VP debate: Polar opposites

The bar had been set so low for Sarah Palin ahead of last night’s vice-presidential debate that she probably scored points with some observers simply by showing up. Still, she won’t have won over many greens with a performance in which she repeated her previous, flawed answers on environmental issues almost verbatim - and got roundly taken to task by her opponent, Joe Biden.

Once again, Palin said that she has climate expertise because she comes from “the nation's only Arctic state”. (Apparently she can see the polar icecap melting from her window.) She also repeated her frankly odd line about being unwilling “to attribute every activity of man to the changes in the climate” - a misspeech which begs the question, what exactly is it that climate change is making us all do?

More seriously, the Alaskan governor regurgitated her ludicrous claim that global warming can be explained by cyclical weather patterns, and that, aw shucks, the causes of climate change don’t really matter anyway. “I don't want to argue about the causes,” she said. “I want to argue about how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts.” Joe Biden responded with one of his strongest lines of the evening: “If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution,” he said. “We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That's the cause. That's why the polar icecap is melting.”

Probably more damaging for the GOP ticket in the long run was Biden’s success in linking Palin’s climate denial to her running-mate's obsessive-compulsive cheerleading for Big Oil. “John McCain has voted 20 times against funding alternative energy sources and thinks, I guess, the only answer is drill, drill, drill,” Biden said. “Drill we must, but it will take 10 years for one drop of oil to come out of any of the wells that are going to begun to be drilled. In the meantime, we're all going to be in real trouble.”

Staggeringly, given her pretensions to energy expertise, the only response Palin could come up with was a tired rendition of “Drill, baby, drill” and a claim that John McCain would back “alternative” sources like, erm, “the nuclear, the clean coal”. That doesn’t inspire much confidence, especially since Palin can’t even pronounce nuclear. (At the RNC, they actually had to spell it out for her as “new-clear” on the teleprompter display.)

For the McCain camp, there's one obvious solution to all this: ditch Sarah Palin and draft Tina Fey. The Saturday Night Live star apparently has about as much real-world expertise in energy and climate policy as John McCain's current running-mate, and might just give us fewer unintentional laugh lines along the way.