Last night was the "first and only" (could they have said that more often?) Vice Presidential Debate for this election season. Joe Biden and Paul Ryan squared off for ninety minutes of back-and-forth. For many this was their first look at Congressman Paul Ryan.
This post reflects my thoughts after sleeping on it, but before I've done any research, re-read the transcript, etc.
The first big question of the night was how the Moderator, Ms. Raddatz, would do. Overall I think she did "okay." There were a couple of times where she changed subjects abruptly either to prevent Joe Biden from further hoisting himself by his own petard, or to prevent Paul Ryan from making a point. When it came to budget talk, she really pressed for "specifics," which is a Democrat talking point. But there were times when she skewered Mr. Biden as well. Overall, I got the same feeling as when a parent is teaching a class which includes their own child- she tried to seem to be as hard on Biden as she was on Ryan to prevent the perception of bias.
I give her a C+ to a B- on her performance. Not stellar by any means, but not bad enough that I felt (as I'd feared) that she was a debate opponent. At least, not to the extent I'd feared, though she did stray into that territory from time to time.
The next question was how Paul Ryan would do on the national stage. I knew he would have great command of the facts, but how would he hold up to Biden's style and lies? Well, it turns out he did so-so. I think he did very well making the points he wanted to make, but he was almost too polite. There is a fine line between being respectful and being a doormat. I think he walked it pretty well, with just a few foibles. My biggest problem, however, was that he didn't seem ready for the quips he had to know were coming.
Example: When Joe Biden talked about the "47%" my response would have been to tie it back to the actual content of the remarks- not that 47% feel entitled, but that, politically, the President has a base of about 47%, and they're unlikely to vote Republican no matter what. My response would have been something along the lines of, "I'm sorry, Mr. Vice President, but I have to correct you, and then, unfortunately correct my running mate. Mitt Romney was not saying that there were 47% of the people he didn't care about, but that he wasn't going to get their vote, and he shouldn't waste time or money pursuing it. And he's wrong. Your policies have so damaged the country, I think even those 47% are looking for a better way."
Example: When Mr. Biden interrupted Mr. Ryan talking about how tax cuts increase revenue with "Oh, now your Jack Kennedy!" There were one of two responses (one jumped immediately to mind, the other I thought of later) he could have given (or variations thereon). The first one that I thought in the moment was, "Well thank you for the compliment." The other one, which I thought of later, is this, "Mr. Vice President, Jack Kennedy would not have apologized to the Middle East for American success. Jack Kennedy would not have asked Vladimir Putin for "more flexibility." Jack Kennedy cut taxes and increased revenue. When you look at his policies, and those of the two current political parties, Jack Kennedy would be a Republican today."
Over all, I was moderately impressed. He was clear, he was in command of the facts, and he didn't let leading questions trap him into bad answers. I give Ryan a solid B+ (no, not an Obama B+) to an A-
The final question of the night was whether or not Joe Biden would shite all over himself, rhetorically speaking. Unfortunately he didn't, more's the pity. Joe Biden was mostly in command of his talking points ($5 Trillion Tax Cut still? Didn't that get debunked a week ago?), he was vigorous and aggressive- which he needed to be in light of his boss's miserable failure last week. However, Mr. Biden hurt his case with his dismissive, insolent, and demeaning behavior. He didn't just act as if he had no respect for Mr. Ryan, which would be bad enough, but as though he didn't think he should have to be at a debate at all. The histrionic eye-rolling, smirking, laughing, throwing his head back, they spoke of contempt for the process even more than for his opponent. Add into that the fact that he never, not once, made a positive case for anything. Mr. Ryan summed it up when he said, "When you don't have something to run on, paint your opponent as someone to run from."
Mr. Biden never once said a single thing in the affirmative for his position. He was quick to denigrate the Romney/Ryan plans. He was quick to point out flaws in their proposals. He never once said, "Here is why what we're doing is right." Even his answer on the Iran sanctions (the closest he got to an affirmative case) was simply saying, "Well, what else do you want us to do?" Not, "Here are some steps we're considering," not even, "Hey, we just got these sanctions in place, and they're just now really affecting Iran. We want to see what happens before we evaluate what next steps can and should be taken." Nope, just "Well what else do you want us to do?"
Over all, I think Biden did well enough- I heartily disagree with his policies, but he defended them (as much as Democrat can) well enough. Never with facts, mind you, but I suspect more than a few people were nodding along with his "Who do you trust, this straw man I want you to believe in, or Me?" I give him a Solid B - B+.
I think Ryan, especially on substance, knowledge of the facts, and decorum, managed to eke out a narrow victory last night.