Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden-Ryan Vice-Presidential Debate: Cringe

Too many cringes to make the Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan pleasant. Enough missed retaliations and corrections to feel like a lot was conceded. Mannerly smile-smirks met by toothy chuckles; words smothered by rude interjections.

Is this a bad haiku or two men who might be called upon to lead our nation's military?

You could see they were both well-practiced, Biden in his role as froth-mouthed attack dog aiming to make up for the feckless performance of his boss Obama in last week's first presidential candidate debate. But which of Biden's handlers approved his inappropriate laughter? With the split-screen Fox provided, Biden's toothy chortles while Ryan spoke seriously about terrorism were distracting (as Biden intended, I'm sure) but served only to make the current VP seem obnoxiously rude. These outbursts early in the debate showed such lack of respect that they're probably the single most-remembered aspect of the evening.

Ryan set his role as the confident intellectual prepared to parry Biden's jabs and keep focus like a laser beam on the failures of hope-and-change to revitalize the economy.

Both challengers knew what to expect, and applied their strategies in annoying ways. At the end, both had some meaty paragraphs and flubs. With Biden's giggles and Ryan's restraint when response would've helped, it could be called a draw.

Watching the debate in a theater with 250 listeners of the Michael Medved Show allowed instant, audible reactions, just where you'd expect conservatives to offer them. But I attempted to perceive the interaction through the eyes of an Obamaite, and as such found many places where Biden's stutters and hesitations could be overlooked in favor of never-refuted arguments.

Such as: the idea that Romney and conservative lawmakers "hold hostage" tax cuts for the middle class in order to protect them for the wealthiest. Such as his answer on abortion saying he "wouldn't impose" his Catholic life-begins-at-conception belief on those of other faiths, and "wouldn't interfere" with the Supreme Court. Ryan gave a serviceable answer on the role of his own Catholicism (recalling the ultrasound of his first child) but seemed to imply that Romney-Ryan might work to further their "policy" against abortion except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.

More score for Biden: Insisting that our troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by the planned 2014 replaced by Afghani troops they'd trained. Ryan kept repeating that a withdrawal would endanger the remainder of US soldiers, and seemed deaf to Biden's assurance they'd only leave when replaced by locals. Biden had a "gotcha" moment when he recalled Ryan's letter asking for some Stimulus money for a local project, right after Ryan put down the Stimulus package as wasteful and ineffective.

But Biden had plenty of missteps. As a commenter at our viewing said afterward, "If somebody has to tell me to trust him, I won't." Like this retort on Medicare: "These guys haven't been big on Medicare from the beginning, and they've always been about Social Security as little as you can do. (turns to camera) Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this? A man who introduced a bill that would raise it $6,400 a year, knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he'd sign it? Or me and the president?"

Biden did well to use the "talk directly to the camera" strategy, which he employed three times. Also on Medicare: "Any senior out there, ask yourself: Do you have more benefits today? You do. If you're near the doughnut hole, you have $600 more to help your prescription drug costs. You get wellness visits without copays...Now they got a new plan. Trust me, it's not going to cost you any more. Folks, follow your instincts on this one."

Ryan kept his gaze on the moderator, Martha Raddatz, which gave viewers at home an angled view of his face. He only looked squarely into the camera for his masterful summary statement, a pity, because when you felt he was focusing on you, he was superbly sympathetic. He gave Biden and the camera only a few cursory glances the rest of the time, so Biden's spaced-out full-frontal pleas reminded viewers he was aware of them, a definite advantage.

Ryan used the same tool three times to discredit Biden assertions: "You see, if you don't have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It's what he's (Biden's) doing right now." It was good the first time.  Advice to Romney for the next debate: Don't talk about your opponent's tactics unless you need filler and can't directly answer what he's saying.

Ryan's restraint at Biden's incessant interruptions at least allowed him a civility that seemed presidential. And when he did grab a few sentences, they hit the President's failures hard, like this: "Let's not forget that they came in with one-party control. When Barack Obama was elected, his party controlled everything. They had the ability to do everything of their choosing, and look at where we are right now. They passed a stimulus, the idea that we could borrow $831 billion, spend it on all these special interest groups and that it would work out just fine, that unemployment would never get to 8 percent. It went up above 8 percent for 43 months. They said that right now, if we just pass this stimulus, the economy would grow at 4 percent. It's growing at 1.3 (percent)."

Truth is, the take-away for viewers was formed in the first 10 minutes, and as the discussion ambled in a series of interruptions through a lot of confusing foreign events and policy, remote controls were clicking off across America. And that take-away was an earnest, focused Paul Ryan swatting away the disrespectful, chuckling insertions by Joe Biden, whose know-it-all finger-wagging and jiggle-jawed insistence was distinguished not by its substance, but by its style and tone.


  1. It will be interesting to see what the polls say. My wife and I are both conservative. I say Ryan won on substance and style. My wife says Biden won, because he was passionate and forceful. She thought Ryan was boring.

  2. I was SO distressed by Joe Biden's laughter and scoffs (reminding me of Al Gore's audible sighs). It was rude, and even the liberal commentators saw it as obnoxious. And I agree with you - Paul Ryan, while coming across as intelligent and focused, seemed to be bulldozed a few times. My hubby and I both thought Biden performed well, but Ryan did not hurt Romney.