Biden-Palin “Debate”: Style Ties With Substance


Last night’s vice-presidential candidate “debate” was as much spectacle as it was anything to do with choosing the next Administration. Gov. Sarah Palin had most of the style while Senator Joe Biden had the substance. That’s not really surprising. In my view, style and substance tied in the Biden-Palin contest.

The Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases.

With an electorate that’s been infused with “reality” shows and infotainment that calls itself “news”, I wonder how many people bought what Palin was selling: that the McCain team through the person of Sarah Palin “understands” their lives and would make policies that “care” about their problems because “she’s just like us”. As a female candidate, I think that was much of what Palin was supposed to signify. Listening to voters’ responses on C-SPAN afterwards, it seems that some swilled Palin’s Kool-Aide, but, CNN’s Ohio focus group, with their “response meters” weren’t always responding to Palin’s folksy talking points.

Palin evaded questions and stuck to her script. Like George W. Bush on the campaign trail, Palin managed to conceal just how radical to the right she is. Rather than a religious extremist who aims to impose her beliefs into law, Palin was the perky pageant contestant turned hockey mom turned populist governor. But, she couldn’t hide her ignorance of major issues of the day.

I’m a lifelong feminist and it’s in no way sexist to say that Sarah Palin is even LESS prepared to be President than George W. Bush was–and that’s saying something. While pundits “lowered the bar” for Palin’s “debate” performance–which seems rather like giving women a golf handicap–it could also be that after almost eight years of Bush, our standards in general have dropped in a dangerous way.

McCain chose Palin in a brazen gesture to gain some disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters. Second wave feminist, Robin Morgan has written a cogent argument at the Women’s Media Center site, about why those voters should reject this manipulative overture.

I think most of Clinton’s supporters are too smart to fall for Palin but, some of the women’s comments I’ve heard do suggest that, like African-Americans, more and more white women are fed up with being dismissed when it comes to holding political office and exercising leadership. Being only 16% of their members of Congress and only governor in five states, political equality for women, of all ethic backgrounds, is far from a reality. I think this accounts as much as sexism does for the fact that we haven’t elected a woman as President yet. Running for office from local City Councils to Congress to pushing for Cabinet positions are the foundation we need to build to see a woman in the White House.

For me, one burning question is: how much of an ignorant electorate has been groomed by the Karl Rove spin machine that “elitists” are those who are more educated–NOT those who are the wealthiest? In our upside-down Orwellian culture, for many people NOT knowing much is a plus not a minus!Debate prep for Biden included reigning in his smarts and cautions to “not act too professorial”. For those folks, Biden’s substance may be a strike against him. The lauding of ignorance should be as disturbing as racism and sexism, in terms of how Americans vote.

It’s conventional political wisdom that Vice-Presidents on the tickets don’t determine an election’s outcome. Maybe, this time they should carry a lot more weight.

John McCain has not made his full health records available and over 400 American doctors have strongly called for him to do so. If elected he would be 72 when he takes the oath of office. He’s had skin cancer three times—the last one in 2005 was an especially virulent form that some say has a strong prognosis of two to four years mortality rate. It’s not wishing McCain harm to recognize that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that McCain could die in office, making Plain the Commander and Chief. By no fact-based measure is Gov., Sarah Palin qualified to be President.

It’s horribly painful to recognize the vulnerability of Barack Obama both as candidate and president. Given the credible threats against Barack Obama since May 2007 when he got Secret Service protection—and America’s hideous history of assassinations against strong African-American leaders–who he chose as his Vice Presidential running mate matters a great deal. Senator Joe Biden is undeniably qualified by any standard.

When it comes to the issues, progressives are having to face that there are not nearly as much differences between McCain and Obama as we want. Unfortunately, we, too, may be voting far more on style than substance–especially when it comes to the U.S.foreign policy.

Obama’s legendary “cool, calm and collected” temperament is a hell of a lot more reassuring than McCain’s equally legendary (to his peers in Congress if not the electorate) “hot-head recklessness”. McCain’s switch to now supporting torture and his belligerence—expressed in an especially disgusting way in the YouTube classic of him singing “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” to a Beach Boys’ tune– ought to be obscene to any decent human being and disqualify him for President.

Both candidates, as well as Biden, voted FOR the Wall Street bailout.But, Democrats did push for SOME (though NOT nearly enough) changes that at least recognized Main Street concerns. Sarah Palin’s colloquialism can’t conceal that Republicans wanted a free pass for Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson to do whatever he likes without oversight and for there to be not even a hint of regulating the corporate greed-heads that created the financial crisis.

I’d love to hear what presidential candidate independent Ralph Nader and the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney would have said about Wall Street and Main Street debating McCain and Obama last week. I’d even like to hear how the Libertarian Party’s Bob Barr would have weighed in on the Wall Street mess.

Something else is missing from the Vice-Presidential “debate” (as from the first Presidential “debate”),that many Americans didn’t notice: Third Party candidates,Independent Matt Gonzales running with Ralph Nader and Rosa Clemente running with Cynthia McKinney on the Green Party ticket. One can’t help but feel these “debates” would be very different if the Republican and Democratic candidates were challenged by these REAL “outsiders”, who raise issues and have positions neither McCain or Obama will. The “debates” would transcend the “reality” show sporting event they’ve become if these Third Party candidates were included.

American democracy is the poorer for these omissions.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis independent journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She is producer/host of “Catalyst:poltics and culture” on KFAI Radio