Undoubtedly tonight’s debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will be among the most watched political events on television this year. Interest in Palin is huge, and voters will be watching to see if they will encounter the sassy, charismatic Palin of the Republican National Convention, or the stammering, unsure Palin of the Katie Couric interview.
I don’t think it matters. With the unraveling of the American economy during the last two weeks, the presidential race has fundamentally changed. While previously the campaign existed on the level of personality and atmospherics, now it is down to one very simple issue — the economy. The Republican, John McCain, comes from the same party as President Bush and owns the poor economy. Obama, the Democrat, represents something different — to use a phrase that has been worked to death, change.
Before Obama’s personal style — not race, mind you — served as an impediment to attracting votes in the Rust Belt; now, the economic upheaval has crowded out both the positive and negative aspects of his political persona. Obama’s grandiose speeches, his sweeping rhetoric, the slight mood of revolution surrounding his campaign — none of that matters any more. Obama may have needed those qualities to challenge Hillary Clinton, but now they just get in the way. For Obama to win, he needs merely to be a steady Democratic hand, a Hubert Humphrey.
That might be a tough sell for Obama, but, to his good fortune, he’s got Hubert Humphrey on the ticket. Well, Joe Biden, a reliable Democrat who can deliver a solid Democratic message at a time when American voters are fed up with Wall Street and a Repubilcan president. A restrained — but not robotic — Biden will do the job tonight. No dazzling displays of foreign policy are necessary. He shouldn’t overreach, which will risk turning some voters off. Merely show up.
The best Palin can do is make an emotional play to the Joe Six Pack audience. It won’t likely advance the cause of the McCain-Palin ticket, but it’s the best hand she has to play tonight.