“Say it ain’t so, Joe:” Biden wins VP debate

“Can I call you Joe?” asked Gov. Sarah Palin upon shaking Sen. Joe Biden’s hand. So began the first and only vice presidential debate, on Oct. 2. The debate was moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS NewsHour.

Ifill opened the debate with a question on the bailout bill originally proposed. “Was this (bailout bill) the worst of Washington or the best of Washington?”

Biden called it neither but said, “It’s evidence of the fact that the economic policies of the last eight years have been the worst economic policies we’ve ever had.”

Palin spoke of the many fears of the American people as the economy continues its descent. “The barometer there,” she said, “is going to be resounding that the economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need.”

“John McCain has thankfully been the one representing reform,” she added, citing his 2005 floor speech encouraging additional oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On the topic of McCain’s financial savvy, Biden referenced McCain’s Sept. 15 speeches in Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., on the economy. “Nine o’clock, the economy was strong. Eleven o’clock … John McCain said that we have an economic crisis.”

Palin called McCain’s Sept. 15 remarks “encouragement,” and noted, “He was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce, the greatest in this world.”

Ifill then asked, “What promises have you and your campaigns made to the American people that you’re not going to be able to keep?”

Palin answered, “How long have I been at this, like five weeks? So there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve promised, except to do what is right for the American people, put government back on the side of the American people, stop the greed and corruption on Wall Street.”

Biden admitted that Obama’s plan to double the current budget for foreign assistance might have to be put aside but repeated Obama’s assurance that education and health care would be priorities. Palin, too, marked education and health care as major priorities.

As the focus changed to foreign policy, the candidates no longer agreed.

“Your plan is a white flag of surrender,” said Palin about Obama’s exit strategy in Iraq, going on to say that McCain would put more troops in Afghanistan, work with NATO allies, and grow America’s military.

Biden took issue with McCain’s stance that Iraq represents the front lines of President George W. Bush’s war on terror.

“I promise you,” Biden said, “if an attack comes in the homeland, it’s going to come from al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Closer to home, Biden observed that you could walk down Union Street in his town of Wilmington and find many who would say that the economic and foreign policy of the last eight years has not made them better off.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe,” Palin said, “there you go again pointing backwards again. You prefaced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future.”

The surprise of the night followed Ifill’s question about each of the candidates’ Achilles heels.

Biden mentioned his “excessive passion” and built upon that with an admission of the difficulties in being a single parent with a son going to Iraq.

“The notion that, somehow, because I’m a man, I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone, I don’t know what it’s like to have a child you’re not sure is going to – is going to make it – I understand,” he said, unexpectedly choking up.

“Freedom is always just one generation away from extinction,” Palin said, quoting Ronald Reagan in her closing statement. “We have to fight for it and protect it, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.”

“My dad used to have an expression,” Biden said. “He’d say, ‘Champ, when you get knocked down, get up.’ Well, it’s time for America to get up together.”

Guilford students and faculty alike had much to say about the vice presidential debate.

“I thought Biden had the better statistics, but Palin was more eloquent,” first-year Emily Haines said.

Associate Professor of Political Science Ken Gilmore was not as impressed by the governor. “I believe it is clear that Palin’s nomination energized the Republican base, but there is no evidence that she has drawn independents and women-particularly Hillary voters-to McCain. Indeed, all the polls seem to suggest the opposite.”

Of his own opinion of Palin, Gilmore said, “The prospect of (her) becoming president terrifies me. She’s the most dangerous and divisive political creature the system has produced in my lifetime.”

Independent voter Will Henschel, first-year, supports Gilmore’s observation about independents. “Palin was pathetic,” he said. “Biden actually addressed issues.”

A CBS News/Knowledge Networks survey found that of 500 uncommitted voters, 46% thought Biden won, while 21% found Palin the clear winner.