Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the vice presidential debate in St. Louis.
Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the vice presidential debate in St. Louis. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images
Democratic Sen. Joe Biden makes a point during the first and only vice presidential debate of this election cycle.
Democratic Sen. Joe Biden makes a point during the first and only vice presidential debate of this election cycle. David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images
The two vice presidential candidates faced off on issues such as energy and the economy during their debate.
The two vice presidential candidates faced off on issues such as energy and the economy during their debate. David McNew/Getty Images
The vice presidential candidates dueled in a highly anticipated, fast-paced and wide-ranging matchup Thursday night. In the end, both candidates met or exceeded expectations.
Analysts had worried that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a newcomer to the national scene, would implode on the stage, revealing inexperience and a lack of knowledge on the issues. She didn't, and she held her own on issues ranging from the financial meltdown to the war in Iraq.
Those same analysts also feared that Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden would give in to his tendency toward long-windedness, make verbal gaffes and appear condescending to his opponent. He did none of these things, maintaining a measured approach throughout.
Wall Street And The Bush Legacy
Biden sought to drive home the message that the Democratic ticket would bring real change after what he said was "a very deep hole" dug by the Bush administration during the past eight years. He tried repeatedly to link Republican presidential nominee John McCain's policies with those of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Palin referenced the presidency of Ronald Reagan, mentioning Reagan three times and saying that she and McCain would get government out of the way of the American people.
As did the debate between the candidates at the top of the tickets, the contest between the vice presidential hopefuls began with a series of questions about the effort to deal with the crisis on Wall Street. Moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS opened with a question about whether the bill aimed at bailing out Wall Street represented the "best or worst" of Washington.
Biden said that Wall Street has run wild during the Bush administration, and he chided McCain for saying — after the crisis had erupted — that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong." Palin said McCain had issued warnings two years ago about the unsteadiness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Biden said it was Democratic nominee Barack Obama who two years ago issued warnings about the subprime mortgage debacle.
The debaters sparred over tax issues, with Palin asserting that Obama had voted to raise taxes 94 times. Biden said that was untrue and noted that McCain had voted the same way on procedural matters.
When Ifill asked about Obama's plan to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year, Biden said it was a matter of "simple fairness" and that wealthier taxpayers would wind up paying no more under Obama's plan than they did under President Reagan. Palin called Obama's plan "redistribution" and repeated the Reagan-era mantra that government interference and regulation were more of a hindrance than a help.
Wrangling Over War Policy
The debate reached its most personal level on the issue of Iraq, because both vice presidential candidates have sons in the military: Palin's son is already in Iraq, and Biden's deploys on Friday.
Palin called the Obama plan for a withdrawal timetable "a white flag of surrender." She said that she and McCain do not support a quick pullout, saying it would be a "travesty" to "quit in Iraq." Biden responded, "With all due respect, I do not hear a plan." He said that McCain has been "dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war." Biden said that he and Obama would "end this war" and that they believe a timetable is needed to accomplish that.
Social issues occupied only a small part of the debate, as when Ifill asked whether the candidates supported equal benefits for same-sex couples. "Absolutely!" was Biden's answer. Palin said she would be wary of anything that might define marriage as anything but a union between one man and one woman. Biden said that neither he nor Obama supported same-sex marriage but that he felt he and Palin were in agreement that there should be no civil rights difference between a gay and a heterosexual couple.
When the discussion turned to energy, an area in which Palin is considered strong, the Alaska governor said Obama voted to give tax breaks to the oil industry when he supported a bill backed by the Bush administration. She said she had worked to undo those breaks on the state level. Biden commended Palin for pushing through what amounted to a "windfall profits" tax on oil companies. He said that he and Obama support a similar tax on a national basis — something that he said McCain has been unwilling to do.
Defining The VP Job: The Cheney Mold?
Ifill turned the discussion to the office the two candidates are aiming for, asking, "What does the vice president do?" Palin responded that she would help lead McCain's agenda in areas such as energy independence for America, government reform and working with families with special needs.
Biden said he would be the point person for the Obama administration's legislative initiatives in Congress. Ifill asked Palin whether, like Vice President Cheney, she believes that the vice presidency is not completely a part of the executive branch. Palin responded that the office has "much flexibility" from the Constitution. Biden responded that "Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history," and he insisted that the office is clearly part of the executive branch.
In their closing statements, the two candidates underlined the themes they had played on throughout the debate. Palin referred again to Reagan, "who said that freedom is always just one generation away from extinction." She added: "We will fight for it, and there is only one man in this race who has really ever fought for you, and that's Sen. John McCain."
Biden returned to his theme of the need for "fundamental change." He said that he and Obama will measure progress not by "whether or not we cut more regulations or how well CEOs are doing" but by "whether or not someone can pay their mortgage, whether they can send their kid to college."