Saturday, October 13, 2012

VP Debate: No KO in Kentucky

Despite all of the hype leading up to the debate between VP Joe Biden and challenger Rep. Paul Ryan, the actual event failed to live up to expectations in many respects.  There was little information to be gained from the back and forth between the candidates, there was no clear winner or loser at the end and there was nothing new revealed that was likely to sway people's opinion of either candidate, much less their vote.

The post debate polls were inconclusive.  If you went in favoring one candidate or the other, you opinion is likely to be unchanged.  With the exception of an early report on an NBC flash poll which showed a Ryan win by a margin of 56%-36% (8% no opinion), an obvious outlier, polls were within the margins of error.

CNN gave it to Ryan by a margin of 48%-44%, just within the margin of error.  CNN viewers also gave Ryan the edge in communicating himself and his ideas clearly, 50% to Biden's 41%.  A remarkable achievement, given the VP's predilection for bellicose interruption while Paul Ryan was explaining his and Gov. Romney's policy positions.  Joe Biden was judged by viewers to have spent 70% of his debate time attacking his opponent, while Congressman Ryan spent less than 20% of his time attacking Joe Biden, spending the majority of his time answering the moderator's questions and explaining the policies and priorities of the Republican ticket.  As a result, the viewers in the CNN poll also gave Paul Ryan the edge in likeability by a margin of 10 points, 53% -43%.  Other polls showed a closer result, with most giving the edge to Paul Ryan but well within the margin of error.

A CBS poll showed a different result.  As reported by UPI, a CBS snap poll had the debate scored 50%-31% for Joe Biden, with 19% undecided.

This debate was much different in tone than the debate a week before between Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney.  Where the opposing sides in the Presidential debate were largely respectful in making their points and in their attempts to challenge each other's statements, the Vice-Presidential debate was marred to a great extent by Joe Biden's near-constant interruptions of Rep. Ryan's attempts to speak.  His demeanor from the very start led many to remark that his was the most disrespectful behavior exhibited by a participant in a public debate forum (certainly at this high a level) ever seen.

In the past, it was notable whenever a candidate even slightly failed to observe the usual courtesies during a debate.  Remember the press' comments about candidate George Bush looking at his watch during a debate?  Or Al Gore's infamous sigh's and rolling of his eyes (he also repeatedly interrupted Bush's responses to questions)?

Well, Joe Biden reset the bar.  He came out of the box attacking. He was condescending.  He was dismissive.  He rolled his eyes.  He smirked.  He laughed.  He guffawed.  He waved his arms in the air in exasperation.  He interrupted nearly every attempt by Paul Ryan to present his arguments.  He even confronted the moderator, on occasion.  He obviously came into the debate with the goal of taking over the process and being the one to decide how things were going to go.  He was the stereotypical Joe Biden.  On steroids.

He was effective, I'll give him that.  Paul Ryan was clearly unprepared for the onslaught.  Perhaps he expected a civil exchange of ideas, or maybe his debate prep partner didn't properly prepare him for what he was getting into.  Either way, it was clear that he was put back on his heels to some extent from the start and never really seemed to get his feet back under him.

Maybe it was due to inexperience.  This was his first debate on such a national stage, while Biden is by all accounts an old campaigner.  Maybe it was the influence of his mid-western upbringing that made him reluctant to really go after his elder, Joe Biden, in response when attacked and repeatedly interrupted.  Maybe he truly suffered from being "too nice".  Whatever the reason, the attacks and interruptions by his opponent made it difficult for him to present his arguments in their best possible light.

The moderator didn't help matters any.  She clearly lost control of the event early and never regained it.  She wasn't able to control Biden's constant interruptions.  When she tried (rarely) to press him on some of the specifics of what he was saying, Joe Biden quickly put her in her place, even going so far as to wave his finger in front of her.

It has often been said that the job of the Vice-President is to be the "attack dog" of the administration.  In this debate Biden clearly came across as a pit bull, going for the throat.  I saw Paul Ryan more as a bulldog.  He was doggedly determined to stick to his arguments and consistently tried to present his information in the face of unrelenting attacks from the other side, never seeming to lose his focus.  Or his temper.  His demeanor never changed from respectfulness, no matter the provocation.  An admirable trait in someone who could end up dealing with other world leaders under high pressure situations.  Nevertheless, he needs to cultivate at least the ability to go on the offensive, when necessary.

Some brief fact-checking:

In response to a question regarding the events at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Joe Biden repeated the administration's claim that "We weren't told they wanted more security there."  This, despite the testimony before Congress just the day before that the administration had been implored to increase security in response to the terrorist threat and the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  Charlene R. Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security, acknowledged that she refused requests for more security in Benghazi.  Saying, in response to a question by a committee member, "Yes, sir, I said personally I would not support it."  Eric Nordstrom, who was the top security official in Libya earlier this year, testified he was criticized for seeking more security. He said conversations he had with people in Washington led him to believe that it was "abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident". 


When Joe Biden was asked about Pres. Obama's future economic policies, specifically, who would  be required to pay more in taxes in a 2nd Obama term his response was unequivocal:  "People making a million dollars or more."  In fact, Obama's proposed tax increases reach much farther down the income ladder than millionaires. He wants to roll back Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making over $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000.


On healthcare, Biden made this absurd claim:  "What we did is, we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare."  Huh?  They cut Medicare by $716B, only to put it back in?  The fact is, contrary to Biden's assertion, not all the money cut from Medicare is going back into the program in some other way. The administration is cutting $716 billion over 10 years in Medicare payments to providers and using some of the money to improve benefits under the program. But most of the money is being used to expand health care coverage outside of Medicare.[ie, Obamacare]


In an attack on the top of the Republican ticket, Joe Biden repeated the assertion that Gov. Romney had wanted to leave the automakers to themselves and to "let Detroit go bankrupt".  Gov. Romney has gotten endless grief throughout the campaign for the headline put on his November 2008 opinion essay that he wrote for The New York Times. But his point was never that he wanted the auto industry to go down the tubes. Romney was simply opposed using government money to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, instead favoring privately financed bankruptcy restructuring. [Publisher's note:  Both GM & Chrysler still went bankrupt.  The only difference was that the President used government  (taxpayer's)money to buttress the deal giving unions an out-sized stake in the companies, while illegally forcing bond holders to accept pennies on the dollar on their secure investments]


Joe Biden also attacked proposals by Paul Ryan and Gov.Romney to effect changes in the ways Medicare, Medicaid, and other transfer payments are handled.  Specifically, claiming that Ryan wanted to increase healthcare costs for seniors by as much as $6400 a year.  Rep. Ryan responded by reminding him that there would be absolutely no changes for those in or near to retirement age.  Those under 55 at the time of implementation would be given a range of options for their insurance, with government sponsored premium support to help them afford insurance coverages (of their choice) that best meet their needs.  The more wealthy would receive less help, the middle class would receive more and the truly poor would have no increases in out of pocket expenses.  Savings would reportedly come from the introduction of competition among insurance and healthcare providers being allowed to offer competing products and plans across state lines, as opposed to being limited to individual states or territories.  Even with these changes, future retirees would still retain the option of enrolling in traditional Medicare.  It is impossible to accurately estimate future costs.  Everything depends on several variables, including the number of people who choose to opt for traditional Medicare and the number of people who choose to use the premium support to purchase insurance of their own choice, as well as the different costs of the various plans that would become available.  There is also the matter of the unknowable changes sure to be made during negotiations between the two parties in each chamber of  Congress, as well as the final  compromise negotiated between the House and Senate versions of the legislation.  To use a worst-case scenario in an attempt to scare senior citizens is inexcusable, even if it is politics as usual.

Given all this, Biden's claim that Republicans want to increase costs on the sick and elderly and limit their access to healthcare rings hollow.  Especially in light of Joe Biden's own comments on the matter of Social Security spending and deficits in 1984.  In 1984, then-Senator Joe Biden proposed that Social Security payments be frozen, saying "Within the next 12 to 18 months this country will face an economic and political crisis of extraordinary proportions if Congress refuses to take decisive action on the deficits that we face." Adding, "While this program [of frozen benefit payments] is severe, it is the only proposal that will halt the upward spiral of deficits."  Joe Biden also proposed action that he now attacks Gov. Romney for:  Joe Biden proposed cutting spending across-the-board, including reduced spending on Social Security, even saying that the debt ceiling should not be increased without spending cuts.


Joe Biden came out and accomplished two things with his debate performance.  One intentional, one not.  He gave the partisans the rare, red meat they demanded.  Many on the left were disappointed that Pres. Obama didn't spend more time attacking Gov. Romney, both politically and professionally, during the first debate and were vocal in their desire for Biden to remedy that omission.  He came through for his base in spades.  In doing so, he directly reversed course on claims by the left that the American public was tired of attack politics and wanted the left and right to work together and stop the outrageous rhetoric.  As a result of his behavior during the debate, Joe Biden revealed the left's cynical use of the terms "bi-partisanship" and "civil discourse" as nothing more than convenient political talking points only used when challenged on their policy choices.

Paul Ryan, in contrast, came across as someone of steady demeanor and nearly unflappable focus.  He came across as firm, yet polite in disagreement.  He was earnest in his belief that the proposals of his and Gov. Romney are the right things to do for the country.  He came across as someone content to present his arguments and let them stand on their own merits without feeling the need to embellish them with derogatory personal attacks on his opponent.

If the Democrats are correct in their oft-made assertion that Republican's "extreme" rhetoric will drive away Independents, it may very well be that Joe Biden energized his base at the expense of the more moderate undecided voters, giving the Obama/Biden ticket a net loss in the race to 270.

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