Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrapped up their only debate of the 2008 election half an hour ago. Some initial thoughts and observations:
- Sarah Palin did very, very well at the start of the debate. She played Sarah Palin’s game, which was smart. If you can’t be better, be different — sometimes it’s just as effective.
- In the front end of the debate, when Palin spoke generally about the plight of the midde class and a system stacked against them, CNN’s somewhat improved Approve-O-Meter pegged out with positive feedback.
- When Biden talked about his own middle-class background, he likewise garnered strong positive feedback.
- When Palin talked about deregulation, the Approve-O-Meter showed a neutral or mildly positive reaction from the men in CNN’s focus group of undecided voters. The line indicating women’s approval usually plunged.
- Biden displayed his superior knowledge of foreign policy (and the issues in general) to great effect in the second half of the debate, while it was often difficult to discern an actual answer from the Alaska governor.
- In the second half of the debate, Palin stumbled noticeably. Her response to the question about what branch of government properly comprises the office of the vice president was vague, rambling and incoherent. She sounded like a beauty pageant contestant stunned by the glare of the spotlights. Biden, on the other hand, showed that he knows exactly what the vice president does and where the office fits into the constitutional structure of U.S. government.’
- I only saw Sarah Palin’s hands once that I remember. In that fraction of a second, I couldn’t tell what she held in her right hand, but she was squeezing it like she was trying to break it. How revealing it would be if we could see the hands of the debaters as well as their faces. People often are quite guarded with their facial expressions, while their hands provide a truer window to their souls. If you doubt this, the next time you interview someone or hold a one-on-one meeting, place a paper clip on the table within reach of the other person. Nervous people may play with it unconsciously and almost uncontrollably. Confident people may never so much as glance at it. Savvy people may move it out of the way before it becomes a temptation. It’s a cheap trick, but effective.
Overall, looking at the debate by itself, although I think Palin did better than expected, Biden did better still.
I’ll post a more substantive analysis Friday. in the meantime, read a complete transcript of the debate here.