ST. LOUIS — On the night after the U.S. Senate endorsed a $700 billion plan to bail out collapsing banks, and on the day before the U.S. House will be asked to do the same, the economy was going to be the central issue of the first and only vice presidential debate.
Neither Sarah Palin nor Joe Biden wanted to be on the wrong side of the divide between what a previous vice presidential contender famously — and accurately — described as “two Americas.”
So it was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the sitting governor of the nation’s physically-largest state spent the evening talking about buying gas “with a guy named Joe” and rallying “Joe Six Packs (and) hockey moms across the nation.”
Biden and Palin both buffed their blue-collar credentials. They told stories of personal woe. Biden referenced tough times on streets of Scranton and Wilmington. Palin recalled going without health-care coverage. Biden’s voice caught as he spoke of caring as a single parent for an injured child.
For the most part, however, the candidates eschewed personality profiling in favor of full-throated denunciations of all things Wall Street.
“If you need any more proof positive of how bad the economic theories have been, this excessive deregulation, the failure to oversee what was going on, letting Wall Street run wild, I don’t think you needed any more evidence than what you see now,” griped Biden.
“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,” grumbled Palin.
If they walked the same stylistic line when it came to trying to out-populist one another, however, the candidates divided on the issues.
And that is how Biden prevailed.
Let’s be clear that Palin did not crash and burn as her most ardent detractors anticipated – or, at the least, hoped – she would. Yes, the governor rambled at times, and she had no comebacks at those moments when Biden directly challenged the validity of her over-the-top claims about Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s Senate voting record. But Palin gave Republican spin doctors enough material – mainly in the form of folksy one-liners — so that they could cheer her “success” without sounding entirely ridiculous.