There are different ways to score last night’s debate.
1. Palin won the expectations game. Liberals must be disappointed by her performance. Not only were they hoping that she would self-destruct on national TV, they were expecting her to self-destruct on national TV. They had already created the narrative of a backwoods, holy roller whom their elder statesman would systematically dissemble. It didn’t turn out that way.
Palin rose to the challenge. She can handle the pressure.
To some extent, the liberal establishment shot itself in the foot by setting the bar so low for Palin.
2. Another criterion is whether her performance will give McCain a bounce in the polls. It’s too early to say.
3. Yet another criterion is winning arguments. Biden has more factoids at his fingertips. After 35 years in Congress, he has a fund of examples and counterexamples he can rattle off at a moment’s notice.
When Palin made a charge, he often had a comeback. And Palin often had no response to his comeback.
In that respect, we should award some provisional points to Biden.
4. But there’s a catch: a factoid needs to be…factual. As it turns out, Biden has a facility for fabricating fact-free factoids. A number of pundits are have been fact-checking his factoids, and the exercise isn’t pretty. Here’s one example:
Biden tries to counter her outsider credentials by returning to his working class roots. But is that for real?
I’ll cite an example of my own. He kept faulting McCain for predicting that we would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqis.
Well, as a matter of fact, we were greeted as liberators. As there’s plenty of news footage to prove that point.
After we got bogged down in Iraq, Iraqi public opinion became more ambivalent, but when our troops swept into Baghdad, we were greeted as liberators.
So we have to rescind the provisional points we awarded to Biden. And that’s about all he had going for him in the first place.
This is not to say that Palin was inerrant. But Biden has less excuse. He was supposed to be Mr. Experience. Have all the expertise she lacks.
5.Apropos (4), there were also times when Biden didn’t have a comeback. There are easily documentable differences between his record and Obama’s. Since that’s in the public domain, when Palin cited some examples, Biden could do little to weasel out of his past statements or past votes. And Palin was only scratching the surface:
6. You can win an argument, but still be wrong. The ultimate question is who has the right position. Let’s take a few examples:
i) Biden prides himself on opposing the Bork nomination. That’s a classic liberal/conservative divide.
ii) Biden tries to play both sides of the homosexual rights debate. On the one hand, he wants to take credit for being oh-so tolerant. Homosexuals are entitled to equal rights across the board.
On the other hand, he doesn’t endorse homosexual marriage. So, when push comes to shove, homosexuals are not entitled to equal rights after all. And if Biden draws the line there, then why not elsewhere?
This isn’t a principled position.
By contrast, Palin made very minimal concessions to homosexuals. Hospital visitation rights. The right to enter into private contracts with each other.
iii) Like all liberal Democrats, Biden acts as if a gov’t subsidy can make otherwise unaffordable goods and services affordable. But, of course, gov’t subsidies come from tax revenue, so the taxpayers are merely writing themselves a check, minus the gov’t overhead.
iv) He faults the Bush administration for opposing a nuclear test ban treaty. But why should we support such a ban? On the one hand, we have the right to defend ourselves. On the other hand, rogue states will sign treaties and break treaties. So a test ban amounts to unilateral disarmament.
v) With reference to Iran, Biden says that we should “talk, talk, talk.” But diplomacy is useless without a credible threat as leverage.
vi) Biden’s rhetoric last night was remarkably bellicose. Rather than winding down the war effort, he proposes an escalation in the war as we open up a new front in Pakistan. We should simply redeploy from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Expand the war. Are anti-war Democrats listening to this strategy? This is to the right of the Bush administration.
vii) He also supports humanitarian military intervention.
viii) He’s blind to the fact that, in geostrategic terms, the fate of Iraq is more important than the fate of Afghanistan.
ix) He also acts as if jihadism has a permanent address. But jihadism moves around. When we invaded Iraq, the jihadis redirected their resources to Iraq.
Jihadism isn’t a place on a map. You can’t defeat jihadism by defeating the jihadis in one country.
x) The Bush administration was not all bad on the economy. Despite the fact that Bush inherited a bad economy from Clinton, and despite the further fact that our economy had to recover from the body blow of 9/11, we’ve had a good 7 years of economic growth.
xi) Biden buys into all of the global warming hype. There is global warming, and man is to blame.
If you take that seriously, then we must drastically lower our standard of living to compensate.
Palin is far more guarded. She speaks of “climate change,” not global warming, and she’s noncommittal on the human factor.
xii) I could have done without Palin blaming the financial crisis on Wall Street greed and corruption. Not only is that inaccurate, but the blame needs to be put where it belongs. The source of the crisis lies in liberals who decried “redlining.”
When you add it all up, Palin won handily.