(by Laura Meckler and Christopher Cooper, The Wall Street Journal–WSJ.com) ST. LOUIS — A confident, folksy Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attacked the Democratic presidential ticket Thursday over tax hikes and partisanship, holding her own against her vice-presidential rival, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.
Sen. Biden, assiduously avoiding any direct attacks on his opponent in their only debate, kept his focus trained on the top of the ticket. He charged again and again that Gov. Palin’s partner, Republican Sen. John McCain, wants to give tax breaks to the rich, recklessly deregulate the economy, and keep the nation mired in Iraq.
Gov. Palin was more fluent on issues than she has been in televised interviews, throwing out facts, figures and names of foreign leaders with ease. She echoed her running mate’s talking points, and didn’t make the glaring mistakes that many had anticipated. But her citing of facts sometimes came across as rote, she twice misstated the name of the top American general in Afghanistan, and she was chided at times for not sticking to the subject at hand.
At a time of high economic anxiety, both candidates repeatedly invoked their middle-class roots, saying they understood economic pain. Gov. Palin noted her family once went without health insurance.
The debate came as a batch of recent polls suggested that the Obama-Biden ticket was pulling ahead in several battleground states, building on a small national lead. On Thursday, the McCain campaign pulled its ads and staff in Michigan, essentially ceding the state to the Democrats.
Gov. Palin brought to the Washington University stage a homespun tone that she has showcased on the campaign trail. Asked about the economy, she suggested talking to a parent at a soccer game. “I’ll betcha you’re going to hear some fear in that parent’s voice,” she said. Asked who was to blame for the subprime-lending crisis, she said, “Darn right, it was the predator lenders.”
Sen. Biden delivered a withering critique of Sen. McCain’s economic agenda, and noted that as the economic crisis was spilling over, Sen. McCain called the economy fundamentally strong, only to call it a crisis later that same day. “It does point out he’s out of touch,” Sen. Biden said.
He attacked Sen. McCain for favoring deregulation. Given an opportunity to respond to that, Gov. Palin went after Sen. Barack Obama on taxes instead — one area of the economy where polls show voters trust Republicans more.
That prompted Sen. Biden to say: “The governor did not answer the question about deregulation, did not answer the question of defending John McCain about not going along with the deregulation, letting Wall Street run wild.”
Gov. Palin smiled in response and used the occasion to underscore her frequent attacks on the media. “I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let ’em know my track record also,” she said.
The pair differed on the constitutional role of the vice president, with Sen. Biden saying that Vice President Dick Cheney was wrong to claim he’s not a member of the executive branch, and therefore immune from its rules. Gov. Palin didn’t seem familiar with the issue.
“We will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position,” she said. “Yeah, so — and I — I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there,” she added.
The candidate with the most to prove in the contest was the 44-year-old first-term governor, who has electrified her Republican party, but is new to the national stage. She has done very few media interviews, and has turned in shaky performances in those she has granted.
Sen. Biden, 65 years old and a three-decade veteran of Capitol Hill, also faced peril, with his reputation for verbosity and shooting from the hip. He faced a delicate balance in seeking to score points without appearing condescending to the second woman ever to run on a major party ticket.
In a line of questioning reminiscent of last week’s presidential debate, the two candidates were asked whether there were any proposals they now needed to take off the table in the face of the economic crisis.
Sen. Biden said the Obama administration would need to dial back its proposal to double foreign aid, perhaps the least politically risky statement he could make to American voters.
Gov. Palin took an equally safe path, and used the question to tell voters she’s the freshest candidate in the race. She said she couldn’t think of a proposal Sen. McCain has put forth that would now need to be withdrawn — or at least nothing that she has proposed personally.
“There is not,” she said. “And how long have I been at this, like five weeks? So there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve promised, except to do what is right for the American people.”
The contest had its share of humorous and emotional moments. Both candidates winked at the camera at different points in the debate. Sen. Biden grew misty as he recalled serving as a single father following the death of his first wife and infant daughter, saying: “Look, I understand what it’s like to be a single parent.”
The debate was a hybrid: 45 minutes of domestic policy and 45 minutes of foreign policy and the war in Iraq, which the Obama campaign has vowed to wind down.
Here, the two candidates, like the men at the top of their tickets, differed sharply. Sen. Biden, saying the Iraq war had distracted the U.S. from the war on terror, focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sen. Biden said Sen. Obama favored a timetable for withdrawing American troops, as has President George W. Bush. Sen. McCain, Sen. Biden said, is “the only odd man out here.”
Gov. Palin was sharp in her response. “Your plan is a white flag of surrender,” she said, adding that “it goes beyond naiveté” to suggest otherwise.
During the evening, the strategy of the two candidates became clear: Sen. Biden struggled to make the debate about Sen. McCain, and Gov. Palin sometimes strained to drive the conversation toward topics such as energy policy, an area where she has developed an expertise, running an oil-rich state.
Though Gov. Palin held her own in most cases, it was clear that Sen. Biden had a deeper understanding of many of the issues. He offered a detailed critique of the Bush administration policy on the Middle East. He noted, for instance, the fallout from supporting Palestinian elections that wound up legitimizing Hamas, a terrorist group.
Gov. Palin’s response hit on none of the substance but suggested that Sen. Biden and his running mate spend too much time pointing to problems in the Bush administration.
“There’s just too much finger-pointing backwards,” she said.
Sen. Biden replied that to develop new policy, one must understand what went wrong in the past. “Look, past is prologue,” he said. “Facts matter.”
1. Define the following words as used in the article:
partisanship (para. 1)
assiduously (para. 2)
fluent (para. 3)
deregulation (para. 8)
hybrid (para. 20)
2. On what issues did each vice presidential candidate criticize the other in last night’s debate?
3. How did Gov. Palin’s performance at the debate differ from what many had expected?
4. Re-read para. 7-10. What do you think of Gov. Palin’s response to Sen. Biden’s accusation that she did not answer the question about deregulation?
5. Why was Gov. Palin the candidate with the most to prove in the debate?
6. What challenge did Sen. Biden face in last night’s debate?
7. Both candidates winked at the camera at different points in the debate. If you saw both do so, how effective do you think this method was for each candidate? Explain your answer.
8. Did this article accurately represent what you saw and heard in the debate last night? Expalin your answer. If you have not seen the debate, watch at least part of it at youdecide2008.com.
The Vice President of the United States is the first person in the presidential line of succession, becoming the new President of the United States upon the death, resignation, or removal of the president. Every presidential term ends on January 20 of the year immediately after a presidential election. As designated by the Constitution of the United States, the vice president also serves as the President of the Senate, and may break tie votes in that chamber. He or she may be assigned additional duties by the president but, as the Constitution assigns no executive powers to the vice president, in performing such duties he or she acts only as an agent of the president. (from wikipedia.org)
Video Highlights From the Debate (from WSJ.com)
What They Said – an analysis of words used frequently by each candidate at wsj.com.
Visit the McCain/Palin website at johnmccain.com.
Visit the Obama/Biden website at barackobama.com.
The Vice President of the United States is also the president of the Senate. Read about the vice president at senate.gov.