Friday, October 3, 2008

Judging the Debates - How To

In today's papers, we get the usual smattering of nonsense about who "won" the VP debate last night.

* The Politico things Biden did ("it is hard to count any objective measures by which Biden did not clearly win the encounter").

* The Wall Steet Journal's Peggy Noonan in her own, beautifully written way disagrees - "She (Palin) killed."

* Pollsters are rushing to ask the American people their views: (CNN says Biden 51 - Palin 36).

What is this? A high school debate? A football game?

I think we can do better than that if we ask ourselves two questions. What did the candidates need to do to help their chances, and did they accomplish it?

For Senator Biden, it was fairly straight forward. His ticket leads in the polls by an average of almost 6 percent. As Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal put it:
those who thought Sen. Biden would wander off into the rhetorical excesses,overstatements and verbal excesses for which he is sometimes prone were...disappointed. He was, instead, disciplined and evenly modulated.
For Governor Palin, the bar was set much higher. After some (I am told) painful interviews with Katie Couric (isn't that like getting mauled by one of those cute little house dogs?), Palin had to show a strong grasp of issues and that she could stand credibly next to one of the Senator Factory's (you know, the place where you get the smile and voice put in) smoothest products.

Again, Gerald Seib's take:
Those who were eager to see Gov. Palin lapse into incoherence were disappointed; she didn't...she decided to debate as a voice of old-fashioned common sense rather than a voice of deep knowledge.
In short, when watching candidates debate, avoid making the sorts of simplistic judgments that most commentators make about who "won." Ask yourself, what did this person need to do tonight, and how well did they do it?

So now, the only question is who won the face off among analysts?

I'm calling it for Seib.

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