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The banality of it all

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome to our ongoing coverage of the vice presidential debate. So much at stake. Will Joe Biden get too aggressive? Will Sarah Palin exceed low expectations? What else could be more important in today’s world? Joining us from Washington, DC, with his thoughts on what transpired is Real News senior analyst Pepe Escobar. Tell us, Pepe, what happened in this such urgent debate?

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Well, for someone who can see Russia from her house and believes that God lobbies for oil pipelines—and talking about low expectations, well, Sarah Palin managed to sell Sarah Palin back to the American people. The problem is she had Joe Biden on the other side, and Joe Biden, contrary to a lot of low expectations as well being advertised all over the week, he was magnanimous, he was fabulous, he was dignified, he looked vice presidential, and he had the facts on the top of his head. So he won the debate. That’s what the networks are saying; that’s what the bloggers are saying; that’s what the Net is saying.

JAY: In terms of burning and crashing, she certainly didn’t do that. Her memorization was mostly pretty good, and I think, if nothing else, she showed she knows how to memorize. She has a certain amount of understanding of what she was talking about. I think a couple of times questions came—.

ESCOBAR: Well, that’s debatable.

JAY: Well, she was asked the question about what the role of the vice president is, and she gave kind of an answer.

ESCOBAR: She didn’t—. No! No! She thought that the vice president could commute between the executive and legislative. She didn’t know the role of the vice president. Biden explained [it to] her, in fact.

JAY: Well, Biden explained what the normal constitutional role of the vice president was, but she defended Cheney’s vision of what the vice president is.

ESCOBAR: Yeah, she defended the Cheney vice presidency. Exactly.

JAY: And the activist vice president that does not respect the constitutional limits, she defended that position, and perhaps understanding what she was talking about. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake; maybe that is what she defends.

ESCOBAR: Yeah, exactly. In these terms, Paul, exactly, it was not a mistake. It’s the way she was coached by Rick Davis, [Steve] Schmidt, and Randy Scheunemann. Exactly. This is the neocon vision of the US vice presidency.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, you have an imperial presidency and you have a vice president that doesn’t have boundaries. And as much as she says don’t look backwards at the eight years of the Bush administration, she’s certainly embodying that vision of a new kind of vice president.

ESCOBAR: Absolutely. And I’m sure independent voters, they could see it clearly that what she was saying, even in her mangled, garbled way of reasoning, which, you know, can strike people as really, really awkward, she was proposing eight more years of the same past eight years. And even when she cracked the joke about, "Oh, Joe, here we go again, back to the past," she was in fact back to the past all the time.

JAY: "Doggone, don’t look back at the past. Gee, Joe." So—.

ESCOBAR: "Gee, Joe."

JAY: So is there anything that you thought was new that came out of this? Or did we just see an exchange of talking points we’ve heard before?

ESCOBAR: New about this, in terms of undecided and independent voters, she didn’t sell John McCain, unlike Joe Biden. Joe Biden sold Obama very well, and on top of it, he destroyed John McCain’s record, because he knows John McCain well. You know, they’ve been in the Senate together for more than a quarter of a century. So, you know, he knows exactly how McCain voted on each and every bill. She didn’t know John McCain’s record. So, in fact, her preparation in Sedona, Arizona, didn’t work, because they were trying to school her on pronouncing "Ahmadinejad" correctly and, you know, demonizing Hamas and Hezbollah; but the most important thing is how would she defend John McCain, and she didn’t do it. She blew it. In this respect, she blew it. And this was her most important task tonight. Nobody cares if she doesn’t know about foreign policy, because most Americans are convinced that she doesn’t know anything about foreign policy.

JAY: There were a couple of flubs. One stood out where she said we have to have an army to be able to fight—I think it was al-Qaeda and the Shia, and she linked the Shia together with al-Qaeda.

ESCOBAR: Her own words, "Shia extremists." She forgets that the Shia control the government in Baghdad.

JAY: I don’t know if it was a mistake in terms she’s memorizing a lot of new material. And, in fact, for someone who’s memorizing new material, I guess one would say she did pretty well. There was one moment—.

ESCOBAR: Exactly. Especially for someone who doesn’t read any newspaper or magazine.

JAY: No, she reads every newspaper and magazine put in front of her.

ESCOBAR: Oh, she reads everything. Oh, it’s too much information.

JAY: For people who didn’t see that Katie Couric interview when she was asked what does she read, there was a long silenced, and she answered by saying, "I read every magazine and newspaper that’s put in front of me."

ESCOBAR: Just an aside. I’m sorry. The first 20 minutes, I had the impression I was watching Tina Fey doing weekend update at Saturday Night Live.

JAY: Oh, I’d give her more credit than that.

ESCOBAR: [inaudible] because she was freaking out, staring at the camera with that smile, that weird smile on her face.

JAY: Oh, I disagree with you there. I thought in terms of presentation, appearing confident, at the level of performance, she did everything she needed to do.

ESCOBAR: Well, okay. [inaudible] low expectations.

JAY: And even past low expectations, I think she looked like someone who was not without some knowledge. I thought that many of the points, she knew her talking points, she’d memorized them well, and she did as well as most politicians would do defending a position that is hard to defend, I think, ’cause it’s based on sloganeering.

ESCOBAR: [inaudible] Paul. She wouldn’t answer questions directly. In fact, they were screening this even before the debate. And she actually said, if I remember correctly, right at the beginning, "I may answer questions in a way that is not exactly the way it was posed by the moderator." And Gwen Ifill, she was very hands-off in terms of a moderator. She could have been a little more forceful.

JAY: I thought she was way too hands-off, the moderator. I think the audience deserved to hear a real debate and deserved to hear the candidates go after each other on things they thought they weren’t really answering. So we were left at such a superficial level. I have to say, personally, I was nodding off to sleep at many points in the debate. But there was one thing, I thought, that was interesting, and to what extent they mean it or not, I don’t know, but when it came down to what’s the difference in foreign policy, she says, "Victory—we’re for victory. John McCain knows how to win a war." And Biden answered, I thought—.

ESCOBAR: [inaudible] war?

JAY: I thought Biden answered in a way that was more effective than Obama had answered when he said, "We’re against preemptive war and we’re against regime change, and that’s what makes us different." And that had some substance to it, and I don’t know whether people caught the point.

ESCOBAR: No, I agree with you. And, in fact, he explained the failure of the Bush doctrine to Palin, and to people at home who were not familiar to the Bush doctrine as well.

JAY: So anything else that jumps out at this? ‘Cause I’m personally not left with a lot to say about this debate. But did anything else jump out for you?

ESCOBAR: Yeah, the most important thing: people won’t vote for McCain-Palin, because of this debate, number one. Two, a lot of undecideds will vote for Obama-Biden because of Biden’s performance. Number three, it’s still going downhill for the McCain ticket. Not even Osama bin Laden, like in 2004, will save John McCain from now on. And now, with the gift, of course—this is a very, very perverse way of putting it, but because of the economic crisis, which Obama has been on top of what’s happening for the past few weeks, now they have the perfect gift to wrap it all up. Obama-Biden, now they have to stress, "Look, what’s happening to Wall Street is directly linked to what’s happening in Iraq and directly linked to eight years of Bush, Cheney mismanagement." So for all practical purpose, I could bet a bottle of Veuve Clicquot that they already wrapped up this election.

JAY: One would think so without some major external event, some major international geopolitical crisis, real or manufactured. I think there’s still going to be a lot of questions to ask, ’cause I’m still left after this debate just—you know, when it comes to the bailout package and a lot of specific policies, just how much difference is there really. We were talking earlier to Phyllis Bennis, and she said that Biden made a very good point. You know, what [inaudible] difference is there between a McCain-Palin presidency and Bush? But on so many issues, including this bailout, how much difference is there between a Biden-Obama ticket? And I guess we’re going to have to find out if and when they win the election. Thanks so much for joining us, Pepe.

ESCOBAR: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us.

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