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VP Debate: Biden Brings the Fire, Ryan Stays Cool

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The vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan easily was one of the most hyped in the history of vp debates, or at least that’s what we were told heading into it. Frankly, I remember the debate between Palin and Biden being bigger, but for a different reason. Biden may have a well deserved reputation for gaffes, but Palin walked into that debate with an albatross of ignorance and plain political inaccuracy. So everyone watching was hoping she would follow suit and deliver another piece of staggeringly incorrect nonsense, but in the end she had prepped well and kept herself from any huge mistakes. Back then, Biden also held back, not letting his well known aggression get out of control for fear it would look like he was beating a dead horse (no allusion intended).

This time Biden didn’t have to hold back since Ryan has shown time and again he is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with people, even while defending policies that are wildly unpopular. Ryan gained a reputation for straight talk or talking the hard truths, but as shown last night, the reputation comes less from actual facts and more from his ability to talk in a calm manner, be utterly convinced of his own truth and tumbling out numbers when in trouble.

Biden also suffers from a similar tendency to state his side of the argument as fact carved in stone, never to be altered or changed. It’s part of his overuse of the words “literally” and “period” and it can cause as much trouble as lying because facts have a nasty habit of changing once looked at through the cold lens of past perspective.

Biden versus RyanWith all those things in mind, the two political warriors stepped to the stage last night and did what they had to do, at least on the surface. Ryan kept his cool when Biden appeared to go off the rails during the first half, yet Biden also pushed Ryan on a number of policy issues in the manner so many felt was missing from Obama’s performance the week before. Folks on each side had reasons to feel good when the debate was over and that allows both camps to claim they won, but I think as people look over what was really said during that debate, those few independent voters left might be a touch more wary of the Romney/Ryan ticket, due to a surprising admission on the question of abortion.

Late in the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz (who did a fantastic job in comparison to Jim Lehrer) posed a question to the candidates about how their faith affected their leadership choices, specifically in the realm of abortion and women’s rights. Ryan is one of the most intensely conservative people to approach the office of vice president and he made that perfectly clear in his response. It wasn’t a surprise that he is pro life (he maintains a 100 percent rating from the folks who grade pro life candidates), but it was a genuine shock to hear him say the case of Roe V. Wade should never have been heard by the Supreme Court to begin with. His idea is that the question of legality for abortion be taken away from the Supreme Court and tossed back to Congress where it can be voted on.

This is sheer insanity. Ryan cherry-picked a cause that he believes in and because the Supreme Court (which just happens to be one-third of the government as established by the Constitution) doesn’t agree with him, he figures we should just ignore them. It shows the lengths he is willing to take his anti-abortion crusade and should legitimately scare those people who worry about the rights of women under future Conservative control. Ryan also claimed that since his belief is that life begins at conception, there is no definition or cause of the pregnancy that should allow for abortion. He backpedaled by saying under a Romney administration there would be exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, but underneath it was perfectly clear (as it has been in past speeches) that Ryan himself believes in no exceptions under any circumstances.

Biden, who is also a devout Catholic, took immediate advantage of this in his response. He admitted he also believes life begins at conception because that is what his faith teaches him, but he understands that he has no right to push that belief on the rest of the country. He specifically mentioned we are a country of Christians, Jews, Muslims and many others, so applying one law with a faith-stated reason across the whole country is patently unfair.

At this point in the CNN instant polling, it was the highest moment for Biden in the entire debate and conversely the lowest for Ryan.

I expect this back and forth on abortion will become the big player for the Democrats moving forward. They’ve been trying to paint the Romney/Ryan ticket as extreme and in the first debate Romney did everything he could to swerve hard to the center in order to avoid that label, but now Ryan has yanked them back to the right, exactly where Obama and Biden want them.

This morning it seems the biggest attack from the right is that Biden was rude, dismissive and aggressive, especially in relation to his many facial expressions during Ryan’s answers. While they are somewhat correct about Biden’s attitude during the first half of the debate (he noticeably calmed down during the second half), if that is the worst they can come up with, Biden should walk away with his head high.

It wasn’t a knockout blow for either candidate, but Biden certainly re-energized the base and likely stemmed the bleeding from Obama’s poor first performance. Ryan didn’t really do much to sway the mysterious middle to his side, instead just shored up his more conservative followers. The net effect of both debaters will likely give a small edge to the Obama camp, which might be just what they needed going into the second debate on Tuesday. I would expect Obama to bring some of Biden’s fire to the floor, while Romney will get a good opportunity to show he can withstand a president who’s on his game.

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About Luke Goldstein

A writer, movie junkie and political nerd. Basically anything that tells a good story is enthralling to me.
  • Reggie Beauchamps

    Yes Biden likely energized the fruit loop left base but as we all know this election is going to hinge on the moderate middle 10-15% and I doubt that Biden’s rude, condescending, smirking performance won them over.

    If anything the thing from this debate which could play a factor in the election was Biden’s statement that “we weren’t asked for increased security” when confronted with the administration’s response to the events in Benghazi.

    The Obama administration/campaign is scared shitless of the Benghazi story and rightly so coming as it has so close to the election. They have already had to do quite a bit of backpedaling and two stepping and still haven’t managed to get their story straight. It seems as if the White House and State Department will soon be forced to turn on one another and anyone that believes that Hillary is going to fall on the sword for Obama has another thing coming. No doubt Romney will be pressing hard on the issue and bringing it up during the next two debates. The story will most likely eventually reach critical mass before the election and at that point not even MSNBC will be able to pretend nothing is amiss.

    Yup there’s a very good chance that there will soon be two new contemporary American colloquialisms, Benghazigate and President Romney.

  • http://www.lukegoldstein.com Luke Goldstein

    Reggie, you’re definitely on the money that the Libya situation is not a strong spot for Obama, but Romney’s immediate and ignorant press conference and political capitalization of the event was equally disturbing (and that was even panned by most of his own party as foolish and reactionary). And while there are differing reports about when the administration knew about requests for increased security or how much was actually asked for, during the Senate hearings last week one of the military personell that was there admitted that what he saw that night was far stronger than anything they imagined could happen down there and the level of increased security he heard was asked for would have done nothing against the attack.

    So should there have been more soldiers and military assistance, yes. Would that have made a difference, likely not.

    The real trouble with Libya is finding a way to admit as an administration that it was a terrorist attack without giving that as ammunition for the warhawks throughout the government. As Biden pushed Ryan to admit during the debate, even with the devestation in Syria, no one wants to start another war and commit U.S. soldiers on the ground, but there is a very thin line on what they can allow to happen against the country without taking appropriate reactions. In the case of Libya, there may be some who think a military strike is the appropriate response, but the Obama administration seems to be playing a much more specific hand, going in searching for only those people or groups responsible and bringing them to justice. The latter technique is currently playing better in the attitudes of the majority of the country, so they’ll likely stay that course until the country calls for more.

  • Reggie Beauchamps

    What makes this whole Benghazi incident even worse is the fact that not too long ago the Obama administration was doing a touchdown dance in the end zone, bragging about Kadahfi without having had “boots on the ground” as a major foreign policy achievement.

    At this point the Benghazi incident holds virtually no upside for Obama and his hopes for re-election. This isn’t something that Obama, who’s had the mainstream media in his pocket for the past four years, will be able to sweep under the rug.

    While Romney was foolish and rash to politicize the event so quickly that was weeks ago and Romney is after all not the president. I think the voters will be likely give him more leeway on the issue than they will give to Obama.

    Obama and the Dems are trying desperately to find some way for him to dodge all blame on this one. They’ve brought up the GOP voting to cut embassy security funding but that argument doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction. Harry Truman, a Democrat, once told us “the buck stops here.” We’ve gone from that to another Democrat who’s never passed up a chance to pass the buck.

    I’m no great proponent of Mitt Romney but I don’t see how he could be any worse than what we have now. It’s my hope that the Banghazi incident sinks Obama’s re-election like a stone.

  • Igor

    @1 – Reggie: …” the fruit loop left base…”. Is that some kind of slight by conjoining gays and the Left?

    It doesn’t work. Most of the gays that I know are quite conservative.

  • http://www.lukegoldstein.com Luke Goldstein

    Reggie, while on a lot of issues Romney would likely govern in the same way that Obama has, there are some differences that are way too important to think “can’t be worse than what we have now”. When Biden mentioned in the debate that the next President would have the chance to nominate one or two Supreme Court justices, that in itself is a generational opportunity to nudge the direction of the country in one way or another.

    If Obama wins re-election, he will likely pick center-liberal folks (one of which will be replacing another liberal while the other has a chance to be a conservative judge), but Romney would easily pick two conservatives. So under Obama he could shift the balance of the court to 5-4 in favor of liberals, while Romney would shift it to 6-3 in favor of conservatives. That is an incredibly dangerous position for this country when you look at the decisions they have been handing down as of late (Citizens United, ACA-taxation decision, etc…) Many observers of the court also think a 6-3 conservative court would flip Roe v. Wade and for women’s rights there are precious few more important cases than that.

    Romney would, without a doubt, be worse for the country, in my opinion.