Friday, October 3, 2008

The Palin-Biden Debate

Tom Shales of the Washington Post beat me to it when he observed that Sarah Palin may have taken her speech lessons from Tina Fey's parodies.

Sarah Palin looked as though she had prepared for her appearance at the vice presidential debate last night by studying Tina Fey's impressions of her on "Saturday Night Live." She twinkled and winked and piled on the perkiness, a "darn right" here and an "I'll betcha" there.

I cringed when Palin deflected another reference to the Bush administration with this cutsey volley.
Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] 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.
I was glad to see Palin didn't stumble. She rose above the humiliating (for all of us) interviews and showed more competence, despite the populist cant.

The question of the role of the vice president was perhaps the most important practical point of a debate between two potential vice-presidents. Palin was in favor of the "flexibility" of this position.

Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that's not only to preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also. I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are.

Joe Biden opposes the expansion of the Vice President's role and the blurring between the executive and legislative branches.
Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.
Joe Biden was more impressive to me, both ardent and respectful. He hammered away at his points on the Bush administration's record and Obama's platforms. He corrected Palin several times when she chided Obama for votes which were identical to those of her running-mate. Biden was somewhat defensive about trying to match Palin's regular middle-class mom claim with his own working-class background. He was detailed and convincing on foreign policy matters from Pakistan to Palestine.
I, along with Dick Lugar, before we went to war, said if we were to go to war without our allies, without the kind of support we need, we'd be there for a decade and it'd cost us tens of billions of dollars. John McCain said, no, it was going to be OK.

I don't have the stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur. We can now impose a no-fly zone. It's within our capacity. We can lead NATO if we're willing to take a hard stand. We can, I've been in those camps in Chad. I've seen the suffering, thousands and tens of thousands have died and are dying. We should rally the world to act and demonstrate it by our own movement to provide the helicopters to get the 21,000 forces of the African Union in there now to stop this genocide.

I was particularly uncomfortable with Palin's "exceptionalism" speech, at a time when we need to make a sober reassessment of foreign policy and economic decisions. We do have apologies to make for breaches in our ideals of freedom and equal rights. Is our nation the ideal to present to the world or do our true ideals refer to a higher source?

But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights. Those things that we stand for that can be put to good use as a force for good in this world.

The most disappointing moment for me was to hear Joe Biden talk about his change of position in regard to judicial appointments, his reasons for opposing the Judge Bork nomination and his support of Roe v. Wade. Particularly since the time Palin was chosen as running-mate, the Obama camp has made a point of emphasizing their pro-choice commitment.

If, as both candidates said, "God forbid", the elected vice-president were to succeed the president, one wonders whether it is sufficient to be a folksy Washington-outsider as Palin characterizes herself, instead of a seasoned and astute leader making epic decisions affecting world stability.

1 comment:

JACK said...

I didn't watch the debate and am thankful I was spared it.

But I have to make one comment. First off, the divisions between the three branches of government have never been absolute. The constitution gives the President a veto over legislation, arguably a legislative activity. Its one defined role for the Vice President is a legislative one. Meanwhile, while the President is commander in chief, it gives power to declare war to Congress. And it gives the power to appoint justices of the supreme court to the President, advice and consent of the Senate is required. The Judiciary can review the constitutionality of matters, but the Congress has authority to limit the court's jurisdiction. I could go on.

This is not to suggest that encroachment should be permitted or encouraged, but to suggest it is a bit more nuanced than all that. And if there is any way in which the executive has taken legislative function away from the Congress, it has primarily been by the Congress giving away its legislative role through delegation.

And as someone who wrote his third year legal paper on the history of executive orders, let me tell you one prediction I think you can take to the bank regardless of who wins: their usage will increase. It doesn't seem to matter which party wins on that one.