Palin v. Biden and the opportunities of a vice presidential debate

While Chicago Cubs and White Sox fans are fastening their seat belts for an exciting ride through October, spectators of the greatest game of American politics have a momentous month ahead as well.

Just as a good coach can make the difference in baseball, the quality of staff in politics can make or break a campaign. Both John McCain and Sarah Palin are going to be sprinting from here to the finish and the quality of much of what we hear from them until November 4th will depend upon who has their ear.

I think there’s a lot of evidence available that more often than not, staff has failed many of our Republican leaders over the years. I remain convinced that Ronald Reagan’s second term would have been the start of something for supporters of limited government rather then the end had he employed better senior advisors during those years.

In fact, staff matters even on what seems to be the little things – such as speaking style. President George W. Bush, unfortunately, didn’t have anyone around him to tell him to drop the folksy demeanor. Too often over the past eight years he relied upon the almost goofy neighbor-leaning-on-the-fence act to come across as a likeable guy.

Words matter, but so do how they’re conveyed. Americans want confident leaders to look serious when discussing the issues of the day. There’s nothing wrong with lightheartedness and friendliness when the situation warrants, but such familiarity should be the exception. The rule should be a gravity fitting the responsibility of the office.

Sarah Palin should likewise drop the good-old-gal act. She didn’t do a good job with Katie Couric, and some easily frightened souls were ready to boot her. Barack Obama has had dozens of poor performances in interviews, but the double standard and the shortened timeline for Palin means she doesn’t have any room for error.

Anyone who has seen Palin’s performance while debating in her race for governor of Alaska two years ago knows she has it in her to knock it out of the park. Actually, she need only step to the plate and make contact. She’ll strike out if she doesn’t bring with her that tough, sober demeanor she’s capable of presenting. People will like her more if they see that side. Closer to Margaret Thatcher than to “aw shucks.”

There’s only one forum bigger than tonight’s vice presidential debate and that’s the one taking place for president. The divide between the political parties on the big issues of the day can be summed up and addressed effectively within the confines of a ninety minute debate. Just because we rarely see it happen doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Despite the fact that our politicians pretend we’re dealing with Einstein’s theory of relativity, it’s possible to get to the heart of the matter on a number of important challenges.

  • How can an ill designed national mortgage policy wreak havoc on our financial markets?
  • What is the best foreign policy for this new century?
  • Can we really afford all the government we have?
  • Should government really run education and the health care system?
  • Does the tax code have to be so complicated?
  • When does an unborn baby get its civil rights?
  • Why can’t homosexuals keep their sex lives to themselves?

Ask former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker about the fiscal condition of the nation and he’ll tell you our future is already mortgaged even before the “rescue/bailout” taking place this week in Washington, D.C.

Ask sober foreign policy experts about the likelihood of liberty advancing in the world without the active participation of the United States. Free markets and democratic capitalism are great—except that a lot of powerful dictators in the world will fight to prevent them from occurring.

And revisit history to learn about failed civilizations and think about whether what we have now is guaranteed. Does human behavior matter? “If it feels good, do it in the street” isn’t exactly the path to preserving a social fabric.

Sarah Palin will be asked a batch of questions—but she could pose some of her own to the audience:

  • Does anyone really think we have too little government right now?
  • What problems can honestly be solved by hiring more bureaucrats?
  • Are there people in the world who are motivated to attack us with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons? If so, how do you deter the un-deterrable?
  • Is it a wise policy to allow through disengagement large sections of the globe to be dominated by people with the means to foster hatred and build threats to the West?

America cannot be the policeman of the world—so we’d better make sure there are other men and women willing and able to work with us and against the barbarians.

We can’t continue to tax and spend beyond our means, and it’s foolish and immoral to think the five percent can and should bear the tax burden for the 95 percent.

Ronald Reagan was right when he said in his first inaugural:

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

In their hearts Americans know that is still true. Barack Obama wants to expand the problem, yet he’s leading in the polls.

Americans also know but need to be reminded that the world isn’t going to be a better place if we just present a sunny handshake and a smile. Human history is replete with evidence that peace is only insured through strength—and history must continually be taught.

Unless John McCain and Sarah Palin drive those points home during the next four and a half weeks, those of us who remember the Jimmy Carter years are about to experience a strong sense of déjà vu.

A lot is riding on Palin’s performance tonight. Batter up.

©2008 John Francis Biver

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