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As I see it, there were two important things to look at here: (1) who has better policy positions going forward, and (2) who has the basic competence and knowledge to handle the difficult decisions that the next United States President will have to make. Debates are important precisely because they are unscripted, and they can show a candidate's ability to defend his positions against attack in an adversarial process (as well as point out the weaknesses of a competing viewpoint). This requires a certain level of knowledge of substance, as well as an ability to think on your feet.
On both counts, Sen. Biden was far and away the better Vice Presidential candidate. He had a clear grasp of the issues that matter, and he was more than capable of discussing and defending his wide range of policy positions. Not only that, but Palin once again came across as clueless and scripted. At times, I felt like I was listening to a Miss America speech, or a children's book reading, rather than a debate that will help determine the next leader of the free world. It was painfully obvious that, rather than understanding the issues, she had merely jumped in and tried to study up at the last minute. Rather than understanding questions and responding with a depth of knowledge, she dodged questions and repeated lines and platitudes that had obviously been written and rehearsed in advance. This isn't important just because it's poor style - this is important because it reveals her child-like level of understanding. I don't see how anyone could walk away from that debate and think that Palin should be put in charge of the United States of America.
UPDATE: This just about sums it up.
UPDATE II: Palin repeated the "all of the above" lie about McCain's energy policy, when he has consistently opposed alternative energy. As I've explained before, Obama has a pretty good energy plan and McCain has an awful energy plan.
UPDATE III: Palin was clueless on the Vice President's role under the Constitution, and Biden clearly explained why Cheney's legal arguments are silly (even though Biden cited the wrong Article of the Constitution).
UPDATE IV: Biden did a pretty good job of shooting down a few of Palin's more predictable talking points. This was one of my favorite moments.
UPDATE V: She can't pronounce "nuclear."
UPDATE VI: Just for fun, let's see what partisan hack Rush Limbaugh has to say.
"Drive-By Media... New York Times... Drive-By Media... Drive-By Media... preaching the same Obama talking points! I cannot find a single honest reporter in the Drive-By Media... far left radical agenda... they're not going to allow honest reporting, honest voting, or anything else to get in their way in pushing Obama over the finish line. They're simply acting out a desire and dogma... Sarah Palin kicked Joe Biden's butt last night, period!... if you had bought the Katie Couric version of Sarah Palin, if you had bought the version of her that the Drive-Bys were trying to portray her to be... For the left to deceive themselves and the voters by pretending that that debate last night went any way other than Sarah Palin absolutely mopping the floor with Joe Biden, is nothing short of delusion. Now, yeah, Biden may be filled with Washington-speak.... rambling with diarrhea of the mouth... Biden's never been in a Home Depot... He's never been into a Home Depot... She was knockout gorgeous. She looked good last night... Biden was not likable last night... Of course, he's not charming... Has he done something to his eyebrows? I thought I was looking at a Klingon last night... I was going to say Botox, but hell, that's old hat now to the Democrats. His forehead didn't move much... Drive-By Media... Drive-By Media... Drive-By Media... Katie Couric did her best with her gotcha questions and her ghoulish follow-ups"
UPDATE VII: Past is prologue.
UPDATE VIII: Conservative columnists David Brooks and Rich Lowry both seem to want pretty badly to spin this as some sort of success for Palin. Unfortunately, they make ridiculous arguments in the process and spend way too much time gushing over her folksiness and attractiveness ("There she was, resplendent in black;" "her smile sparkling as she even threw off the occasional wink"). What I find most telling is their grudging concessions, such as this one: "Yes, there were obvious weak points in her knowledge." Or this one: "Occasionally, she gets lost in a blizzard of her own words."
These guys are trying way too hard. Just say that yes she's stupid/uninformed, but you prefer the ideology she has been memorizing these past few weeks.
UPDATE IX: David Letterman's take.
UPDATE X: HHEHHH?!?!
UPDATE XI: Steven Pinker has a new column up about the debate.
UPDATE XII: Conservative columnist Rich Lowry, again.
I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.