Politics & Society

On the Ground at the VEEP Debate Parties

The buzz around town last night, here in the D.C. area, was likened to a major sporting event — perhaps the biggest boxing match of the century — with all the anticipation of the Biden-Palin debate, the one and only vice presidential debate of the election season. I, along with a few other producers here at TMM, decided to hit the streets, dispersing thought the region to capture sights and perspectives of those attending debate gatherings. (On Monday, we told you about the scene here around town for the first presidential face off between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.)

I, along with a few other NPR-ers, gathered at a downtown hotel eatery. In a restuarant with walls decorated with plasma televisions, you can probably guess that my group wasn't the only group partaking in the debate watching festivities. Of course, there were others.

Meet Pamela Williams:

Lee Hill, NPR

Williams was visiting Washington, D.C., with her daughter, LaTiffaney. Like Sen. John McCain, the Williams are from Arizona. Like Palin, Williams is also a mother of five and works outside the home in a management role (as a mid-level executive at a major technological manufacturing corporation). She originally supported Sen. Hillary Clinton's Democratic bid for the White House, citing her fondness of seeing women — who are also mothers, like herself — in power, but she is now a supporter of Obama.

After the debate, I asked Pamela Williams to share her thoughts on the candidates' performance.

She respects Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her historic vice presidential candidacy. Williams was impressed by her performance in last night's debate but says, for her, that's still not enough to win her over as a Palin supporter.

"She's not ready, and doesn't have the understanding to be the next president ... if she needs to be," she commented after Palin's closing remarks at the end of the 90-minute exchange.

TMM producer Teshima Walker also made a few observations from where she was watching:

I arrived to the debate-watching venue late from my belly-dance class. (I warned the instructor, 'I've got to go early ... you know the debate is tonight.' We had an agreement.) So, I arrive at an office building, which was the host site, and the door is locked. After negotiating with the cleaning staff to let us in, I rush to the end of the hall. I walk through the glass double-doors, where William Murray, a cute older black man in a rust-colored pants suit with gray pin-stripes, asks me and my sister friend Trina Williams (a fellow NPR journalist) to sign in for the event. Mr. Murray asked us if we were registered to vote, and tells us he registers at least one person to vote at least everyday. If he runs into you at a grocery store, at his job, a gas station ... WHEREVER, he greets you with, "are you registered to vote?" Who is the Mr. Murry in your neighborhood? I'm curious. Thanks for reading and thanks for listening to the show.

Thanks, Teshima.

... From another TMM producer, Jasmine Garsd:

This morning I woke up at the break of dawn, like so many other Americans tired and a bit disappointed. America stayed up well past its bedtime last night, for a match that was expected to equal the encounters between Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed. But the vice presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin didn't live up to the expectations. ... As I looked into the packed audience at a local restaurant and poetry cafe, I saw a sea of young and old African Americans, Asians, Latinos, Middle Easterners, and Caucasians. Some were fabulously dressed, but there were many who were very casually dressed. ... I wondered which one of these is Joe Six Pack? As someone who is not originally from the U.S. (I'm South American), I'm intrigued to meet this mythical all-American man, commonly referenced by Sarah Palin. ... I now realize that I didn't meet Joe Six Pack because he doesn't exist in that persona —- at least not around here. Soon, the majority man, Joe Six Pack will be Jose Seis Cervezas; an African American graduate student struggling to pay off loans, the one who never took his eyes off the screen last night. The people watching the debate at the place I attended were, as American as apple pie, from all parts of town and all countries, and all sexualities.

Jasmine also took a few photos to help capture the evening:

  RaShawn Mitchell and Dori Alexandre.

hide caption RaShawn Mitchell and Dori Alexandre.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR
  Rut Semene, left, and Atheni Asihel.

hide caption Rut Semene, left, and Atheni Asihel.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR
  Onlooker Jessica Jones reacts to Gov. Palin's comment, directed at Sen. Biden: "I know education y

hide caption Onlooker Jessica Jones reacts to Gov. Palin's comment, directed at Sen. Biden: "I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?"

Jasmine Garsd, NPR
Jasmine Garsd, NPR

Nice work, Jasmine.

Lastly, here's an observation from blogger and (frequent TMM guest), angryblack*****:

I sorta watched the vice-presidential debate last night. I must confess that I had to break away a couple of times for fear that my blood pressure was rising. On the issue of Gwen Ifill's performance as moderator, I think she did a fine job. I'm still pissed off that anyone could fix their face to assume that she would be unable to moderate because she's writing a book about black politicians that touches on Senator Obama. This election cycle overfloweth with insulting as hell assumptions about black women and how we navigate race and politics...and the faux stir-up over Ifiil's book is yet another cup full of that bull. Whatever. Go on with your bad self, Gwen Ifill! ... As for the debate, I can't help but question why Gov. Palin is getting high marks. I work closely with a lot of women involved in local and state politics and Gov. Palin's folksy avoidance of the issues insults their depth, intelligence, service and grasp of the how government works. The women who serve in the Missouri Senate could have stood up there and held their own on the topics presented better than Gov. Palin did last night. I'm disturbed by the way she presented herself but I'm even more disturbed by the post-debate pundit response to the way she presented herself. Online news sites are running headlines proclaiming that Palin got the job done with her folksy style. Are they living in an alternative universe where a different debate aired on television? For the love of Gawd, people...she came across as almost unbelievably clueless! I'm serious! She layered on so much of that 'hockey mom from Alaska' mess that she made me wonder if she's faking her cluelessness to garner sympathy votes. Either way, her performance wouldn't score points in a Junior High school debate...and doggone it; you betcha there's something off about all that praise being showered on her despite that fact. If Gwen Ifill moderated the debate with the same style, she would have been eaten alive by the critics. And try to imagine Senator Obama responding to a question with "Gosh, I just know that folks at soccer games across in the heartland want affordable healthcare and lower taxes...bless their hearts!" Palin's performance is being evaluated through the haze of low expectations and that insults women in politics everywhere, regardless of their party affiliation. And it is also being judged on a different scale where some people are given the benefit of the doubt when others are held to the standard of perfection.

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