Biden's certainly prone to making a gaffe or two on the stump, but his performance in debates is usually quite measured and skilled. Palin, meanwhile, can obviously give a good speech, but is reduced to completely incomprehensible blather during even modest questioning. So assuming she starts talking like a Speak-n-Spell with dying batteries during Thursday's debate, what should Biden do? If he mocks her, does he lose the debate for being too mean? But if he lets stuff go, does he lose the debate for being too soft?
I was showing the freshmen in my campaigns class some debate clips the other day, and their reaction to the Bentsen/Quayle "You're no Jack Kennedy" exchange was really quite interesting. You should watch it if you haven't seen it in a while:
Some of my students were pretty stunned at how bad Quayle came off. He looked like a frightened child, barely able to make eye contact with Bentsen while he was being chastised. Others thought that Bensten came off as a cruel old man. (For me, the really cruel part was his line, "You're the one who was making the comparison, Senator....")
My recollection of the event is that Quayle was resoundingly considered the loser in that exchange. There was no real blowback against the Dukakis/Bensten campaign for Bentsen's cruelty that night. It was considered one of the few high points for the Democrats that year. Indeed, the main criticism of that campaign remains that it was not nearly tough enough with Bush.
So, would Biden face a similar situation with Palin? If Bentsen had been so rough with a female opponent, would people have rushed to her defense? It's hard to say. It's a pernicious form of sexism if a woman is held to a lower standard of competence in a political debate. Of course, Biden may well be accused of sexism if he treats her as harshly as he would a man.
I don't have good answers here. Any thoughts on this?