October 3, 2008

Biden and Palin Face Off: Students gather in Cook House

Print More

Last night’s vice-presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska covered significant ground as the candidates sparred over the financial crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan and energy policy. A group of around 100 people, filtering in and out of the Alice Cook House Dining Room, witnessed this debate.
Millions of people are projected to have watched the debate featuring the senator, said to be prone to making gaffes, and the newbie, said to have had trouble making a strong appearance on the interview circuit as of late.
The debate was moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS’s Washington Week and The News Hour.
Going into the debate, Jonathan Yip ’11 projected that Palin would make a strong appearance in order to refute the negative image that she is inexperienced and ill-prepared to be vice president, let alone president, if something were to happen.
“I think Palin’s going to come out aggressive tonight,” he said.
Similarly, Julian Hsu ’11 positioned last night’s debate as the ultimate test for Palin. He said, “I think this debate is going to be interesting because if she doesn’t come across as strong, she’s done. It’s a sink or swim moment.”
Yip also noted that the debate could potentially be damaging to Biden because of the intense media scrutiny surrounding Palin. He noted that some people would empathize with Palin if Biden seemed too hard on her.
“It’s a catch-22 for Biden because everyone is already accustomed to seeing her attacked,” he said.
The first question of the debate dealt with the recent bailout plan that was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.
Some people clapped at Biden’s response when he discussed refocusing Washington’s effort to help “Main Street” and the middle class.
After Biden’s response, Palin attested that the best way to gauge the economic troubles in America is to attend a kid’s soccer game, and “turn to any parent there on the sidelines and ask them, ‘How are you feeling about the economy?’”
Her response was met with some groans in the room.
Laughter erupted when Ifill noted that neither of them had really answered her question. More people started to giggle as Palin noted, “I may not answer the question the way the moderator wants.”
When Biden discussed the logistics of McCain’s health care plan, he stated that under McCain’s plan, a person would only receive $5,000, when they currently $12,000 under an employer-backed health insurance plan.
He was met with applause when he said, “So you’re going to have to replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company. I call that the ‘Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere,’” in reference to Palin’s claim that she rejected the “bridge to nowhere.”
A defining moment came when Ifill asked Palin about her interpretation of the vice presidency as defined by the Constitution and whether her interpretation of the position mirrors that of current Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Do you believe, as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the Office of the Vice Presidency, that it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?” she asked.
Palin responded, “I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation.”
Biden received the most applause at this point when he stated, “Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history. The idea he doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States … He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.”
While many people expected Palin to replicate her poorly received earlier performances in interviews with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, many were surprised by her performance last night.
Several students noted that Palin was able to reach out to the audience on an emotional level by repeatedly calling attention to her background as a mom and by playing up the small-town America image, indicative by her use of comments such as “Darn right it was the predator lenders,” in referring to one of the causes of the economic crisis.
One group of students decided to turn the debate into an occasion to play “Palin-Bingo,” by making a bingo card out of catchphrases like “hockey mom,” “terrorist,” “lipstick” and “Main Street.”
Students differed on their viewpoints regarding the winner of the debate.
Sarah Khatibzadeh’10 believes that Biden won the debate.
“If Palin did have any impact on her national standing, it was primarily on an emotional basis. Biden offered concrete evidence to support his policies and the choice is clear,” she said.
The overall consensus in the room was that Biden had a clear command of the debate.
Bryce Robertson ’10 agreed.
“As an independent voter, I think the Democratic policies were well-expressed. I think Biden gave a better performance, but Palin did a good job connecting to people,” he said.
In the same vein, Eli Luxenberg ’11 said, “I think that Biden controlled the debate overall and Sarah Palin showed she really didn’t know the specifics about her policy.”
One student said he felt the words “maverick,” “passion” and “fundamental” were used too much throughout the debate. “If we were playing a drinking game using those words, we would be wasted,” he said.