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October 02, 2008

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Ifill was pretty bad in the early debates she moderated. This isn't the first time.

They got in her head.

I don't think that's right. I think there are two things to say here:

1. The debate format doesn't really allow for follow ups in any kind of substantive way.

2. Gwen Ifill has never been the sort of the debate moderator to challenge anyone. I don't understand why people expect that of her.

In Ifill's defense, is that really any different than pretty much any other debate?

How the heck can you have any sort of depth of discussion when there's such a stupidly small amount of time allowed per topic?

I dunno, I think that nuclear weapon question was brilliant -- it was something Palin ever-so-clearly hadn't studied...

the questions seem ok to me. Palin is not doing to bad. Tweedledum and tweedledee agree on a lot of things

Ifill is a lame journalist. Nice, intelligent, and not gonna rock a boat to save herself from drowning. She'll be nagging us on Pledge Week when she's 96.

a few of the questions were lame..

what would you do differently as President? of course they're going to say "nothing".

Palin was surprisingly competent. so much that i wonder if she threw the Couric interviews on purpose.

Most of the debate was extremely milquetoast.

Palin, while not utterly embarrassing herself, is so clearly out of her league that it's sad.

I predict Biden's choke up moment will be the defining point of the debate.

This was like every debate I've seen. Palin did far, far better than anyone would have expected and that's going to be the story, I'd guess.

Agree, they should have just had a vending machine moderate this debate.

Well, there we go.

Ifill goes all nice.

Meanwhile, conservative columnist Kathleen
Parker is getting all the scum email (abort Kathleen, etc.) for suggesting Palin should withdraw.

Stupid wins.

I'll say it again.

Lie, cheat and hate will win the election.

Nice won't.

They'd kill US if they could.

I'm guessing, though, that a great many Democrats went into this expecting Palin to embarrass herself in some spectacular fashion (I thought there was a good chance of this) and since she didn't, they will be very upset and want to blame Ifill for not bringing Palin's vacuousness out into the open. I go into debates now with the expectation that the substance doesn't matter--it's all how it gets spun and with the incredibly low expectations for Palin, the fact that she held her own is probably going to be the story.

This was like every debate I've seen.

I don't think so. The Cheney vs Lieberman VP debate was fantastic and really educational. This debate was just two campaign stump speechifying at each other.

Yeah, Palin didn't lay any giant turds, which, as people have said, was all that was required to exceed expectations. Sure, lots of gross generalities and "I love America" pablum, including explicit American Exceptionalism at one point, but no deer in the headlights. Oh, well.

The only reason that Palin didn't fail as dramatically as some of us expected was that she was obviously working from a script, to the point where her answers often bore no relation to the questions.

I don't think it was realistic to expect Palin to completely lose it, and she didn't.

Still, to my mind there was no comparison between the two. Biden was more thoughtful, more knowledgeable, more forceful. That could be my preferences talking, but I don't think so. Palin did a good job of sticking to her script. That's all.

Palin did a good job of sticking to her script. That's all.

and she did it with a smile and without audible sighs. and she landed the only real direct punches of the night.

she won it.

Palin's command of talking points was impressive, if unsurprising. She was clearly as shallow as ever, but very smooth at slotting vaguely relevant, or when necessary completely irrelevant, talking points into the short time limits. She only really flailed when she tried to actually aing an answer on a curveball, like the role of the veep - one of Biden's best moments. The question is whether the public buys folksy-but-vaporous over bland competence. On the subject of the post, Ifill kept out of the way, but she mostly asked about real issues (with only one or two inane questions), she didn't assume too many questionable things when phrasing questions, and she was always willing to give either candidate time to respond. Yes, she didn't act like she had a lot of power over the candidates - but that way lies Russertism, and madness. Ifill didn't do much, but I think she didn't do damage, either. The people who have to make a candidate pay for bad or non- answers aren't the moderators; they're the other debaters, and ultimately the pundits and the voters - in, sadly, that order.

Also, I have to say that, also, Gwen Ifill is a lot like David Broder, also. Except, you know, black and female also.

But seriously: Ifill has always seemed like one of Atrios's Very Serious People to me. Whoever got into her head got into it long ago.

--TP

FWIW, I thought Ifill was fine.

The questions seemed OK to me. She didn't keep Palin on point, but that cuts two ways. You can also look at it as giving her enough rope. I imagine the nation was full of folks saying "answer the damned question!" in the privacy of their own living rooms.

IMO Palin wasn't much more than a talking head, but she didn't absolutely suck, so her mission was accomplished.

Biden showed more substance, but that was expected. He didn't say anything really stupid or obnoxious either, so his mission was also accomplished.

I doubt either of them changed any opinions.

What I took away from the debate was what I expect to be a lifelong aversion to the word "maverick", and a renewed vow to never, ever, ever vote for anyone who can't pronounce the word "nuclear".

Repeat after me: noo-klee-ar. Notice that there is no "u" after the "c".

God damn it, I think they pay these people to sound stupid on purpose.

Thanks -

I don't think so. The Cheney vs Lieberman VP debate was fantastic and really educational.

DaveC, I don't think I ever saw that debate (I mean, I was only in high school then. I used to actually have a life.) But it sounds like it could have been a fascinating debate. You know, once you get past the fact that Darth Cheney always looks like he's getting ready to use his eye lasers to melt your skull.

Is it online? Do you have a link?

VP debates have very little impact on the election historically. Ilfill did her job, she was a debate moderator tonight, not an investigative journalist. Could she have done a better job? sure

But, Criticizing her is unnecessary. While it might be the most entertaining debate, it was the least important one. Anyone remember, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy".

she did it with a smile and without audible sighs. and she landed the only real direct punches of the night.

she won it.

CBS poll:

Biden 46%
Palin: 21%
Tie: 33%

What exactly do you think Biden would have gained by landing direct punches? She's a featherweight. Not even that...

Also, can we have an intervention on how to pronounce Ahmadinejad. There is no ack.

what Donald Johnson said at 10:45.

I didn't expect a demolition job from Ifill, so I'm not dissappointed.

The short answer format gave Gov. Palin a pretty good shot at just filling up the time with prefabricated talking points, something she is obviously good at delivering. There was no real back and forth between her and Biden because Biden obviously had been prep'd to keep the attack focus on Sen. McCain and not to go after Gov. Palin, and he stuck to his script.

I think you guys are missing the bigger picture here. Obama is now holding a statistically significant lead here, and the election is not very far away. Biden's job tonight wasn't to demolish Palin, it was to do nothing stupid which would hurt the ticket or dominate headlines for the next week.

He did his job. No huge blunders or gaffes. Attempting to demolish Palin would have been a risky move aimed at the immediate short term news cycle, not a careful long term move.

Doing so would have been uncharacteristic of the "long ball" strategy being played by the Obama campaign. What you saw tonight was Joe Biden acting in a disciplined fashion - contrary to what his supposed achilles heel is. Score that as a net positive for Obama, because tonight we have passed beyond one of the few remaining milestones in the campaign where something dramatic could alter the contours of the election. Every one of these that passes without the McCain camp getting something big out of it matters - because the clock is running out on them.


The people who have to make a candidate pay for bad or non- answers aren't the moderators; they're the other debaters, and ultimately the pundits and the voters

Bingo. It wasn't Ifill's job to embaress Gov. Palin. That was Joe Biden's job. Joe Biden didn't do that job because he had more important things to do, like keeping the campaign focused on John McCain.

Tony P. is right here. She has always been mediocre at best. The only time I have ever seen her act like a reasoning, feeling human being was when she discussed Imus. If anyone expected her to be an actual reporter (eg make Palin answser the questions) it was an expectation in vain,

Biden did what he had to do. Palin was great if you ignnored what she actually said. I guess being able to yammer on and on incoherently and irrelevantly means that she didn't 'implode', whatever that would've been. Hooray.

The big news is that McCain is pulling out of MI!! WONDERFUL NEWS!!

One thing that drove me a little nuts, besides the over-use of "maverick," was how clear it was when Palin went into small-town newscast mode. She would physically transform and deliver a couple of prepared paragraphs of nothing while looking into the camera with a smile and a gleam in her eye. That was a bit disturbing in its glaring obviousness. I would say to my wife, "Look, there it is again. She's doing that broadcaster thing." I gave me the willies.

Oh ye of little faith. The poll numbers are lining up on Biden's side. Perhaps enough Americans can see through the BS.

He did his job. No huge blunders or gaffes.

I believe this is an important point, as well.
Palin wasn't the only one expected to fall on their face in this debate.

The people who have to make a candidate pay for bad or non- answers aren't the moderators; they're the other debaters, and ultimately the pundits and the voters

OK, if it wasn't Ifill's job to follow up with the candidates when they fail to answer questions, why bother with the debate format at all? I mean, if the candidates can just talk about whatever they want no matter what the question is, what exactly is the benefit of the debate as opposed to a discussion where each candidate gets 3-minute blocks of time to talk about whatever they want? I'm really curious: if the moderator isn't supposed to hold them accountable for giving an answer somewhat related to the question, then why bother?

Palin mostly makes me feel sorry for her. Because I think she does seem basically pretty sweet and nice. Utterly misguided on the issues, but not bright enough that I can lay all the blame on her for that even. I feel bad watching anyone who is completely out of their depth and doesn't seem to know it.

None of which qualifies her to be President in any way, of course.

Palin gave her supporters what they wanted, but so what? They're already in the bag. She was supposed to appeal to the independents, the moderates, and I don't see that she pulled it off. She was gushy, downhome, all about generalities. Biden was about specifics and unlike Palin he actually addressed the questions asked by the moderator. To give her credit, Palin is a good bullshit artist... but I think we've already seen enough of that for the last 8 years. I notice she pronounces nuclear the same way GWB does. I have to wonder if this is intentional or just ignorance. Whatever...

(Maybe "nice" is the wrong word. Maybe "doesn't seem to exude pure, self-aware evil from every pore the way most national Republicans do".)

Who ever said that Joe Biden wasn't disciplined? The man went to the Senate on the damn Amtrak every damn day when he had two injured toddlers to raise. I'd have been hiding under my bed. Say what you like about the man, he has discipline handled.

He has had a tendency to speak the truth as he understands it, better known as shooting off his mouth, which led to his reputation as gaffe-prone--but that's quite different from lacking discipline.

Here is a transcript of Lieberman vs. Cheney. Lieberman wasn't exactly an attack dog against Cheney.

Turbulence, I'm not a fan of the short answer, limited response format, and changing that could help get more responsive answers. But while a moderator who thinks they're the referee could also address this issue, it would have other effects as well. You'd get a moderator who justifiably thinks that the candidates have to make them happy. I think it's the moderator's job to serve up a question, or at least a topic, and give the candidates equal footing to grapple with the issues or with each other as they please. You might like it if a moderator were to say "you didn't answer the question", but it's hard to see how they have that power but never abuse it. If the moderators think they are the adjudicators of The Truth, you wind up with Saint Timmy, or like Charles Gibson in that famous primary debate.

Seriously, they could have had a machine their just playing out recorded questions. Ifill was nonexistent.

It had nothing to do w/ Biden or Palin, she just sucked.

Whether the moderator follows up as much as one might think they should, simply asking a question at least requires the candidate to deviate from something in some way that doesn't look completely idiotic. It's not a binary question of utterly tenacious moderator versus say whatever you want. It's a matter of degree, and any question at all posed to two people allow for one to appear more on topic than the other and requires the debaters to manage their deviations.

BTW, my last comment isn't an attempt to defend Ifill, just a response to Turb on the value of a passively moderated debate as opposed to free-form exposition.

One thing that drove me a little nuts, besides the over-use of "maverick," was how clear it was when Palin went into small-town newscast mode.

Thank you! That's been bothering me; I couldn't figure out what on earth she was doing, and you hit it on the head. She'd be staring off somewhere to the left of Ifill's head and speaking, and then all of a sudden she'd turn ten degrees or so and start smirking directly at the camera. Happened too often not to be deliberate, too.

I was a little annoyed with Ifill, too; Palin got away with stretches and fabrication far too much. However, I'm not sure what she could have done differently. Pressing Palin would simply have generated sympathy, without actually changing anyone's mind. There were enough complex questions to show that Palin is out of her depth (e.g. asking about the Fourthbranch nonsense), which was better than what I expected.

And as a final aside, how on earth do you flub the "What's your greatest weakness?" question? It's a standard job-interview question; how did she not have an answer for it?

I don't know. I thought that Ifill's catch of the creepy Cheney expansion of power was a big deal and I really didn't expect that to get noticed.

I'm not a fan of the short answer, limited response format, and changing that could help get more responsive answers.

How? The longer you let candidates talk, the more likely it is that the audience will have forgotten what the original question is and will thus have forgotten whether the candidate has answered it.

But while a moderator who thinks they're the referee could also address this issue, it would have other effects as well. You'd get a moderator who justifiably thinks that the candidates have to make them happy.

I think many people are capable of understanding a moderator's job as someone who is supposed to ensure that the candidates give on-point answers without believing that their responsibility to do so makes them living gods. Sure, most stupid pretty boys on TV think they're living gods, but that has nothing to do with the debate format and everything to do with their own psychological pathologies and the incentives of television gab-fest shows.

If you guys really want a tenacious moderator who gives no quarter, just wait. Tom Brokaw will do that - when Obama is speaking he will point out every omission, mistatement and redirection.

Now, to defend Ifill, I would just say she stayed out of the way, which is fine. Let them say what they want, and let everyone take what they will from it. The refs don't call as many penalties in the NHL playoffs, and the game are the better for it. So she's a tape recorder. At least she's a good tape recorder.

To give her credit, Palin is a good bullshit artist

No she isn't. Bullshit would be evading a question in an artful way. She came flat out and said she was going to ignore the questions. She told the American public, "You want answers from me about important questions? Go f*ck yourselves". That doesn't even rise to the level of a bullshit artist. It doesn't matter how chipper you look when you give the public the finger.

And I agree with Turbulence here, if the moderator is not there to say, "Wait a minute, you didn't answer a single damn thing I asked", then why have a moderator, or a debate for that matter? Have the candidates send an email or something.

clearly we're all in agreement that, at least, the debate needed more cowbell

I'm with the folks who thought Ifill largely sucked. The moderator is called this for a reason--they're supposed to moderate the debate, not simply read cue cards and let the candidates do whatever they want. It's like calling yourself a forum moderator when all you do is post lolcats.

I'm not saying she has to fact-check every statement the candidates make, but she could at least point out when they haven't even come remotely close to answering the question she just asked. That's not taking sides, that's keeping the debate on-topic.

On PBS, Lehrer talked to someone from Politico who said that by the traditional standards for judging a debate (things like did the debator actually address the question), Biden unquestionably won the debate.

CBS poll:

Biden 46%
Palin: 21%
Tie: 33%

wow.

well, i was in the same place with the Obama/McCain debate. so once again, i stand in contrast to the majority.

What exactly do you think Biden would have gained by landing direct punches?

since i thought he lost, a few direct hits might've given him the win, in my eyes.

If you guys really want a tenacious moderator who gives no quarter, just wait. Tom Brokaw will do that - when Obama is speaking he will point out every omission, mistatement and redirection.

HA. Exactly right. Brokaw will be much worse than was Ifill. She was at least fairly neutral.

I think that Ifill did a good job overall. I was watching for signs of bias (naturally). This is the closest I noticed:

Taxes question: Sen. Biden, we want to talk about taxes, let's talk about taxes. You proposed raising taxes on people who earn over $250,000 a year. The question for you is, why is that not class warfare and the same question for you, Gov. Palin, is you have proposed a tax employer health benefits which some studies say would actually throw five million more people onto the roles of the uninsured. I want to know why that isn't taking things out on the poor, starting with you, Sen. Biden.

She asks Biden to explain why it’s cool to raise taxes on rich people. She asks Palin to explain why she wants to throw 5 million poor people onto the roles of the uninsured. How about asking the same question of both candidates?

Other than that I think she played it very neutral.

And more importantly, she's let Palin ignore every single question. Just flat out ignore them.

I count at least three attempts to get her to respond to the substance of the question after she rambled off in a different direction:


Governor, Senator, neither of you really answered that last question about what you would do as vice president. I'm going to come back to that...

Governor, are you interested in defending Sen. McCain's health care plan?

So, Governor, as vice president, there's nothing that you have promised as a candidate that you would -- that you wouldn't take off the table because of this financial crisis we're in?

I’ll save comments on the debate itself for that thread.

She asks Biden to explain why it’s cool to raise taxes on rich people. She asks Palin to explain why she wants to throw 5 million poor people onto the roles of the uninsured. How about asking the same question of both candidates?

Because while Palin could answer Biden's question and not lose votes for the Republicans (if Republican voters cared about their party working to make rich people better off at the expense of everyone else, the party wouldn't have been in power any time in the past 50 years) - Biden's answer to Palin's question would have lost votes for the Republicans.

Foolish people may foolishly imagine that they're in the income group that will see their taxes raised, but it takes a complete moron to think "ooh, I could lose health insurance under McCain/Palin, what a good idea!". And the number of complete morons in the US is limited, but fools are everywhere.

I get more intelligent interaction from my ATM than we saw between Ifill and Palin.

I get more intelligent interaction from my ATM than we saw between Ifill and Palin.

It's hardly fair to compare an ATM to a politician. ATM's actually go on facts, and do arithmetic.

"One thing that drove me a little nuts, besides the over-use of "maverick," was how clear it was when Palin went into small-town newscast mode. She would physically transform and deliver a couple of prepared paragraphs of nothing while looking into the camera with a smile and a gleam in her eye. That was a bit disturbing in its glaring obviousness. I would say to my wife, "Look, there it is again. She's doing that broadcaster thing." I gave me the willies."

She does it because it works. [Dangerous comparison incoming]. In *that respect* she is a bit like Clinton. Not as smart, not as engaging, and not even as good at the "I feel you" thing, but she is actually pretty good at it. With Clinton he was so good at it that even if you disagreed completely with the words he was saying you'd think "He has a point". Palin isn't nearly that good, but she shows up on the scale more than a lot of recent politicians. But some of the things she says are so gosh darn stupid that it breaks the spell for anyone who knows anything.

ATMs perform a useful function almost every single time.

The big news is that McCain is pulling out of MI!! WONDERFUL NEWS!!

What're you talking about? It's shitty, shitty news.

...because I live in Wisconsin.

OCSteve: She asks Biden to explain why it’s cool to raise taxes on rich people. She asks Palin to explain why she wants to throw 5 million poor people onto the roles of the uninsured. How about asking the same question of both candidates?

Because they have different economic plans. If you asked Palin why it's cool to raise taxes on rich people, or Biden why it's cool to throw 5 million poor people off health care, all you're going to get is a canned attack on the other candidate; at least with these questions there was a chance that the candidates would offer some insight into their underlying philosophies.

And I think the contrast was remarkable: agree with him or not, Biden answered and Palin... well, she was Cute. Which is almost the exact opposite of cute, and the exact opposite of anyone I'd want in a position of authority.

I count at least three attempts to get her to respond to the substance of the question after she rambled off in a different direction:

Two, really -- that first one was a) directed to both Biden and Palin and b) not followed up.

People expecting Palin to "drag her knuckles" as Mark Ambinder so artfully described it, were completely wrong. They were wrong before the debate, and they were wrong after. Not only was the format not conducive to those kinds of gaffes, Palin had a reasonable history of success in this format.

That said, she didn't change many minds. On the other side of the debate; not a lot of people remember the 1988 election, and even those that did have little memory of the Democratic primaries, so Biden was essentially being "reintroduced" to them. He did a good job, getting better as the debate wore on. He was calm and reassuring.

Ifill was terrible. She lost control of the debate at one point, not even keeping the candidates on point or within the allotted time limits (more relevant to Biden, natch).

See, that's the thing: to me, Palin really did drag her knuckles. After a while, I was actively embarrassed to listen to her; it reminded me all-too-deeply of those horrific freshman presentations that my students sometimes give. Sure, she was glib enough and perky enough and full of completely artificial folksiness -- but my god, I have never seen anyone on the national stage give so great an impression of so little substance.

In the wake of the GOP's readiness to blame Ifill for however Palin might flop, I think Ifill made a strategic decision to stay completely out of the debate itself, and I think that was brilliant. What are we talking about today, including the base? Palin and Biden. No one is making Ifill the story, and that is exactly what Ifill had to accomplish. Done and done.

Do I wish it could have been otherwise? Sure. But the McCain campaign created the set up & Ifill made sure it didn't work.

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