BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 03 OCT 2008


How would you even-up a golf match between Tiger Woods and Colin, your local club champion? You’d give Colin, a surveyor, half a dozen or so shots of an advantage, so it wouldn’t be finished too soon. If you couldn’t do that Colin would be thumped.


This debate in the race for the Whitehouse was not a handicap event but seems to have been treated as one, before and after. Fortunately there was no hiding place on the stage. Sarah Palin should not be on the same stage as Joe Biden: it was embarrassing. And be in no doubt that if Palin were a man she would have been slaughtered on every objective criteria you might use to judge a debate, as surely as Tiger would see off Colin long before the 18th. For debating, these criteria are: presentation, knowledge, team-working (that’s having some grasp of your boss’s ideas)… and actually debating.


Palin has terrific shoes, a great suit, the hugest American flag on her lapel, some charisma and loads of chutzpah: she’s a decent presenter and she should be commended for that. But that’s it. (And presentation includes talking coherently, not just talking.)


Many Americans must be embarrassed that this is the best the rest of the world might think they can offer, and are hopefully terrified the wide-eyed hockey mom might actually get to bring her skidoo south. Go back and look at any part of the contest and tell me I’m wrong: hell, use any criteria you like, then try and convince me Palin was in the same league as Biden.


You can put nice red lipstick on a Hockey Mom, but it doesn’t make the nonsense that comes out of her mouth add up. For a large part of the ninety minutes it was overly scripted but at the same time incomprehensible drivel.


Personal stories can make a great emotional connection with an audience, but only if at some level they are tied back to underlying ideas, facts and principles. The piece on education, when she started with Biden’s wife being a teacher who will get her reward “in heaven” and ended with her saying “hi” to a third grade class in Alaska, was a quite incredible piece of guff.      


By contrast, Biden consistently and concisely delivered facts, figures and personal anecdotes, often after specifically rebutting Palin/McCain. Palin regularly ignored the question asked, or the point made by Biden, before coming out with whatever took her fancy when she looked down at her coloured cards. It was truly astonishing.


Don’t lose sight of the fact that Biden delivered a debating Masterclass in the rush to assure poor Sarah she was not as bad as everyone thought she would be. He was brilliant, she stayed vertical and continent. Especially in the second half, Palin rattled out her nonsense at a constant rate that increasingly grated the deeper we, and she, dug herself in. Biden had rhythm and cadence in his speech, rising to crescendos at just the right moment and displaying the full range of emotions- from just a touch of anger and steel to genuine sadness and regret- to great effect. He was pugilistic when he needed to be and always up for debate, not just in style but substance. That was no mean feat considering that one step too far and he would have been crucified in the hall and in the press.

Of course in the real world there’s no chance The Tiger and Colin the surveyor would end up in the same competition. And what if Colin were not club champion, but a high handicap hacker who only took part in his first real game a few weeks ago?


That’s not funny, Mr McCain, that’s not funny at all.

Best For Palin

  • She did better than expected
  • She stood there for 90 minutes   
  • There was some laugh out loud humour   
  • Authentic (as a Hockey Mom, terrifying as a VP)


Worst For Palin   

  • Miles out of her depth from beginning to end   
  • No substantive rebuttal or any significant debating   
  • Overly scripted, yet often incomprehensible   
  • Not a VP


Best For Biden   

  • A masterclass in debating   
  • He never got caught out patronising Palin   
  • His grasp of all the issues, in breadth and depth   
  • The cadence and rhythm of his speech   
  • Clarity, focus and power throughout   
  • Effective use of statistics and other facts   
  • Quality of rebuttal   
  • Presidential and authentic

Worst For Biden

  • Never looked enough at the camera enough early on, occasionally stumbled over words (This is nitpicking...really, he never put a foot wrong.)


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