All debate lead-ups are exercises in lowering the expectations for your candidate, although in this VP debate the effort is somewhat half-hearted from the Dems because … well, you know, Sarah Palin. But still, there are press reports/strategic leaks about anxious moments in Arugula HQ about how their guy will do, and meeja commentary on the gaffetastic clusterfrak that he will apparently, inevitably create. And sure there are more than enough data points in his history as Windbag Q. O’Blabby, Senior Senator from the Great State of New Gaffestonia to fashion a credible angle on it. But I want to do something different, a little relief from the current political mirrorverse we’re living though. I don’t want to talk about Biden’s weaknesses but about his strengths. Putting aside the genuine *headdesk* moments in his verbal resume, why am I confident Joey the Shark will ace the test?
I am confident he knows what has to be done and how to do it. In the primary debates I thought Biden did the best of any of the bloated early field whose names did not rhyme with Clinton, Obama and Edwards and he did better than even them at various moments. Didn’t get his actual vote out the asterisk territory but dude can de-bate. Sure, the liberal elite media says, we know that but he just talks so goddamn much! Just shut up for a second, will you, Loquacious P. McYawnigan! says they. Well, that question was memorably asked and answered1 in the primaries. Can I remind you Biden is the man who gave us the Rudy Giuliani “a noun, a verb and 9/11” smackdown.2 As this pre-VP pick announcement article points out, while Obama was “[spinning] out some airy sentences” on the politics of fear, Biden conjured a one-liner that has entered the political language and defined a mindset. The Veep debate may not call for such a hard slam (“Sarah Palin is a preposition, a modal and an um”) but in terms of encapsulating political realities in bite-sized chunks of awesome, can we doubt he (or his writers) has got it within him? OK, in the rest of that clip he kinda runs on a bit but this time out I predict Biden will be ultra disciplined and focused, even without the conservative time limits being threatened.
Which segues to the next concern. Well, OK, but isn’t he going to come off as a pompous know-it-all condescendingly lording his 456 years of Senatorial experience over Sarah “Beyondthe” Palin, causing America to flock protectively around her in tracking polls right up to November? I am confident he won’t. Firstly, he will work around her and go after McCain, always after McCain. After the Ole Miss debate, Biden was sent out to do the rounds of the cable and network debriefs and did a really, really great job. His mere presence in contrast Palin’s absence was statement enough, but he also rebutted key McCain debate rhetoric in a forceful, yet engaging way. Clearly the way the Maverick went about lecturing his opponent that night on his superior understanding was a great model of what not to do. From an Olbermann interview: “I’m not gonna do that condescending stuff John did tonight … I’ve travelled all those places John’s been to … but just because I was there, doesn’t make me right.”3 (at 7:00. Also good: refutation of the tactic/strategy stuff McCain was going on about at 2:00) Which is not to say he cannot parlay his Experience and General Clue-ness into runs on the debate board but there have to be more subtle, effective and naturally occurring ways to play the Waziristan card than McCain-style carping. And the signs are, Team Obama/Biden thinks it has that way.
Let’s not forget his 675 years of experience isn’t the only reason he was brought onto the ticket. There’s the “scrappy Scranton kid” angle, the somewhat touched but beloved old Irish uncle shtick. His ability to deploy “malarkey” and “Gawdloveya!” and “Gimmeabreak!” in political attack is unrivalled. I’ve enjoyed reading ABC’s (USA) series of Joe vignettes from the trail, folksy anecdotes as he warms up the crowd for the red meat of the main speech. By all reports, he is very well received at these events and can really “connect” in those rusty swing states. He can look straight down the barrel, crisply trot out the details of Obama’s tax plan and sound like common folks. I’ll see your hockey mom populism and raise you some old style retail politics — if he can inject that part of himself into the debate, he’s apples.
But won’t he say something sexist about her? Nah, she’s not his wife. ZING! I kid, Joey, I kid. (But … not really. Don’t say that shit again.) This 32 minute back and forth with Hillary Clinton shows he can talk at will, and with sincerity and even passion, about the daily economic and safety issues facing women. Any questions of gender (well, at least any of the questions of gender which will ever be asked at this kind of thing) will be knocked out of the park. (There is a partial transcript here.) A noun, a verb and Lily Ledbetter. A noun, a verb and VAWA.
He can laugh at himself. See this Daily Show interview. Stewart asks him why more politicians don’t allow themselves to be as unscripted and spontaneous as he is. Biden (paraphrase): “Um, because I get myself in a shiteload of trouble when I do it? DUH!” A little self-awareness goes a long way in even the most flawed and will come in handy if Gov. Palin takes the personal road.
Also, let’s not forget that, as with sport, ego and ambition cut both ways in politics. They can focus the mind, as well as fog it. This is a bloke who’s run for President three times. This is a bloke who has a bloody great US seal carved into his effing fireplace and doesn’t care who knows it. This bloke has been preparing for a national ticket, one-on-one debate in October of an election year his entire adult life.
So. I might be wrong. I won’t say I won’t have a wee knot in my stomach come Friday morning AEST. The Gaffe Machine versus the The Whatever The Hell She Is I Can’t Even Be Bothered To Think of Another Cliche For Her Please Go Away Governor I Am Sick of Thinking About You. Hey, I’m someone who still has Kerry/Edwards paraphernalia stuck up on my kitchen cupboard so call it the cognitive dissonance of someone fully in the tank if you want. But until then I’m gonna steal this LOLmeme going round and say:
Footnotes: relevant transcript excerpts
 Moderator: Senator Biden, words have, in the past, gotten you in trouble. Words that were borrowed and words that some found hateful. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times said, “in addition to his uncontrolled verbosity, Biden is a “gaffe machine.”” Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?
[silence, as everyone expects him to continue speaking. Then laughter and applause as he remains silent.]
Moderator: …. Thank you, Senator Biden.
 Biden: “…And the irony is, Rudy Giuliani, probably the most
under qualified person since George Bush to seek the presidency, is
here – talking about any of the people here. Rudy Giuliani. I mean
think about it, Rudy Giuliani. There’s only three things he mentions in
a sentence — a noun and a verb and 9/11 and I mean, there’s nothing
else. There’s nothing else.”
Olbermann: Well, you step next onto the stage … are you holding back? Are you preparing to go in with kid gloves against Governor Palin in your debate?
Biden: No, no, no, no, no. I’m not gonna do that condescending stuff John did tonight. You know, “if my friend knows, if he had the experience …” I’ve travelled around, I’ve travelled all those places John’s been to. I’ve been to Afghanistan twice, I’ve been in those mountains, I was the guy that when the tanks were rolling in to Tblisi, I was there with the President, Mikheil Saakashvili, because he asked me to come and stand there with him. But just because I was there, doesn’t make me right. I think what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to talk about the future …”