Tomorrow’s debate between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin is likely to be awkward for both participants.
Palin is truly at a disadvantage because her only weapons are (1) her ability to memorize talking points fed to her by McCain campaign handlers, (2) her countrified, backwoods, folksy demeanor that passes for intelligence and class in the Bubba world, (3) an interesting, if unremarkable life story, (4) her high-school-girl-like cattiness (which seems to appeal to a segment of the national audiences) and, (5) her perky style and fetching good looks.
On the downside for Palin, she has little, if any, grasp of any policies––John McCain’s, George W. Bush’s, or Dick Cheney’s––or the general GOP philosophies (except that she’s solidly anti-abortion).
On the other hand, Biden has years and years of experience in the U. S. Senate, been in many debates through the years, has a quick mind and can cut an opponent off at the knees with a snide remark.
The downside of Biden is that he can come off a little to wonkish and condescending, and he’s prone to stick his foot in his mouth without a hint of warning.
There has been a lot of talk among pundits about the pros and cons of Biden’s practicing debating Palin using Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan as a stand-in for Palin.
I honestly don’t know what to think of such a strategy, but it seems to me to be beside the point.
Rather than pointing out how goofy Palin is, Biden ought to be on the attack against McCain––pointing out his poor judgment, his inept response to the financial crisis facing America, his wrongheaded stubbornness about trigger-happy use of the country’s military might, etc.
Attacking McCain’s judgment will give Biden ample opportunity to point out Palin’s deficiencies, but he can do it in third-person language, thus damning her with faint praise.
Such an approach will force Palin to defend McCain with glittering generalities, which come across as hollow, and open her up to follow-up questions by the debate moderator (it might actually enlist the moderator as an ally).
When Biden does have to speak directly to Palin, he should ask her to clarify her remarks with specific facts, and respond to her dumbest remarks with something like this: “I don’t have the faintest idea what Ms. Palin is talking about and I’m afraid she doesn’t either,” or “What in the world is Ms. Palin talking about?”
He should have plenty of opportunity for some “there-you-go-again” moments such as Ronald Reagan used against Jimmy Carter (or maybe it was Walter Mondale) in one of the debates.
One or two zingers from Biden will be quite enough to leave Palin flummoxed and McCain fit to be tied at the end of the evening.
Such an approach will serve Biden well. He will be in control, which is necessary when taking on an opponent who is so vulnerable to attack and who will generate sympathy if it’s perceived she’s being treated unfairly.