John McCain is likely wiping sweat from his brow and sighing with relief after the vice-presidential debate. But Barack Obama is smiling from ear to ear and with good reason.
Sure, the pundits will say there was no "knock-out." They will say Gov. Sarah Palin held her own. Both of these statements have a sufficient ring of truth. But you know what? Sen. Joe Biden walked away with this debate. Not only did he win, he managed to remove the few remaining doubts I had, or that anyone could have, about whether Barack Obama did the right thing in choosing him as his running mate.
Yes, I was originally unenthusiastic about the choice of Biden. He has impeccable foreign policy credentials. He obviously has the experience, stature, and character to immediately step into the Oval Office with authority, without missing a beat, should anything happen, God forbid, to prevent a President Obama from completing his term in office. But, Biden lacks charisma and excitement for me. And he can sometimes say things in ways that, well, create needless controversy, shall we say. Even at the Democratic Convention, his first moment to shine on the ticket, his acceptance speech hit the right messages but did not generate enthusiasm.
I saw a different Joe Biden in the debate. I could feel the mojo rising! There were, to be sure, a couple moments when it seemed he might slip into policy-wonkism (i.e., the difference between chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy) and lose his audience. But he was informed, direct and always on message And the message was always two-fold: McCain's record shows he is no different from Bush, and Obama presents a clear alternative. I wanted to cheer out loud. It was about time America heard a recitation of the actual McCain record. Perhaps he has been a "maverick" on the question of campaign finance reform. But as Biden pointed out, not on health care, not on education, not on business regulation and tax breaks for the wealthy. Palin served up coached slogans, Biden served up indisputable numbers and facts.
The Biden on display was both passionate and a man of the people. When Palin played the Regular Joe/Hockey Mom card, Biden reminded us he was the working class kid from Scranton and the man who knows the mom-and-pop business of his home state of Delaware. I do not doubt that he connected powerfully with those who want to feel they have someone in the White House who connects with their hopes and dreams, fears and concerns.
Over the past week, we've seen a near orgy of spin doctors creating the lowest expectations imaginable by which to judge the performance of Sarah Palin. So it is not surprising that she cleared the bar. But from the vantage point of being one 72-year-old heart-beat away from the presidency? No, I'm sorry folks, she did not clear that hurdle.
Jolting Joe Biden hit a home run last night. He set the record straight. He used plain and concrete language. He was courteous and respectful of Palin and at no time condescending. He was a powerful and convincing voice for the direction in which he and Barack Obama promise to take this country. And he definitely connected with average middle class Americans as someone who understands the times, the challenges and the concerns most Americans have right now, without falling back on slogans and pandering ploys.
Keep smiling, Barack. I have the feeling you and Joe Biden are going to be bringing change to America.
Lawrence Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.