Friday, October 12, 2012

“The VP Debate”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The VP Debate”
October 12, 2012

It was a debate with neither mistakes, nor memorable lines. It was not especially exciting and, other than one line from Mr. Biden, did not reveal anything new. In my opinion, there was no winner, but, importantly for both, there was no loser. Joe Biden was gaffe-free and Paul Ryan remained deferential and unruffled. Of the two, Vice President Biden was the more aggressive. He did not stray from Democratic talking points. Congressman Ryan stayed in character – quietly and competently defending Mitt Romney’s program, citing facts and figures. He never became rattled, despite attempts to unnerve him by the Vice President. Martha Raddatz did not allow either candidate to stray very far from the script.

The line from the Vice President that caused an eyebrow to arch was early in the debate when they were asked about Libya. Mr. Biden blamed the confusion as to the cause of the attack in Benghazi on the intelligence community. He said, “The intelligence community changed their assessment.” And then moments later added, “We weren’t told they wanted more security.” In other words, he tossed the intelligence community under the bus. The State Department on Tuesday changed their story. Jay Carney has changed the White House’s version. However, we have not seen the end of what looks to me to be the worst cover-up since Watergate. And, as nefarious as that one was, it did not result in the deaths of four Americans as did this one.

Vice Presidential Debates are often dismissed as being largely irrelevant as they pertain to Presidential campaigns. On the other hand, they are generally the most fun, as there is a greater willingness to mix it up. Some of the most memorable lines in political history have emerged from their debates. Two of them: “Who am I? Why am I here?” In so asking, Admiral James Stockdale helped sink Ross Perot’s bid for the Presidency, and his own reputation faded into the mists of Neverland. “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen went down to defeat in the 1988 landslide, but Lloyd Bentsen’s riposte put an end to Dan Quayle’s political career. Last night’s was boring in comparison.

Paul Ryan evoked the only outburst of laughter from an audience under instruction not to interrupt with applause when he turned to Joe Biden who for the third or fourth time mentioned the 47%. Mr. Ryan said, “Sometimes the words come out of our mouths the wrong way.” The one time Mr. Biden seemed caught by surprise was when he was rhetorically asked if he knew the current unemployment rate in Scranton, Pennsylvania [the Vice President’s hometown.] Mr. Ryan said, “It’s 10%.” Mr. Biden nodded in agreement. “Do you know what it was when you took office?” Mr. Biden did not respond. “It was 8.5%!”

Both candidates, not surprisingly, were most eloquent during their summations. Mr. Biden talked of the need to “level the playing field.” He spoke of his years of fighting for the middle class, and that he just wanted to be able to say, “Honey, it’s going to be okay.” Mr. Ryan emphasized that “this is not what a recovery looks like.” “We have a stagnant economy that promotes dependency.” He deliberately and pointedly added: “We will not blame others.”

A more glib debater than Paul Ryan might have taken advantage of a couple of openings offered by Joe Biden, when the latter, in reaction to comments of his propensity to insert his foot in his mouth, came back with, “…but I always mean what I say.” Mr. Ryan could have asked him to elucidate on the comment that they [the Republicans] will “...put y’all back in chains.” Or he could have asked him why he and Mr. Obama had spent the last four years “burying,” instead of restoring, the middle class.

At times it did seem that a cranky old man was debating an earnest young one. The Vice President complained about the time he was given, though an unofficial time keeper had Mr. Biden consuming about one minute more time than Paul Ryan. He shook his finger more than once at Martha Raddatz. Mr. Biden has what I found to be the irritating habit of smiling, laughing, shaking his white-maned head and frequently interrupting with words like “malarkey,” whenever Mr. Ryan said something that he found incredible – which was during most of the Congressman’s points. To me, it seemed disrespectful and condescending. Chris Wallace, later on, said that he had been watching Presidential debates for four decades and Mr. Biden’s actions were the most egregious display of contempt he could recall. In their summations, Mr. Ryan pointedly thanked Mr. Biden for the opportunity to share the stage with him – a touching mark of respect of the younger man for the older. Mr. Biden did not reciprocate.

This debate was obviously important to both political parties; Democrats, because they want to regain ground they lost last week, and Republicans, because they want to maintain what momentum they gained. Mr. Biden may have stemmed the bleeding resulting from Mr. Obama’s performance last week, while Mr. Ryan did nothing that would halt the momentum of the Romney resurgence. But, I suspect the needle didn’t move much.

But individually, it was far more important for Paul Ryan than Joe Biden. Vice President Biden is well known. He went to Washington thirty-nine years ago at the age of thirty, as the junior Senator from Delaware. He has been in D.C. ever since, the last four as Vice President. Mr. Ryan was three years old when Mr. Biden entered the Senate. Paul Ryan was elected to the House at the age of 28 and has been there since. In four years, Mr. Biden will be 73, four years older than Ronald Reagan, the oldest person to be elected President. It seems unlikely that he will be a candidate. On the other hand, Paul Ryan will be 50 in 2020 – the peak years for most people in any career.

The debate, as I mentioned, could best be termed a draw. But it did provide Paul Ryan the opportunity for the country to see him unvarnished by the paint brush of mainstream media, and that, I suspect, is a positive; for there is more to the man than the insensitive policy wonk that tosses little old ladies off cliffs.

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