VP Debate a Draw, Ryan Does Better than Most VP Challengers, Biden Rights the Rocky Obama Ship (Video)
The most effective punches by Republican VP challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan, came in the first few minutes of Thursday night’s debate, over the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. He was correct on the facts – this was a failure of the American intelligence apparatus, and the Administration was concealing the truth about the attack on our Benghazi consulate (as our own Lori Lowenthal Marcus pointed out last night). Biden was thrown off by Ryan’s aggressive opener, and mumbled something about the White House following whatever information Intelligence was passing over. That was, clearly, a questionable fact.
But, alas, Ryan was unable to hone his quick advantage into a devastating punch that could, possibly, leave his opponent staggering for the remaining 80 minutes or so. Remember, Joe Biden is the former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he is Mister Foreign Affairs, particularly about the Middle East. To score on him decisively in his area of expertise would have been a real body blow.
Except that, unlike his colleague, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who held no punches in accusing the Obama White House of outright lying when they described an Al Qaeda well synchronized military attack on the consulate as a rowdy demonstration against an offensive You Tube clip. Ryan retreated, leaving the Vice President room to recover and come out of that opening clash a bit scathed but far from punched out.
With a seasoned politician like Joe Biden you don’t get two chances of this magnitude in the same debate. Joe dusted himself off, collected his thoughts and quickly went on the offensive on the economy. He let the Romney camp have it on the 47% of freeloaders (Romney) and the 30% takers (Ryan), on letting Detroit go to the dogs, on turning Medicare and Social Security into a vouchers system.
He had one admittedly devastating line which he did not deliver as well as he could have, asking the viewers at home what would have happened had President Bush II been able to pass his law on letting workers apply their Social Security savings to stocks just before Wall Street took a dive.
His turning to the folks at home with a grandfatherly warning was truly great, no matter how many times he did it. He warned folks about losing their Medicare benefits under a Romeny-Ryan presidency, about the fate of abortions, about the makeup of the Supreme Court. It was clearly just a device, but it was a device Joe owned the whole night.
His toothy smiles bordering on laughter in response to Ryan’s allegations, and the eye rolling – I could do without. I’m sure Joe annoyed the viewers as much as he did me. Only about 45 minutes into the thing did it occur to him that he could express disagreement without all the fake merriment, and from that point on he concealed the dental work better.
Ryan was better at registering his frustration, and clear, even sharp, occasionally even harsh in making his own points. Both candidates lost me when they started throwing the numbers around, without context, often saying billions when they meant millions or trillions – exhibiting how irrelevant those facts and figures really were to anyone not participating in a quiet budget meeting with several laptops humming around the conference table. Outside that context, the verbose accumulation of facts and figures plucked from nowhere is meaningless, if not alienating.
I was hoping that Ryan, who is known as a nice guy, would out-Biden Biden. He didn’t. Instead he offered a deadly sincere approach, smiled very little, and didn’t manage to look convincingly comfortable in his own skin throughout the exchange. Biden was better at feeling like he could go on with that conversation for as long as it took, he was fine.
Ryan was by far more articulate than Biden, who at times couldn’t complete his sentences and used abbreviated references familiar to the political class which had to be lost on many viewers. Whatever plan the Romney-Ryan team has for bringing on economic change, Ryan came across as if he is thoroughly familiar with it and eager to get started. Biden was offering nothing but more of the same, having argued that “the same” has been doing the job.
Biden was very good on a few occasions when he dropped the facts and figures and spoke from the depth of his experience as senior legislator and executive. You could tell immediately that he knew what he was talking about and that to him this was not theory, this was the bread and butter of getting things done. On those occasions he made Ryan seem hopelessly inexperienced in the ways of government, despite his years in the House.
Biden scored a deep cut on Ryan about the stimulus, when he cited from memory the congressman’s letter to him, personally, asking for stimulus funds for Wisconsin, after having attacked the plan in public and having voted to kill it. Joe was clearly having fun with that one, and I think Ryan looked sheepish and humiliated.
I wasn’t crazy about Ryan’s delivering a few talking points several times – a mistake President Obama committed the other night in his debate with Governor Romeny. When Ryan cited for the third time the line attributed to Obama, that “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from,” it lost its effect on me.
I thought Biden won on points regarding pulling U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2014, successfully delivering a sheer lie about those hundreds of thousands of U.S. trained Afghani soldiers taking over in all those regions where the Taliban are likely to move in. Ryan could easily challenge the VP on the quality of those Afghani units, especially since Biden himself suggested that if the “green on blue fire” – meaning Afghani soldiers shooting their American trainers – were to continue, the training sessions would be limited to within the bases. The fact is we are leaving Afghanistan defeated, much as the Russians and the British have done, and it will become a Taliban state soon after, and will offer a home for a renewed Al Qaeda. And we will have to carpet bomb them with drones, as we should have done instead of launching this trillion dollar, meaningless campaign.
Incumbent VPs tend to do a lot better than their challengers in these debates (In 2004, Dick Cheney decimated Senator John Edwards on his poor attendance record when he told him “I’m up in the Senate most Tuesdays, when they’re in session, but the first time I met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.”) and so the very fact that Congressman Ryan scored an unambiguous tie is a victory for the Romney campaign. On the other hand, Joe Biden’s assignment was to rescue the Obama campaign from the slope down which the president has dropped it with his terrible performance last week—and Joe definitely did his job well.
So, it’s a tie, all bets are off again, I have no idea who’s winning this thing, I take back everything I said about Obama wiping the floor with Romeny, it ain’t happening, and I suspect the next two debates, between the seniors on both tickets, will not be as uneven as the first one.
I hope you appreciate my getting up at 3 in the morning Netanya time to watch the debate, so you won’t have to. If you had to tear yourselves away from Game 4 of the Orioles-Yankees playoff series, Baltimore won 2-1 in the 13th inning, forcing a fifth game. Likewise, the Romney-Obama series is also tied, with two games remaining.
Here’s a thought: if a presidential debate ends in a draw, can it go to extra innings?
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.