Friday, October 03, 2008
Creative Commons licensed photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink
Pictured above is a Madagascar Chameleon, from the Greek for "ground lion". Cameleons are best known for their ability the change their color at any time in response to changes in their environment. The Madagascar Chameleon is Nonpanchronic Chameleon in that, while it can change color, the fact remains that it was previously a different color and may be yet another color at some time in the future. This is distinct from the Panchronic Chameleon which, when it changes color, changes its color over its whole history, past, present and future, so that, if it has changed color, not only is it the new color now, but it always was that color and it always will be that color.
How the recent vice-presidential debate is scored tends to depend on whose team the person doing the scoring supports. Those who are committed to the Obama/Biden ticket -- which includes almost all of the major media outlets -- tend to give the edge to Biden for his "greater command of the facts" although they do acknowledge a slight disappointment that Palin failed to be as bad as they had hoped. I, on the other hand, find the Obama/Biden ticket alarmingly liberal based on their voting record and tend to support McCain/Palin as the lesser of two evils -- I liked Palin's performance. But I do agree that Biden had the greater command of the facts. His command was so firm that he could command the facts to be whatever he found convenient.
I learned a lot from Biden while watching the debate. I learned, for instance, that Barack Obama never said he would sit down to talk with president Armadinajad of Iran without preconditions. Funny, I woulda swore I remembered him saying just that again and again and again. Something wrong with my ears, maybe, or my television, or my memory. And all those times Palin accused Obama of voting for this bill, or against that one -- why, it turns out that John McCain voted the same way! Has anyone told the Congressional Record? ...because they have apparently got it wrong.
And that bit about the vice presidency and the Constitution, I didn't know that the relation between the vice presidency and the Senate was so controversial. Presiding over the Senate and voting there in the event of a tie are the only day-to-day duties of the Vice President that are mentioned in the Constitution. When President Kennedy wanted Vice President Johnson to head some executive agencies Johnson, worried that the Constitution granted him no Executive authority, sought a Constitutional opinion before he accepted the responsibility. But the Constitution is a living document, deeply mysterious and filled with emanations and penumbras; and we are lucky to have experts like Senator Biden to interpret it for us. And how convenient for him that his Constutional fugue allowed him to work-in a mention of Dick Cheney, who the Democrats have worked very hard to vilify, and it allowed him to use the term "Unitary Executive" which appears to be a topic of grave concern whenever a Republican is in the White House.
Here is Biden on the Vice Presidency and the Constitution. The relevant part starts at about 3:50.
When you are playing Scrabble a word that had been played must be challenged immediately or it doesn't matter that it is illegal. Similarly, in a debate, making things up on the spot can be a winning strategy against a less knowledgeable opponent. Palin probably suspected that Biden was pulling some of these facts out of his ... er, let's say his hat ... but she couldn't be sure enough to challenge him on it and risk losing her turn. So she wisely decided to let it go and move on. A wonkier opponent -- say, Newt Gingrich -- might well have called Biden on some of his improvisations, and even then it might have been a mistake, but for Palin to take the bait would have been disastrous.
Of course, since the purpose of these debates isn't to establish who is the more-skilled debater but to give the public a sense of the philosophies of the candidates I am not sure that the public was well served that Biden was given a pass on his inventions.
But, then again, I could be wrong. It could be that Joe Biden really is the likable, centrist everyman that he suddenly appears to be, and that his 35 year voting record in the Senate is an anomaly. And Obama, who has worked to make this election a referendum on color, really may be the red-blooded, red-state, red white and blue-draped regular guy -- with, to be sure, an environmentally-responsible tinge of green -- that he now appears to be. If that is true then the rightist wingnuts ( such as you humble author) who worry about the few hints that leak out through the heavy media blockade around Obama's career -- hints suggesting that until quite recently he was a pinkish, blue-blooded leftist surrounded by radical reds and black-power extremists -- are worrying about nothing. It could be that Panchronic Chameleons really can change their colors in the past as well as the present and the future if you just believe.
I'd like to believe. It would be comforting. Joe Biden sure was likable during the debate. You could tell that Palin genuinely liked him. I did too. If only I could get over my old-fashioned ideas about the one-way flow of causality in time.
Some of Biden's reasoning can be a bit abstract and hard to follow, so here is an alternate explanation of the same principles from the World's Foremost Authority.
Come to think about it, Corey and Biden have a lot in common.
Professor Irwin Corey, The World's Foremost Authority, is a brilliant comic. I went looking for clips of him on YouTube for this piece and was delighted to find that at 94 he is still performing, and more impressively, as you can see from the above, he is still funny as hell.
Here's another clip of the professor from thirty-some odd years ago on the Smothers Brothers Show. I remember him doing this bit.
I couldn't find any clips of him on the Tonight Show. That is a pity because from these clips you don't get to see that he could make this stuff up on the fly. Johnny Carson would ask him a question and he would make up a five minute answer that would just kill you. He's a funny, funny man.