lessons from America

Liveblogging the V-P debate

[0447] Until Tuesday night and the next Obama-McCain debate, that’s it for the liveblogging.

[0436] In closing, the debate is summarised on Daily Kos as “the student versus the statesman”.  That’s how it seemed to me as well, on one level.  And Bill Schneider, senior analyst on CNN, has said pretty much the same thing.  But on the other hand, Palin’s folksy charm and smiling was quite appealing, even to me.  I doubt this debate is going to be a game changer, or even sway too many voters.  Early polling reaction seems to bear this out.  Interestingly, although I go on about Palin exceeding her low expectations, Biden apparently seems to have exceeded his expectations by not doing any major gaffes and a more emotional, personal style too.  He impressed me too and I think his positives will rise after a quiet few weeks. But I think Palin’s negatives may stabilise after falling heavily recently, and the Republican base may be re-energised a bit after a bad few weeks, so halting (but unlikely to do anything to reverse) Obama’s healthy lead.   

[0419] Palin receives a rapturous welcome at the Republican post debate party.  She’s actually very good in this type of partisan setting, rallying the faithful and combining both passion and zinging lines.  The crowd is loving it, and so is she.  This is like a repeat of her Convention speech, and I haven’t seen anything like it since.  She really does fire up the base in a way McCain never has done and could never do.  I think I am witnessing the start of her run in 2012. Seriously, I think she could do very well in the Republican primaries.

[0358] CNN just interviewed a guy from the website – that may be one to look at for historical context to tonight’s debate.  Though you may have to wait, as the site seems to have crashed after being plugged on national TV.

[0355] Returning to something from the last debate.  The good performance of the moderator.  Kos notes it adroitly as: “Gwen Ifil was excellent. Like Lehrer, I forgot she was on stage, and that’s the way moderators should be” .  Indeed, I was so focused on Palin and Biden and their exchanges, that I barely noticed the interventions from Gwen; except the times she wryly asked them to answer the question or reminded them they were out of time.  Makes such a pleasant change from the way the Democrat primary debates were so badly and partisanly moderated.

[0350] Palin mainly holding her own against the more experienced Biden is a draw according to the analysts in the media.  Exceeded those low expectations. (See 0254).  But as Kos says: “she needed to prove that she could get beyond pre-packaged talking points to demonstrating some capacity for analytical thought. In that regard, she failed.”   Several people on Twitter note how close Palin is to her cartoonish SNL caricature. I think that’s unfair; she seemed more confident at times than her SNL persona, but there was still plenty that fitted so well with her caricature.

[0340] Palin did have a few good lines “Obama flying the white flag on Iraq” was one; and on education. There was no ‘car crash’ and she did the down-to-earth thing very well.  She wasn’t ripped to shreds by Biden; partly I suspect as he saved most of his criticisms for McCain. Palin learnt from McCain’s mistakes last time, and there was little snarky comments or nasty attacks. 

[0336] “Cute and adorable, but not quite so (vice)-presidential” is the succinct summary on Palin by Bill Nicholson, USA Today night editor, speaking on Radio5Live. 

[0330] Biden has done well in the final sections to emotionally connect with the audience (in the hall and on TV), giving heartfelt anecdotes about his family, his experience and his values.  That was one area it was feared he would fall down on, so he’s done well in that respect.  Update [0500]: see this clip from the debate for the bit when Biden talks about his family and the hardships and personal tragedy that he has experienced.  It felt – and is certainly being reported as – a real ‘I feel your pain’ moment, succesfully and genuinally connecting Biden with ordinary voters.

[0328] Palin really is a political lightweight and novice, without much of her own experience or understanding beyond Alaska and her family.  Anywhere else that might really matter and hurt electorally.  I’m less sure it’s such a thing in the US.  It worked for Bush in 2000.  If Obama wasn’t so strong and McCain so weak a candidate, it might work again this year.

[0325] I wish my bingo card just had the word “maverick” on all its squares. I would have had crossed off every square by now.

[0323] OMG. This is brilliant. Biden has just hit a home run on McCain.  “He is not a maverick on anything that really matters to people.” And he continues in that vein in a wonderful, cleverly worded attack on McCain.  A planned exchange no doubt, but I bet it works.

[0321] Biden: “People are looking for help, not more of the same”.  I immediately think of the rhyme “McCain, McSame.”  So does the McCain campaign team obviously, as they have coached Palin to rebut this directly give as one of her number one talking points that “we need change. Change is coming.  John McCain is a maverick and will lead the reform.”

[0317] Palin says she wants a bit more executive power for the V-P position. Hmm. Controversial.

[0311] “Oh, say it’s not so, Joe.”  Palin going all folksy, or rather even more so than usual.  She’s actually quite charming and believable when she’s like this, and explaining education policy.  Even cracks a joke on school credits.  But makes me think small town mayor, or maybe at best inspirational primary school head teacher, not major national political figure.  Then again she gave a ‘shout out’, so maybe a dj or talk show host would suit her better. I’m beig elitist though, I think it may play better in some sections of US society so it may actually be a good strategy from her; going on her strengths and her differences from Biden / Obama.

[0309] Huge traffic on twitter surrounding Palin’s comment that “McCain knows how to win a war”.  Almost unanimous calling her out on this. Vietnam?  I’d love to see the news site’s FactCheck on this one.

[0303] Palin is struggling.  She was rambling, trying to mark snarky comments, searching through her notes, her body language is awkward and she sounds goofy.  But she somehow pulls out a strong answer on Darfur and divestment.  Again though it all comes down to what has done in Alaska, rather than anything relating to the other 49 states or a national policy.

[0301] The consensus on the blogs and twitter is that – unsurprisingly – Biden is winning the foreign policy section hands down.  Only issue I have is he getting a bit wordy, and sometimes changing tack or restarting sentences midway through a point.

[0300] “Past is prologue” says Biden.  We’ll be dissecting that for weeks, its such a wonderful and multi-layered line.

[0257] “We are fighting terrorists and building schools in Afghanistan” says Palin.  Biden hits back hard:  “facts matter.  Our commanding general there says an Iraq-type surge won’t work.”  I would also add that it seems disingenous at best and heartless at worst for Palin to dismiss the bombing and killing of civilians, as she seemed to do. 

[0254]  Sean on 538 says: “I can foresee the praise for Palin’s performance on the post-mortem cable shows already. She has beaten expectations – the lowest expectations in history.”  Exactly what I’ve been warnign about these past few days, and am feeling at the moment.  Palin has had enough okay moments for this to be true no matter what happens the final half hour of the debate; even though Biden is so much stronger.

[0252] Israel: “a peace seeking nation” says Palin.  History may say otherwise.  Also it is outside pressure that has helped to bring Israel to the table or moved things on to a point where Israel feels safe enough to conduct peace negotations.  Palin doesn’t seem to acknowledge this. Biden points this out.

[0250] Palin gives a very passionate answer on “freedom” and not talking to our enemies.  

[0247] Palin gets one over her boss: she can say “Ahmadinejad” properly and first time. And to rub it in she does it twice in a minute.

[0244] “God love him, but he has been dead wrong” – Biden on McCain.  He started out quite muted I thought, but has really started getting into his stride and hitting some big ones.  Tweets seem to think the oil / climate change exchanges were the turning point for Biden and has been performing much better since.

[0241] Biden on Iraq: “I didn’t hear a plan [from Palin/McCain].  Obama has a plan”.  Its just like earlier this week at Tory Party Conference, with their slogan “Plan for Change” and claims of no plans and new ideas from Labour.

[0239] DailyKos is noting that Palin seems to be looking down at her notes more and more, and wonders whether this will become even more frequent and more obvious as we go through proceedings. 

[0235] If McCain’s rallying cry is “bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran”, then Palin’s is now “drill, drill, drill”.

[0233] sock it to her, Biden.  He gives a clear, sensible and 21st century answer to climate change.

[0231] Appalling answer by Palin on climate change. Fascinating.  This one will be played and played on youtube.  You sense she doesn’t have a clue; or rather ties herself up in knots trying to disguise her lack of belief in gloal warming and man’s contribution to it. She just repeats the word “climate change” several times each sentence and that’s about it.

[0230] Nate, and then some on twitter, are noting how Palin’s answers seem very scripted and over-coached, speaking too quickly and giving pat answers at points.

[0224] “Energy is my own area of expertise” says Palin.  Tries to position herself as the friend of taxpayers versus the oil producers and energy companies.  She did impose a windfall profits tax, so it can be done – note to Brown and the Government here.  Biden then hits back and tries to drive a wedge between McCain and Palin on that policy.

[0222] Great and clear explanation by Biden of government finances and where things need to be squeezed or changed or not happen (ie tax cuts to wealthy people).

[0221] Biden gets the first big laugh line, making fun of the “ultimate bridge to nowhere”.

[0218] Palin suggests that no one should be pleased with the way the State is running things at the moment.  But its not the State, its the market that has been failing so badly these past few weeks.  The State is the one that has to come in and pick up the pieces, and is the only one to be trusted to run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac etc.

[0215] Palin goes off on one, doing some “straight-talking” as she puts it.  It is interesting that when she was first picked, we all thought she was picked as a ‘gap-filler’ rather than a ‘reinforcer’ – ie. she was different than McCain and trying to hit some electoral spots that McCain didn’t.  But actually it is turning out that she is playing that ‘reinforcing role’ – stressing and doubling McCain’s maverickness and straight-talking. 

[0209] Following things on the special twitter feed, like last time. The Fix says that both candidates are getting in their hits early.  And plenty of chit-chat and yelps of joy from people playing Palin bingo, as “hockey mums” gets its first mention of the night.

[0208] “team of mavericks” – that’s not on my bingo card but it should have been. It’s one of her favourite lines.  Its her strongest strategy: to stress her non-insider and ordinary ‘joe’ status.

[0207] I like it: Biden spends a minute talking about bipartisanship and then attacks McCain.  It made sense, but brings a wry smile to my face.

[0205] Palin starts off with a folksy anecdote, much as had been predicted on blogs and by past performance in Alaskan debates.

[0203]  “Can I call you Joe?” asks Palin, trying to get ahead early by showing her down-to-earth manner.  Also sugests they have never met before.

[0202] And we’re off. Gwen Ifill is the moderator.

[0158] Another reason to stay up and follow this: Palin bingo.  I’ve got my card and am playing.  Even if you watch the debate online sometime later, download the card(s) and see if you are a winner during the debate.

[0155] It’s time for such fun and fireworks hopefully.  Joe Biden versus Sarah Palin.  One time only.


October 3, 2008 Posted by | debates | , , | 2 Comments

Denver Diary – Wed 27 Aug

For my liveblogging of the evening’s Convention proceedings / speeches and reaction from the Big Tent, see here

Updated text with photos:

Another lazy morning (I blame the altitude!) before heading off to the area around the capitol building to see if there were any protestors about.


I was in luck, big time.  I arrive just as the ‘Green-Black’ environmental protest march gets properly going.  Since it was part of the ‘recreate-68’ set of activities, this was no fluffy march, but a bit more serious and radical.  But good-natured and peaceful all the same, even if many of the participants wore bandanas around their faces and were dressed in (as the event’s name suggests) green and black. 


I felt a wave of nostalgia as I joined in step with the protestors; and my journalistic, photo-snapping approach had to compete with joining in the chants and cheers/jeers and being one of the gang.  I snapped out of this when, along the crowded 16th Street Mall, Hunter spotted me and called out my name.  He and his work colleagues were on their way to lunch and had stopped off to see the ‘show’.  He also guessed that he might find me in the midst of it. I’m glad some things don’t change.


Along the 16th Street Mall (Downtown’s semi-pedestrianised area), there were plenty of placard-waving individuals and campaigns giving out literature.  Peace-activists, conspiracy-theorists, religious fundamentalists all competing for our attention.  And so was this rather bizarre campaign against “bird porn”.  Look up their website.  I can’t tell if it’s a joke or not.


I struggled in my Obama merchandise shopping as the official Obama store will only allow US citizens to buy stuff – you have to sign a form, as the money is treated as a campaign donation.  I did eventually find a woman who was kind enough to do the transaction on my behalf, but its a bit frustrating. There are lots of people in London wanting to proclaim their support for Obama and give visual reminders to the Americans in the city of the way we encourage them to vote.


I also came across a fantastic Google stall, showing off how it is harnessing its googlemaps technology to provide a website where people can find out their nearest polling station and get an interactive map which shows no just its location but other useful electoral and civic data on it.

Big Tent time and a panel session on attitudes to foreign policy with Geoff Garin (who took over the polling side of Hillary’s campaign towards the end) and Solana from OpenDemocracy and other international blogs.

Even the Big Tent wasn’t immune to being a protest site, with this group of mums staging a demo outside – not only to influence people inside the Tent but also in the hope of attracting the attention of the media who were covering proceedings and conducting interviews with bloggers throughout the day.


I returned to the main area of the Tent just in time for the end of the roll call and to see history made, with Nancy Pelosi officially declaring Obama as the party’s nominee.  Emotional scenes on screen and in the tent.

Afterwards, in the lull before the evening’s big speeches, I caught up with Athenae (here being interview by a fellow blogger).

One person who came over and chatted to me was a marketeer from the micro-brewery which is producing ‘Participation Lager’ – a special beer and voter registration / turnout campaign aimed at twenty-somethings in the run-up to the election. He promised to send me a real sample (rather than this empty bottle), so who knows I may even be able to update with a taste test too.

 Senator Jon Tester of Montana – a darling of the netroots – made a visit to the Tent and was duly mobbed and feted and interview by a crowd of bloggers.

For my liveblogging of the evening’s Convention proceedings / speeches (including Obama’s ‘surprise’ appearance at the end alongside his running mate Joe Biden) and reaction from the Big Tent, see here  

Making an appearance in the Tent at the end of the evening was the online editor of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  He was very interested in UK politics, so I sadly didn’t get much of an opportunity to quiz him about his job and how he sees the next months and years panning out. 

I missed the chance to get to the Denver Drinking Liberally social, as the taxis left without me.  So instead I walked round the corner and to MSNBC’s ‘studio’  where they were broadcasting live, conducting their post-speech analysis.  Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews were on the second floor of the ingenious structure and Rachel Maddow, Pat Buchanan et al were on the first floor, separated from the noisy, placard-waving crowd by a matter of metres.  No glass, walls or any other partitions.  A great atmosphere.  And to top it all off at the end Chris Matthews comes down and goes around the crowd asking questions and signing autographs.  I will cherish my Big Tent pass even more now, as on the reverse now is Chris’s signature.


One of the spectators, trying to get his handiwork featured, was this artist who created Obama planters and other objects.

I finished off the night (and into the morning) at my usual hang-out of Tyler’s champagne bar.  Just hanging out chatting to various locals and delegates, and soaking up the atmosphere.

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment