I thought Sarah Palin won—because she (far) exceeded expectations, because she showed considerable suppleness (countering Joe Biden's statement that the commanding general said that John McCain's surge strategy would not work in Afghanistan), and spotlighted her winning personality. She showed the same smiling confidence that she did in her acceptance speech September 3 and that was missing in her interview with Katie Couric. Biden's performance was by and large acceptable, but he made some significant misstatements, notably on the Constitution. Article I of the Constitution is not about the executive branch, as Biden said, but about the legislative branch, in which Biden has served for 35 years. And the vice president doesn't preside over the Senate just in cases of ties; he (or she) is entitled to preside over the Senate at any time. Imagine the uproar from Mainstream Media if Palin had made such errors! She does seem to be taking a little flak over her seemingly bizarre statement that she would seek more constitutional powers for the vice presidency. But, as you may remember, Lyndon Johnson, one of our most experienced vice presidents, sought to continue to attend Democratic Caucus meetings after he was elected vice president. He was hastily disinvited.
I have one major criticism of Palin's performance. She failed to pound home one important argument that the McCain campaign has unaccountably failed to make. She did point out briefly that McCain sought in 2005 to impose tighter regulation on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and that Democrats opposed this Republican move. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac then proceeded to encourage the issuance of subprime and Alt-A mortgages, injecting toxic waste into financial institutions of all kinds. Politicians of both parties share responsibility for widening home ownership further than should have been done. But Democrats can be fairly blamed for failing to rein in Fannie and Freddie. Here the case is laid out by my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Peter Wallison and Charles Calomiris. And two British writers, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Dominic Lawson and the Times of London's Gerard Baker, have done a better job on this issue than almost any of their American counterparts.
Will the VP debate move votes? Current polling shows Obama 5 or 6 percentage points ahead of McCain. Obama is ahead (in some cases, of course, by minimal margins) in recent polling in states with 353 electoral votes. The McCain campaign has pulled out of Michigan. Post-convention polling showed McCain in contention to carry Michigan, a state George W. Bush lost in 2000 and 2004, but more recent polling showed Obama well ahead there. McCain needs to move ahead in national opinion in order to be competitive. A dreadful performance by Palin might have conclusively prevented him from doing so. Now he has a chance.