I am gloomy about the election campaign, but I keep reminding myself that previous election seasons have had dramatic shifts in the polls. For example, in the Reagan-Carter contest of 1980, until a week before the election the polls were very tight, and some showed Carter slightly ahead. And, of course, Reagan won by a landslide.
The shift was caused by the candidates’ performances in their last debate, held one week before the election. Internal tracking polls showed there was almost an immediate shift after the debate, when huge numbers of Americans decided to vote for Reagan.
Debates don’t always count. I thought Kerry absolutely clobbered Bush in their 2004 debates, especially the first one, but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. I suspect people had been too well conditioned to like Bush and dislike Kerry to trust their own eyes.
The point remains that much can happen between now and election day that could push the results decisively one way or the other.
I think Joe Biden has it in him to put away Sarah Palin in their debate, and he can do it by being courtly to her while gently and patiently pointing out what she doesn’t understand about the world. If he plays it right, she will look shrill and ditzy in comparison. I know some of you will disagree with that, but if he beats her up too much, so to speak, it could backfire and grow sympathy for Palin even if she reveals she doesn’t know China from cheese.
It’s outrageous that we have to play mind games like that, but that’s where the last several years of scorched-earth politics have brought us.
More than anything else, in their debates Obama will have to be more likable than McCain. And he can do that. But he also has to take care not to seem to be showing off his intellect, and everyone fears he will actually answer questions intelligently rather than spout the “crisp” but empty prepackaged rhetoric bits that the pundits always prefer to real answers.
In both cases I think the Dems should keep a principle of martial arts in mind — using your opponent’s momentum and force against him. Unless McCain is allowed to bring Joe Lieberman on stage with him to whisper the correct answers in his ear — or obtain the mysterious “back box” that Bush sported in a debate against Kerry — McCain will be confused about many things. Since the McCain campaign has declared war on news media, I think news media are in less of a mood to let such things slip by these days. The shills on Faux News excepted, of course. Anyway, at such times, Obama should step back and let McCain be McCain.
Now that it has become conventional wisdom that Palin didn’t exactly cover herself in glory in her first interview, the excuses are coming out. One excuse is that ABC News deliberately edited the tape to make Palin look stupid. However, I’ve looked at the transcript of the complete first interview, and the stuff edited out doesn’t seem to me to make her any less frivolous that the stuff left in. See what you think.
Another excuse is that there are many versions of the “Bush Doctrine,” and Palin couldn’t be expected to know which one Charles Gibson referred to — except that he deliberately and clearly defined the precise version he was inquiring about. And while there are many fine points, if fine is the right word, about the Bush Doctrine that can be interpreted in diverse ways, Palin clearly didn’t know any of those points, nor did she seem to know there was such a thing as a “Bush Doctrine.”
Shorter Steven Hayward: If we don’t elect idiots, we’re betraying democracy.
Maybe it’s because I live in New York and nobody’s campaigning here, but I never see the candidates. He see news about the candidates and brief clips showing some little slice of the candidates’ day, but I keep feeling that I’m not seeing the actual candidates anywhere. How is it where you live?