VP debate, the morning after

I livetweeted the debate last night (start, end) and was reminded of a few things in the process. First, writing about anything as it happens means you’re paying much closer attention to what’s said. I got more of a substantive understanding of Biden and Palin’s positions, a closer awareness of both of their stumbles and gaffes, and a much deeper engagement in the process than if I had simply been watching it.

Aside: why did I ever try to do liveblogging before there was Twitter? Even if each post is 140 characters or less, it’s still a superior user experience to a heavyweight blogging CMS.

Now, the downside of liveblogging the debate. I didn’t have my eyes on the TV very much and so missed some of the nuances–I had to see someone else’s tweet to realize that Joe Biden spent much of his time looking at the moderator rather than the camera when he answered his questions, for instance. And I think that there was a downside to paying such close attention to individual exchanges, namely: I came away without a feeling about how the debate had played overall. Oh sure, I thought Joe took it on substance, but as I tweeted late last night, I’m not 100% sure that’s what matters to the American undecided voter. And I can certainly see a scenario (reinforced by the GOP spin from last night) where Palin and McCain get a bounce because her performance wasn’t a miserable failure and because she came across as a folksy, relatively human person.

I kind of hope, though, that we don’t hear any more “maverick” after last night.

Update: Doc has the same concerns about the debate performances that I did. That doesn’t mean, btw, that I think that focusing on personality is right; just that the pragmatic view is to ask how well each debater played in Peoria.

Sarah Palin’s morning in America

So far, John McCain’s nomination of Sarah Palin on the basis of a 15 minute interview is proving to be the best illustration of why you should carefully vet vice presidential candidates–particularly those who haven’t run for national office before.

I’m still trying to figure out whether this choice of McCain’s is desperate or brilliant. The arguments for both:

Desperate: This has the appearance of an appointment made in haste. It’s been established that Joe Lieberman, McCain’s first choice, was not acceptable to the Republican base, and it appears that Palin was picked very late in the game. All the indications are that Palin’s vetting was shallow; indeed, Talking Points Memo indicates that the Republican team has just now hit the ground in Alaska to do the deep digging. And certainly the ongoing information suggesting that Palin used her office to try to force the firing of her sister’s ex-husband, and that she did fire his boss when she couldn’t get the ex-brother-in-law fired, suggests that McCain’s team was not aware of this abuse of power on Palin’s part. As does the unfortunate situation with her daughter. As do her misleading statements about her support for the Bridge to Nowhere (brief: she supported it before she condemned it). As does her apparent past membership in the Alaska Independence Party.

Brilliant: McCain needed to differentiate himself from Obama while seizing hold of the “change” meme to pick up independent voters, but he also had to play to his base, who were late to fall in line behind the one-time “maverick.” Picking Palin on the basis of who she was (conservative, anti-choice, pro-guns, a short history as a reformer) helped shore up the base.

But more than this, maybe there’s a new calculus in play, a short-term thought process that says that the American people are going to be more likely to think whether a candidate for the second highest office in the land is “like them” than they are to worry about the person’s fitness for the job. In this short-term way of thinking, someone can be good to vote for simply because they are empathetic, because the voter wants to be that person. It’s kind of a “politician as celebrity” play.

Whether the choice, which looks to me like pandering, will work is still at play. Gallup and Rasmussen both show Obama widening his lead over McCain after the pick, primarily by picking up undecided voters. But polls have been wrong before.

See also: Why Palin should be taken seriously (Scripting News).

Update: Illuminating in light of the above: McCain campaign manager Rick Davis says “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” So in other words, the McCain camp is betting on the celebrity view of politics that I describe above. Which is ironic, given their ads bashing Obama for being a celebrity.