking about energy policy. When asked about carbon emissions caps and clean coal technology, she said “drill, baby, drill” is what Americans are hungry for. When asked about about a strategy for getting out of Iraq, she briefly mentioned that they do have a plan, in the middle of babbling about how important it is that we win the war.

Palin also reemphasized McCain's position that meeting with someone like Ahmadinejad without preconditions is dangerous and irresponsible; see my rant about that here.

Another thing she mentioned a few times that bothers me is how successful the surge has been, and she (like McCain) bashed Obama for his initial statements that the surge would not work. This is true - the surge has been successful. However, there are a couple of important points here: first, the Iraq war began in 2003, and the Bush administration was moving singlemindedly down the wrong path from the very beginning, up until the day after the 2006 midterm election when Democrats swept the House and picked up a narrow majority in the Senate. Suddenly the White House woke up, admitted that there was a problem, and began asking questions about how to fix it. A few months later, they had some answers that they labeled “the surge”. It eventually became clear that this actually meant far more than a troop surge; the “surge” label actually refers to a complete change in strategy in Iraq. The new strategy is actually focussed on responding to real problems and winning the war, and this new strategy is working. A surge in troops without this change in strategy would not have worked, and that's what Obama was talking about, because the nature of this change in strategy was not made clear by the Bush administration. Of course that's a more complex explanation than can be stuffed into a sound bite.

Something else Palin screwed up on was citing Obama's voting record in instances where McCain voted exactly the same way that Obama did. Unfortunately both of them are guilty of selectively quoting an expert on something, and then claiming the other person's selective quoting of the same expert is wrong. For example, they both referred to the commanding general in Afghanistan, and amusingly neither of them could remember his name (Palin called him “McClellan”; they both were actually referring to Gen. David McKiernan).

It's frustrating when they agree with each other but can't bring themselves to admit it. The moderator had to draw the conclusion that they're both in agreement about gay marriage, because the candidates refused to say they agree.

I thought Palin did a little better in the last half of the debate. One thing she said that I thought was exactly right was that Biden and Obama can't seem to stop pointing backwards to assign blame; it would be nice if they would talk more about the future and less about the past.


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