Impromptus on the Vice-Presidential Debate, 12 October 2012

Alright, took me a while to pin this down, but I’ve figured out how I feel about the debate.

First, I think Vice Pres. Biden lost tonight. It is true that, at this hour, it seems that a slim but certain majority believe he won the debate, and that would seem to settle that. But I suspect that, although Biden’s chokehold on civil discourse gave him a technical victory, his obnoxious display will actually make the electorate less likely to vote for him. We shall see how this hypothesis plays out in this week’s polls. (We will also need to keep an eye on partisan ID results, to find out whether Mr. Biden successfully re-energized his base.)

Second, I do not think that Rep. Ryan won tonight. Veep Biden’s loss was entirely at his own hands. Ryan seemed content to get out of the way, conceding the last word to Biden on many occasions and abiding by the will of the moderator like the polite young man he is. He never said the words, “Mr. Vice President, that is a bald-faced lie,” and he could have done it at least three times. Tactically speaking, that was probably wise — but it is a gamble, since he is counting on the electorate to reject Mr. Biden’s totally inappropriate display.

Much more importantly — on substance! — Mr. Ryan was shaky on foreign policy, and he had real difficulty finding a way to relay the Romney/Ryan case within the framing of Martha Raddatz’s questions. He needed to be better prepared on common objections to the Romney/Ryan plan. In fact, he seemed underprepared overall — he gave excellent initial answers, then struggled to respond in follow-ups. This happened on taxes and abortion especially. Perhaps he would have done worse had Mr. Biden not made such a spectacle of himself. On the other hand, perhaps he would have done better had Mr. Biden permitted him to get a word in edgewise.

At the very least, I admire Mr. Ryan’s temper. I would have asked the Vice President to please wait for his turn by the end of the first foreign policy block, and clocked Mr. Biden in the jaw at about minute forty-three.

Third, I miss Jim Lehrer. Martha Raddatz was a disappointment as a moderator. There was far too much foreign policy in this debate. Questions were framed poorly, especially the ridiculous question on abortion at the end. (For the record: my Catholic faith has nothing whatsoever to do with my abortion position, and I wish Paul Ryan had said so.) We spent six or seven minutes discussing what the Obama Administration should have considered doing in Syria two years ago, and less than thirty seconds discussing the contraceptive mandate and the Obama Administration’s ongoing assault on the First Amendment. We even let the economy and entitlements — which are the issues that are most important to voters in this election and the issues where Biden and Ryan are supposed to shine — fall by the wayside. Raddatz shaped the answers in this debate, rather than (like Lehrer) allowing the debate to shape itself… and then she allowed one of the candidates to essentially blitz the other every time the latter opened his mouth, so that one-half of the argument went muted. She was not awful, but I do not think she did a very good job, either.

I know others disagree with me. My mother joked more than once that she’d like to vote for Raddatz for vice president instead of the candidates. But I was non-plussed by her moderation style.

Finally, I go to bed with a feeling I have not yet had during this campaign: disappointment. I’ve often been despondent during this campaign, but it is almost literally impossible for the Romney campaign to underperform my expectations, so there was no let-down when something new went horribly wrong. There was just a grim, dull ache. But I actually think Paul Ryan is a pretty cool dude. I had high expectations for him tonight. Though I think Biden lost, I wanted Ryan to win, and I can’t say that he did. And so I am, for the first time… disappointed.

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