VP Debate: No Fury In Missouri They were civil, but the vice presidential debate in St. Louis featured plenty of clashes. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin met Thursday night for their only debate of the presidential campaign. They traded jabs for 90 minutes on topics as diverse as the current economic crisis, global warming and foreign policy.
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VP Debate: No Fury In Missouri

VP Debate: No Fury In Missouri

NPR's Mara Liasson reports on the debate on 'Morning Edition'

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They were civil, but the vice presidential debate in St. Louis featured plenty of clashes. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin met Thursday night for their only debate of the presidential campaign. They traded jabs for 90 minutes on topics as diverse as the current economic crisis, global warming and foreign policy.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro. Last night, vice-presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden met for their only debate. They clashed over their running mates' positions on regulating Wall Street, the war in Iraq, energy policy and global warming.

MONTAGNE: The debate was held at Washington University in St. Louis and moderated by PBS's Gwen Ifill. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, was there.

MARA LIASSON: The most anticipated vice-presidential debate in history is over and no, Joe Biden did not commit any gaffes, and no, Sarah Palin did not struggle to answer the questions. Instead, Biden was crisp and to the point, and Palin more than surpassed the low expectations she had set for herself with a stumbling performance in a set of recent television interviews. Palin had the highest hurdle last night. Right from the start, she was direct and folksy when both candidates were asked about Washington's reaction to the Wall Street meltdown.

(Soundbite of vice-presidential debate, October 2, 2008)

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; 2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee): You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out, has this been a good time or a bad time in America's economy, is go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, how are you feeling about the economy? And I'll bet you, you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice, fear regarding the few investments that some of us have in the stock market - did we just take a major hit with those investments? Fear about, how are we going to afford to send our kids to college? A fear, as small-business owners, perhaps, how are we going to borrow any money to increase inventory or hire more people? The barometer there, I think, is going to be resounding that our economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need and that we deserve.

LIASSON: The McCain-Palin ticket has dropped in the polls ever since the financial crisis began. And last night, Joe Biden pressed the Democrats' advantage on this issue.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware; 2008 Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee): It was two Mondays ago John McCain said at 9 o'clock in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Two weeks before that, he said George - we'd made great economic progress under George Bush's policies. Nine o'clock, the economy was strong. Eleven o'clock that same day two Mondays ago, John McCain said that we have an economic crisis. That doesn't make John McCain a bad guy, but it does point out he's out of touch. Those folks on the sidelines knew that two months ago.

LIASSON: Asked who was at fault in the crisis, Biden placed the blame on deregulation - pushed, he said, by President Bush and John McCain. Palin blamed greedy lenders.

Gov. PALIN: Darn right it was the predator lenders who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house. There was deception there. And there was greed, and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that - again, John McCain and I, that commitment that we have made and we are going to follow through on that, getting rid of that corruption. One thing that Americans do at this time also, though, is let's commit ourselves - just everyday American people, Joe Sixpack, hockey moms across the nation - I think we need to band together and say, never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.

LIASSON: But Biden wasn't going to let Palin out-soccer-mom him. He had his own Joe Sixpack to talk about.

Sen. BIDEN: I was recently at my local gas station, asked a guy named Joey Danko (ph). I said, Joey, how much it cost to fill your tank? You know what his answer was? He said, I don't know, Joe. I never have enough money to do it. The middle class needs relief, tax relief. They need it now. They need help now. The focus will change with Barack Obama.

LIASSON: The two clashed on Iraq. A combative Palin accused the Democrats of wanting to pull out regardless of conditions on the ground.

Gov. PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq. And that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure. And it's not what our nation needs to be able to count on. You guys opposed the surge. The surge works. Barack Obama still can't admit the surge works. We'll know when we are finished in Iraq, when the Iraqi government can govern its people, and when the Iraqi security forces can secure its people.

LIASSON: And she used Biden's own words to make the argument against Barack Obama.

Gov. PALIN: You also said that Barack Obama was not ready to be commander-in-chief. And I know, again, that you opposed the move that he made to try to cut off funding for the troops, and I respect you for that. I don't know how you can defend that position now, but I know that you know, especially with your son in the National Guard, and I have great respect for your family also, and the honor that you show our military. Barack Obama, though, another story there. Anyone, I think, who can cut off funding for the troops after promising not to, that's another story.

Ms. GWEN IFILL (Managing Editor, "Washington Week;" Moderator, 2008 Vice Presidential Debate): Senator Biden?

Sen. BIDEN: Well, let's get straight who has been right and wrong. John McCain and Dick Cheney said, when I was saying we would not be greeted as liberators, we would not - this war would take a decade, not a day, not a week, not six months. We would not be out of there quickly. John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other, without reading the history of the last 700 years. John McCain said there will be enough oil to pay for this. John McCain has been dead wrong. I love him. As my mother would say, God love him, but he's been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war. Barack Obama has been right. There are the facts.

LIASSON: Biden used some version of that phrase - those are the facts - 19 times last night as he attempted to stress his superior knowledge of the issues and long experience on the national stage. The two also argued about Afghanistan and Pakistan and continued the long-running debate about whether Obama was wise or naive when he said he would sit down without preconditions for presidential-level talks with the leaders of Iran, Cuba and North Korea.

Gov. PALIN: Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are ones that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with without preconditions being met first. An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous.

LIASSON: Biden shot back that five secretaries of state said we should talk to our adversaries.

Sen. BIDEN: And look what President Bush did. After five years, he finally sent a high-ranking diplomat to meet with the highest ranking diplomats in Iran, in Europe, to try to work out an arrangement. Our allies are on that same page. And if we don't go the extra mile on diplomacy, what makes you think the allies are going to sit with us?

LIASSON: Throughout the debate, Palin was cheerful and confident. She always looked straight at the camera. A couple of times, she winked at the television audience, and she smiled when she attacked.

Gov. PALIN: Oh, man. It's so obvious that I am a Washington outsider and someone just not used to the way you guys operate, because here you voted for the war, and now you oppose the war. You're one who says, you know, as so many politicians do, I was for it before I was against it or vice versa. Americans are craving that straight talk and just want to know, hey, if you voted for it, tell us why you voted for it. And it was a war resolution. And you had supported John McCain's military strategies pretty adamantly until this race. And you had opposed very adamantly Barack Obama's military strategy, including cutting our funding for the troops, that attempt all through the primary, and I watched those debates. And so, you know, I remember what those were all about.

LIASSON: In the weeks since Sarah Palin burst on the scene with her convention speech, the political boost she gave to McCain has been fading. Last night was a chance to restore her image, and her performance should help her. But Joe Biden also avoided all the traps the Democrats had worried about. He was never condescending or disdainful, and he was careful to aim his fire not at Sarah Palin, but always at John McCain.

Sen. BIDEN: The issue is how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's. I haven't heard anything yet. I haven't heard how his policies can be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's. It may be but so far, it is the same as George Bush's, and you know where that policy has taken us.

LIASSON: This was Palin and Biden's only debate. Next week, John McCain and Barack Obama will go at it again in Nashville, Tennessee, where they will participate in a town-hall-style debate with questions from voters. Mara Liasson, NPR News, St. Louis, Missouri.

MONTAGNE: And if you'd like to hear the entire debate, you can download it at npr.org/election. And you can also add your comments.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is Morning Edition from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Biden, Palin Trade Jabs On Economy, War, Energy

Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden Debate

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NPR Analysis of the VP Debate

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NPR's Mara Liasson reports on the debate on 'Morning Edition'

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More From Palin

Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the vice presidential debate in St. Louis. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the vice presidential debate in St. Louis.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On the economy

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On health care

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On Iraq

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On Afghanistan

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More From Biden

Democratic Sen. Joe Biden makes a point during the first and only vice presidential debate of this election cycle. David McNew/Getty Images hide caption

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David McNew/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Joe Biden makes a point during the first and only vice presidential debate of this election cycle.

David McNew/Getty Images

On the economy

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On health care

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95284523/95323794" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

On Iraq

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95284523/95323786" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

On Afghanistan

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The two vice presidential candidates faced off on issues such as energy and the economy during their debate. David McNew/Getty Images hide caption

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David McNew/Getty Images

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."