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Monday, September 29, 2008

Thursday VP Debate Expected to Draw Large Audience

George Wenschhof

Vice-Presidential debates have never determined the outcome of a presidential election, but this one promises to be interesting. Questions abound as voters wonder if Palin will come across clueless or if Biden will stick his foot in his mouth. Negotiators for both campaigns agreed to a more structured debate format so do not expect a lot of free wheeling by either candidate.

As last week's debate was historic for having the first African-American, the vice-president debate will be historic for having the first Woman as a participant. While there is no question, America has come a long way, perceptions and prejudices remain. Charges of racism and sexism continue instead of Dr. King's dream of judging a person by the content of their character.

As a result, Biden has to be careful he does not appear to be beating up a woman or as if he is being condescending toward a woman. He also has to guard against going off message or for a gaffe the Republicans would surely jump on. Palin on the other hand, needs to show she has some grasp of the economic and foreign policy issues facing the country. She has shown she can connect to many voters by being elected Governor of Alaska and by given a well received speech at the Republican National Convention so don't expect a light weight performance.

Some great lines have come out of these debates. One I remember is from the 1988 vice-president Quayle-Bentsen debate. After Republican Senator Dan Quayle had referred to some comparison of himself to former President John F. Kennedy, Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen said "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

I interviewed Quayle when I was a grad student at Indiana University. It was 1977 and he was a Representative in Congress. I remember thinking at the time, he had bigger plans for his future. I did not realize one day he would set up the Democratic candidate in a vice-presidential debate, giving him the opportunity to blast him. Or, that he would become famous for incorrectly spelling potato during a grade school student "spelling bee" at a school in New Jersey.

Republican George H. W. Bush won the 1988 election handily, defeating Michael Dukakis.


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