October 3, 2008

the vp debate

I don't understand the reaction to the VP debate. Biden had a lot of great moments: reclaiming the 'ordinary guy' mantle by talking about raising kids alone after his wife died, saying that McCain was no maverick on the things that count, saying on climate change that "if you don't understand what the cause is, it's impossible to come up with a solution." Palin kept it to no more than about three total melt-downs into incoherence, each of which came when she neither answered the question asked nor shifted entirely to a different topic, but rather talked around the question. Her attempt at telling us her Achilles heel was a notable example of this. Gwen Ifill was unbelievably tame, not pushing either candidate to give a straight answer to any question - though Biden actually did answer every question, at least briefly, so she could only have pushed Palin much.

So far so good, and nothing the blogs and newspapers aren't talking about. But for my money, Biden's best moment was his closing statement, which I'm putting below. It starts at about 1:38, and it hits all the right notes - a story about his dad in Scranton, an appeal to America to 'get up together', and 'may God protect our troops,' which coming from an observant Catholic with a son in the military sounds utterly sincere.

The most extraordinary moment in the debate, though, goes not to any of the absurd things Palin said about Obama's record (for a partial list of things she lied about, check here) or Biden dismantling McCain or even Palin saying how wonderful it is that "We both love Israel!", but to the same-sex marriage question. Here's Biden's response, in print, to whether benefits should be extended to same-sex couples:

"Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

"The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair.

"It's what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do."
Palin's response?
"Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead.

"But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

"But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

"But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means.

"But I'm being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage."
Despite Biden's slip - saying "same-sex marriage" when he meant to say unions or something like that - both candidates are basically arguing for same-sex couples to get approximately the benefits of marriage. Which, ok, why don't you just give everyone civil unions and get the government out of the business of marriage altogether? But the fact remains that five years ago, sodomy statutes could be enforced; now, both sides of the ticket support civil unions for gay couples, and it's essentially uncontroversial (at that level - obviously it remains tremendously controversial at the level of, say, referenda). That ain't peanuts.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Yeah, I was impressed by the straight-forwardness of that exchange, too, and the progress on the issue. And Biden actually said that he thought "what you call it" should up to non-governmental entities such as churches, while providing full civil union benefits...that's not far from the civil-unions-for-everyone position that you and I share.