Friday, October 03, 2008

Debate Analysis...

As more than a few of you may remember, I coached college debate for about ten years. You could say I've seen a few actual debates in my time. Of course, this wasn't one -- but there hasn't been an actual Presidential debate in modern TV history... sigh. One of these days some former debaters will be Presidential candidates, and then there will be a throw down the public just can't understand... until then, this sort of thing will have to suffice.

Palin was doing the main thing we tell new debaters to do -- If you get lost, go back to one of your key talking points. I've had debaters in competition with about 5 weeks experience (last week was the first tournament we used to have on the schedule... Palin was nominated about the time we'd have our first set of practice). They only needed to fill 8 minutes, not part of two hours.

What her prep people did with her is more like the 'individual events' (interpretation of lit, informative speaking etc..) coaching for an event called 'impromptu speaking' -- in which the person is supposed to respond to a quotation. Those folks have the students prepare and memorize (although she looked like she was reading note cards -- was she?) blocks of speech on a variety of topics. They'd then put those blocks into a speech and call it 'impromptu'.

Palin and most of the 'impromptu' speakers had the same problem -- they weren't ACTUALLY responding to the prompts they were given. This is akin to students not answering the essay question they are asked. I find both annoying -- although when I judged 'impromptu' I couldn't yell at the TV while folding laundry like last night -- so, in some ways last night was more satisfying than a bad impromptu round.

Of course, the Republicans asked for this -- they nominated someone without the experience needed to have answers to these questions. None of the quesitons were out of line for someone who could easily become President. Debate prep for tonight should have consisted in refining the candidates OWN answers to the questions -- not in TEACHING the candidate the answers.

That isn't to say that Palin didn't have her strengths. She was a lot like the debater who was a 'pretty speaker' -- who can look at the judge and sell whatever they were saying. She has a knack for looking at the camera and making you listen to her -- which is a good qualify for a candidate to have in the age of TV.

I don't think Palin is stupid, in fact - exactly the opposite. I do think she's wrong on a lot of stuff, but not stupid. I think she can develop positions on world and domestic events, she just hasn't yet. Until 5 weeks ago she was like many Americans, who are lucky enough to be able to ignore world events and live in their own little world. Being the PTA president, skinning a moose and being a hockey mom don't demand knowledge of US foreign and domsestic policy. Being mayor and govenor requires a particular set of skills that can prepare you to be VP, but those skills aren't necessary to be mayor or govenor.

On the other hand, Biden smacked her around so hard that she probably doesn't see how badly she lost. He sounded smart -- and Presidential. Even when he was dodging questions, he did it with more skill -- so it was much more difficult to see the dodge. He too used his talking points, but he had many more of them -- so it looked as if he were prepared instead of unable to answer the question asked.

In the end, it was like the novice got taken to school by the up and coming national champion. It happens to all novices, even the most promising of them -- so Palin doesn't have anything to be ashamed of... but, to my eyes, she just isn't ready.


Arbitrista said...

Ha. I just had a very entertaining mental picture of a presidential candidate speed-reading through their 1st affirmative constructive. :)

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I was waiting for your analysis of this.

jo(e) said...

Hey, it's great to hear an analysis from someone who knows something about debating.

Bitty said...

Thanks for the analysis. I appreciate hearing that. (And I know this isn't true debate, but I was thrilled the week before when Obama and McCain actually got to talk to each other. I remember a few debates when this was Not Allowed.)

Of course you're right that she doesn't see how badly she lost. Neither do a lot of Americans, who swear she won, since (1) she wasn't all babble all the time, (2) she symbolizes something for them and thus could say "would you like fries with that?" on a loop for 90 minutes and still be declared the winner by them, and (3) they're reacting to her emotionally, not logically (wink, wink!).