Last night America had the chance to watch Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan engage in a wide-ranging debate as they represented their respective tickets for the November election. It was, for the most part, a rather serious evening…and far from the “fun romp” I had characterized yesterday. For this, perhaps, I ought to apologize.
I took some notes during the debate, and the following represent my thoughts about the “second-in-command” contest:
- Martha Raddatz, the debate moderator, did a TERRIFIC job. I thought that she was tough, focused, and willing to push both candidates on the issues of the day. I’m not sure if that is what her role was supposed to be, but for what it is worth, I liked her approach.
- Coming into this debate, I would have almost certainly told you that Biden would have the edge in foreign policy (he’s an old pro) and Ryan in economic matters (it is where a significant amount of his attention has been focused). How surprising, then, that over the course of the debate the exact opposite result seemed to emerge.
- The Vice-President didn’t seem as effective in the foreign policy issues–especially early on–and Ryan seemed to know his stuff. To be sure, Iran and Libya are particularly sticky issues for Biden and the administration, and the opposition has an easier job here. Yet Biden’s discussion of the matter did not help; at one point when discussing Iran he even said “let’s all calm down a bit here,” something that I suspect might not play so well with parts of the American population.
- Depending on your perspective, Biden’s tone was either 1) feisty and aggressive or 2) condescending and aggressive. This will almost certainly be known as the “Joe Biden smile” debate, as he mockingly rejected Ryan’s words in split screen. For my money, he adequately conveyed a feeling of disgust with the Ryan position…and while brusque, I think it worked for him. Based on some of the comments I have seen thus far online, a good number of people feel the opposite.
- Paul Ryan seemed much more nervous and perhaps less rehearsed than Biden. Time and again he seems to have reverted to “canned” statements or lines of arguments that revealed either a lack of response or a desire to return to a more comfortable line of conversation. It made him seem less assured than Biden.
- With regard to economic issues, Biden played the angry populist, and did a nice job doing so. He came off as a fighter for the American people. Ryan had an opportunity to show how he too was a fighter, but failed, I think, to really integrate his economic philosophy and solutions in the midst of his arguments.
- Ryan’s problem was a lack of specificity about economic plans and issues. Biden and the moderator both pressed him for details, and he wasn’t able to offer as much as he should have. At one point, he was very nearly pushed into a corner; for his sake I’m glad the conversation turned elsewhere. President Obama is a smart man, and will likely seek to press Mitt Romney in the very same way in the next debate. If the Republicans wish to continue their comeback in the polls and hearts of the American people, they are going to have to do much better than what Ryan had to offer last night.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I give this one to Joe Biden. Though he may have been a jerk at times, I feel that his attitude was calculated to be about his rejection of the Romney-Ryan set of ideas. Ryan’s failure to show or indicate anywhere near as forcefully that the Democrat’s ideas are suspect means that Biden wins the day. If the Republicans fail to double down on their economic philosophy and show specifically how their plans will work, I’m just not sure how they win.