Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

My Take On VP Debate: Biden Was Trained at Obama School

I generally agree with Turner’s excellent take here, but wanted to add a few thoughts.

The CW is generally true: Palin improved her own standing as not seeming like a complete, dribbling idiot and as a whole the debate wasn’t a game-changer. But, if you’re John McCain and you’re behind in the polls as you are now, isn’t a game-changer exactly what you need? When the VP debate analysis focuses on whether or not your VP choice seemed less like an idiot than she did in interviews, then you’re not in a position of strength.

As for Biden, I actually thought he was generally excellent. And more than that, it was clear he was trained at Obama School. Here’s what I mean:

Last week, Obama gave a performance at the debate that many found too passive. Liberal bloggers everywhere cried out for him to be more punchy, to attack at the many openings McCain gave, to show more emotion. But he stuck to his guns and his game-plan, and worried less about scoring tit-for-tat debate points than he did his overall strategy. James Fallows captured that well here:

But Obama either figured out, or instinctively understood, that the real battle was to make himself seem comfortable, reasonable, responsible, well-versed, and in all ways “safe” and non-outsiderish to the audience just making up its mind about him. (And yes, of course, his being a young black man challenging an older white man complicated everything he did and said, which is why his most wittily aggressive debate performance was against another black man, Alan Keyes, in his 2004 Senate race.) The evidence of the polls suggests that he achieved exactly this strategic goal. He was the more “likeable,” the more knowledgeable, the more temperate, etc.

For years and years, Democrats have wondered how their candidates could “win” the debates on logical points — that is, tactics — but lose the larger struggle because these seemed too aggressive, supercilious, cold-blooded, or whatever. To put it in tactical/strategic terms, Democrats have gotten used to winning battles and losing wars. Last night, the Democratic candidate showed a far keener grasp of this distinction than did the Republican who accused him of not understanding it.

Last night Joe Biden followed in Obama’s footsteps, something not necessarily he would have done on his own in the past. It’s obvious from Biden’s performance that he was schooled on the necessity of sticking to the larger goal, even at the expense of scoring debate points (the downside of all of this is far less contentious or entertaining debates).

Biden kept his eye on McCain. He was respectful to the governor, only occasionally engaging her directly, and doing so in ways that brought it back to McCain. The best examples were the times in which he pointed out that she failed to explain how a McCain administration would be different than a Bush administration. Greg Sargent pointed this out as well:

But a better way to decide who “won” tonight is this: Which Veep candidate most forcefully made the case against the opposing presidential candidate?

By that standard, the winner by that measure was unquestionably Joe Biden. He made a far stronger case against John McCain than Sarah Palin did against Barack Obama. It wasn’t even close.

Biden seemed to have a few key messages to get across:

1) McCain is no maverick. He isn’t different from Bush.

2) Obama will cut middle-class taxes and focus on the middle-class, not just the wealthy.

3) Obama will end the war in Iraq.

4) McCain’s newfound reform doesn’t match his record.

And on all counts, he did well. He worried less about “beating” Sarah Palin than he did about getting the core message out. This may explode the head of pundits who want to score it like a boxing match, but the Obama campaign continues to focus, slowly and steadily, towards building the fundamentals of victory in November.

Still, as Greg wisely pointed out to me as soon as the debate was done, even with the big VP debate, the bigger news of the day by far was that McCain was pulling out of Michigan.


October 3, 2008 - Posted by | Veepstakes | , , , ,


  1. I don’t believe this. Any one with a brain and can see and
    hear knows that Sara Palin won that debate on all accounts.Why is everyone trying to tear her down. Is is because everyone in the media wants obama to win. I didn’t even want to listen to biden as the debate went on . I want’ed to listen to sara, because she was so good. Give me a break!!

    Comment by luci | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  2. Luci is right. Biden was beaten to a pulp. Plus, it was obvious he wanted to argue more about gay-marriage and even Roe v Wade in the last moments of the debate. but didn’t get a chance to. Too bad. She would have had a field day with that. He has already made a fool of himself by boasting what a big Catholic he is on one hand (… I will shove my rosary down the throat of the next Republican who questions my religiosity…), and on the other hand trying to put words in Palins mouth about gay unions, (which she parried nicely). The man is pathetic.

    Comment by jim | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  3. Sarah Palin speaks well. She debates well. She also dodges questions well. If there is an absolute need to declare one or the other a winner, take in to consideration that Sarah Palin answered hardly any of the questions asked of her. Joe Biden answered every single one. Next time, pay attention to what is being said, not just how ‘folksy’ the person saying it is.

    Comment by emily | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  4. you can’t win a debate by not answering the questions which mrs palin did quite a bit. plus, i don’t want a person who thinks its ok to give a “shout out” to some third graders during a VP election debate. give me a break. since when did it become ok to be so casual?

    Comment by colonel 32 | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  5. Luci, Jim… Were we watching the same debate? Sarah Palin most certainly did not win and Biden was not “beaten to a pulp”. That is just silly, wishful thinking. I will admit she did a whole lot better than we all expected her to, and she did well. But like Emily & colonel state, she didn’t answer all of the questions in a meaningful and transparent way and she was aware of the questions before hand. She side stepped the issue of McCain’s track record of increasing regulation…Why? Because he has a record of DE-regulation. She spoke clearly using proper grammar–which she deserves credit for (um…) but regarding substance, she just recited her talking points that took her a week of seclusion to memorize. That is not victory, that is pathetic.

    Comment by Jade | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  6. Joe Biden appeared as exactly what is was: Experienced Politician who has been around the block.

    Sarah Palin appeared as what she is: Fresh, sharp not part of the system that just stuck the American people with $700 BILLION dollar bailout of a group of greedy $%^& who suckered the American public into bad loans or offered loans to unworthy creditors – under the threat of ACORN (Obama’s/William Ayers group) to sue them if they didn’t. Now you and I are ensuring the they stay in $ while we are out of it. They just added another $110 Billion spending that includes $ for Mental Health what has that got to do with Bailout?

    For a party given to change they sure give signs of the same Tax and spend. Biden: a what _ 36 year polictal veteran and Obama who during his 4 year has averaged earmarking 1 MILLION dollars per day every day he showed up in senate (that is called PORK!). 25 Million to his WIFE’s hospital – how convenient. Even he put a moratorium on his own spending.

    No change, just

    Comment by Gail Santos | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  7. Classic SunTze art of war here. Obama’s team obviously has much better brainpower & strategists than McCain’s. A war hero does not necessarily know how to win wars. But of course it may also backfire if being painted as being cold & calculating. He needs to cast & explain himself in more concrete, down-to-earth, simpler, layman-ish language. IMHO, that will seal his quest for the President.

    Comment by chlai88 | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  8. Joe Biden was the winner! How could you focus on what Palin was saying with her eyelash problems,blinking,and winking. Her voice was so whiny. She never answered a question. She acted as if she were reading off cards or an iphone or something. What was she reading from? A question was asked and then in the next segment she would bring it back up and answer it.

    Comment by raven | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  9. Your “obama School Grad” not only didn’t know what the office of the vice presidents responsibility is, but he had the audactiy to rudely negate Sara Palins correct description, slander VP Dick Cheney and then precede with unabandoned arrogance delivering his “obama School” definition which was …………WRONG!!!! Here’s another “obama school” definition we all heard from your grand leader……..”TYPICAL”. Go figure! The rest of his blunders are not even noteworthy as his inability to deliver the appropriate description for a position he stated he “would never consider”, further outlined the lack of credibility of any of his further responses.

    Comment by Pander | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  10. I see the trolls have come out to convince us that Sarah Palin won the debate – very very amusing.

    Comment by dansac | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  11. […] October 3, 2008 · No Comments What a difference an Obama administration will be in contrast to Bush. A while ago, I wrote about Obama’s capabilities and what he’ll bring to the table if he were to be President.  This man is no pushover. After last night, it is pretty obvious this man’s inexperience with politics isn’t going to be his Archilles heel. The way Joe Biden last night conduct the debate shows that the next 4-8 years under Obama will literally make Bush look like a gunslinging moron. It gives you an insight as to how the Obama team works and how they prepare to win. Thye kept their eye on the strategic goal by hammering away at McCain’s similarities to Bush. They kept their focus on the economic mess that’s been created although this may seem to come as a godsend with the bailout, etc. And this will show how Obama will end and “win” the war in Iraq. And this will show how Obama will solve the economic mess. They know how to get the big picture right and to keep the heat on it. These guys are deeper than the short-sighted, shoot-from-the-hip plans coming out of the current white house occupant. Here’s another take on the debate. […]

    Pingback by What a difference to Bush’s team « Minority Attention Deficit Disorder | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  12. To Pander. Biden didn’t get it wrong. Although Article I is about the executive branch, it does outline the voting responsibilty of the VEEP. The office of the VEEP is outlined in Article II.Cheney and Palin are wrong, as any reading of Federalist # 68 indicates.
    In fact, Alexander Hamilton said that the Framers considered having the Senate itself elect the vice-president, but dismissed the idea because that would leave him (or her) at the mercy of the body that selected him. Hamilton then says that because the VP might be called upon to carry out presidential duties, selection should follow the president’s. Clearly , the intent of the Framers was to place the VP in the executive branch.
    How does a conservative republican like Dick Cheney get away with single-handedly rewriting the Constitution. whenever it’s convenient? I suppose that’s a principle that Republicans abandoned along with fiscal responsibility and popular sovereignty.

    Comment by kathy combs | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  13. Looking in from afar, and being absolutely neutral. I can safely say Biden won hands down!!!!! How the great American public could even consider voting for this brainless bird beggar’s belief!!!!! That whining voice is so irritating and she never once answered a question. I stayed up till 4am to watch that pathetic performance by McCain’s #2!!!

    Comment by englander | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  14. The media is afraid of Palin…that’s why they trash her, and call her an idiot. Are the people of Alaska idiots for electing her to their highest office? What has Obama run? That’s right, his campaign! Wrong again, his thugs run his campaign. Palin is a breath of fresh air and speaks honestly. Obama is just another smooth talking politician.

    Comment by susan | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  15. I feel sorry for all those republicans who, due to their desperation, cannot see a colossal defeat awaiting them.

    Comment by englander | October 3, 2008 | Reply



    Comment by Allen Dixon | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  17. […] My Take On VP Debate: Biden Was Trained at Obama School I generally agree with Turner’s excellent take here, but wanted to add a few thoughts. The CW is generally true: […] […]

    Pingback by Top Posts « | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  18. What debate were you watching?
    Sarah Palin was no more than a Power Point Presentation with lipstick. She seems to have embraced the Tina Fey version of her former self. Wink!

    Comment by JoevSixPackVA | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  19. I was impressed with Sarah Palin’s ability to regurgitate- the same way she delivered the speech written for her by Bush’s speech writer at the GOP convention. Of course, she wasn’t going to answer the questions asked of her- she doesn’t have the knowledge or experience. Instead, she quoted Regan, and winked, and stuck to the material- exactly the way she had been instructed to do.

    I have nothing against Sarah Palin. In fact, I agree with those who find her to be likeable. It’s unfortunate that she has been placed in a situation that has caused her such harsh and unfair scrutiny; But, that’s what elections are about.

    John McCain and company needed to appease the conservative right, and he wanted to appeal to the Hillary fans. Initially, his plan was politically effective, but his political motivation was not balanced with a consideration for what is best for the country. Unscripted interviews with Governor Palin have made it obvious that she would be a gamble that this nation can’t afford to take.

    Comment by Stopthedelusion | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  20. I agree that Biden was amazingly restrained. I am a Democrat, a Hillary Supporter who hates McCain more than I like Obama.

    But I was praying Biden wouldn’t stick a foot in his mouth.

    I challenge anyone that the best moment of the debate, best on focus group, best polled was when Biden talked about his dead wife, daughter, and nearly losing his son. When he talked about being a single parent.

    Ratings went off the charts. And Sarah Palin couldn’t challenge it nor could she follow it. It was amazing. She brought it up because she implied she was a better mom than Biden a dad. It’s like she forgot he was a single dad for a time, and it is easy to forget. Because he looks very happy with his wife.

    But it was very heartening. I think the Democrats needed that touch with the middle class.

    Comment by livingalmostlarge | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  21. “City on a hill” is not a ronald reagan gem but Puritan governor John Winthrop during the Great Migration to Boston in 1620. The idea of American exceptionalism dates back to the idea that this wilderness would be a beacon of hope to the world . . as long as everyone acted the same, thought the same, worshipped the same. No dissent or toleration allowed. Is the past prologue?

    Comment by pudgie | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  22. I am truly shaken by the thought that this great country might elect a man who besides not having any credentials to be a President, has been associated with terrorists, radical underground groups, racists who hate whites and most disturbing….hate America. How can this possibly happen? I will predict that electing this man in the White House will bring this country down and make it very vulnerable.

    Comment by Karen Krause | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  23. Sarah Palin was amazing! She won by a long shot as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never been impressed with Joe Biden. 34 years too many!!!!! His current wife seems very nice, though.
    Sarah Palin has had more experience than President-elect Obama. Think about it.
    Whoever wins though, this country needs to come together and work together for the good of this country and its people!

    Comment by JuANN | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  24. It really gets down to this — who would you trust with your 401K for the next 4 years? An undistinguished hack Senator (just for clarity, I am not talking about Sen Obama because he does not currently possess sufficient experience to be a hack) or a breath of fresh air like the ‘Cuda? Remember we are talking about real money here, folks.

    The ‘Cuda hands down. The chick is easy on the eyes, smart as a whip and articulate.

    Hey, can I call you Doofus, Joe?

    Comment by JLM | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  25. So Raven didn’t like Palin’s eyelashes. Did he like Biden’s bad false teeth, hair transplant, and face lift? How about Biden trying to put words in Palin’s mouth about gay unions? She should have said that while she agrees with gays visiting who they want to visit in hospital, she is not in favor of gay adoption rights. Then we could have enjoyed the “Irish Catholic” phony squirm.

    Comment by jim | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  26. Dear God
    What scares me more than another four years of republican mismanagment is the “arguments” supporters use to rationalize such an irrational stance. Mindless zombies of Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove and the rest of the same angry, ill-informed and narrow-minded ilk, they are willing to believe anything without much research. I get an e-mail a day from my conservative friends that circulates the most frankly stupid and asinine charges against Democrats and no one bothers to fact-check before sending it along. Who was it who said the “We get the government we deserve?” The past eight years of the Presidency, coupled with a REpublican Congress from 94-07 certainly proves that point.
    Enough with maverick and Palin’s “executive” experience. The emperor ain’t wearing any clothes and most Americans realize how bankrupt most republican ideology really is.

    Comment by pudgie | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  27. The only reason people were surprised that Palin didn’t come across as a “complete dribbling idiot” is because she was previously portrayed that way by the media.

    Comment by Snerd | October 4, 2008 | Reply

  28. Luci, I don’t believe that citing how the “media wants obama to win” is constructive. I think narrowmindedness such as “anybody with a brain would see that I’m right” helps nobody, much less your cause. You must realize that just as you thought Palin did amazing, many Obama leaners cringed multiple times during the debate when Palin said something awkward, oddly constructed, or just near-blatant “pandering” as some have called it. The middle is hard to see and understand, especially if we use the extremes to justify ourselves.

    Good Post though!

    Comment by Marco | October 6, 2008 | Reply

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