My Thoughts on the Vice Presidential Debate

This past Thursday Vice President Biden debated Congressman Paul Ryan in a debate that was billed as one that would determine the momentum of the presidential campaign.

This billing calls for a bit of recent history. Despite my opinions about the debate, it was widely decided that President Obama turned in a lackluster performance and polls were provided that showed that his lead going into the debate had been erased and the race for president is once again a virtual tie. As I noted in my earlier entry, I felt that Mitt Romney was clearly determined to be dishonest for the entire debate.

Expounding on this point a little bit I would like to add the Mitt Romney’s strategy has clearly dictated how this campaign is going to be run in the next twenty or so days. What I mean by this is to say that all politicians are a little loose with the truth. It’s an unfortunate matter of political expediency. In most presidential campaigns a candidate will say things to win their primary in debates that they will later tweak or moderate in order to be more acceptable in the general election. Mitt Romney put his own spin on this strategy by running on a platform that was catered to the extreme Republican wing of his party. However, instead of moderating his position when the general election started as was expected. Mitt Romney doubled down on this position creating a stark contrast between him and the president. As a result the first presidential debate was set up to be a conflict between two well established positions. But Mitt Romney did a switch that might be without precedent in simply denying that he had run on the platform that he has been defending for the past 18 months.


As I said this backdrop will hang over the campaign and the debates from now on, in this context we can examine the Vice Presidential debate.


Since the Republican strategy is basically to deny that they have said any of the things that they have for the past 18 months. The debates and campaign now must devolve into a referendum on Republicans and specifically Mitt Romney. The question is simply do you believe them? Do you actually believe what they are saying? In this vein the Vice President adopted an aggressive strategy of debate seeking to challenge any assertion Paul Ryan made that he felt was light on the facts.  Interestingly, Mr. Biden was basically did mostly what Mitt Romney did in the first debate. However, the difference was that instead of simply asserting “I didn’t say that” and going on the attack. Biden was able to support and add color to his positions by supporting them with policy and then go on the attack. This gave him the kind of substantive liberal attack that Democrats had hoped they would see from the President. For his part Paul Ryan tried to play the calm, cool, and collected politician. This had the unfortunate effect of really focusing the debate not only on the energy of the Vice President but also on what Paul Ryan was saying and he wasn’t giving specifics on any of the Republican platform.


Who won?

I think at this point there is no doubt that I think Joe Biden won the debate. He was not only aggressive but he defended the president’s position and explained why the president took positions that he has.


On foreign policy I felt that Biden was thorough in explaining the American position in the Middle East while Paul Ryan rolled out threats to Iran and Syria, that I feel are unbecoming of the world’s only superpower. Biden summed this up perfectly by stating “Big nations don’t bluff.” There is no reason for us to show every other nation in the world how strong we are, because quite frankly it is patently obvious.


On taxes the things Biden said went a long way in dismantling the Republican position that they can simply keep all the tax cuts in place and still balance the budget. He reinforced the administration’s position that the Bush era tax cuts must be allowed to expire at the very least. He also painted the Romney-Ryan ticket as defenders of the rich by pressing the point that 97% of small businesses would not be affected if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire. Ryan did not respond. I thought it was unfortunate that large stretches of the debate simply became an argument over whether or not one candidate or the other was being truthful. But as I said before Mitt Romney has forced that hand.


The last question of this debate is could you actually see President Obama engaging in the type of debate that Biden and Ryan did on Thursday? Democrats say they want a similar performance from the President, but I don’t think that is his style. It is my hope that he will be livelier than he was previously and Biden has definitely given him the playbook on how to deal with their approach. However, I believe what President Obama needs to do is preserve his calm demeanor, while grasping the opportunities that present themselves to attack Mitt Romney’s credibility on the issues. If the President can do that over the next two debates I think that re-election will be well within his grasp.


Biden utilized the same energetic approach that Mitt Romney deployed to great effect, but for me the best weapons he had was his grasp of the facts and his willingness to point out the flaws in Paul Ryan’s logic. If people were not put off by Mitt Romney’s aggressive tactics in the first debate I don’t see why people should be put off by Joe Biden’s in the second.