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 The Biden/Palin Debate. A Few Quick Thoughts. 

Submitted by Dr. Sebastian M. Herrmann on Fri, 10/03/2008 - 15:12

First of all, I'm relatively relieved that the debate does not seem to have turned out a game changer (the NYT, e.g., asserts that it was not a tipping point). My biggest fear had been that, somehow, the expectations game would work and Palin, going into the debate on her disastrous interviews, would be celebrated as surprisingly strong. She did get good ratings as being "better than expected" - but most tracking groups seemed to be aware that this is mostly due to the low standards she was held to (Notorious exception, of course, Fox News). So, all in all I'm relieved, and I did think that Biden did a very good show. Other things that struck me—in no particular order:

  • After the first Obama-McCain-Debate there was this interesting turn of the tide when a number of commentators pointed out that suddenly Obama seemed like the safer pick and McCain more like a risk. I found interesting how Biden tried to build on that momentum—most ostensibly when he outlined what he would do should anything happen to the president: He used an enumeration of items to repeat "making sure" five times in a row. I think his repeated assertion that the Republicans (in this case, however, former VP Cheney) were 'dangerous' (1:14:14) follows the same line. Of course with his long experience and reputation as an established politician, he is perfect to push this argument, e.g. a few minutes later when he asserted that he had not changed in the last 35 years (1:17:08).
    Considering that much of the election right now is about 'Change'—especially with Palin's attempts to 'steal' the theme of change from Obama who had first introduced it, I think Biden's positioning himself (and the Obama/Biden-Ticket) as the safer choice is very interesting.
  • In a weird way, I find it oddly fascinating (and somewhat repelling, but that is for another day) how Palin is able to sample and mix soundbites cut-copy-paste style in a way that does not produce coherent statements, but that nevertheless 'works' in strange ways. As she entered the ticket and spoke at the Republican convention, she 'borrowed' the change theme from Obama. This time, her comments on the US not being perfect as a nation, but representing a perfect ideal seems like she's trying to plagiarize Obama's 'more perfect union' speech.
    Of course, this kind of cut-copy-paste rhetoric (and thinking, I'm afraid) goes horribly wrong at times, but often, the allusions give her speech a ring of truth the content doesn't seem to provide.
  • I thought Biden's much-belabored choking-up moment had a fascinating intertextual aspect to it. In the way that he almost resented  the notion that, just because he was a man, he didn't know what it was like to "raise two kids alone [...] to have a child you're not sure is going to - is going to make it" (1:18:25), I thought the moment was strangely (yet reversely) parallel to Geraldine Ferraro accusing Bush Sr. of sexism in a VP debate some 24 years ago. But I don't think Biden will regret his pre-emptive strike at sexism (even if he was attacking a strawman here) as much.
  • On a final note: what's wrong with American Kitchen Tables? there's a lot of discussion going on there all of a sudden... ;)



PS. Looking at the CNN videocast with the dial groups at the bottom of the screen, again a very marginal thing that caught my eye: When Biden chokes up, his ratings go down for a few seconds, until people realize how to contextualize the moment, then they jump up and stay up for the rest of his speech.

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