2012-10-11 13:27:00

Biden v. Ryan: The Old Pro Takes On the Lying Kid

In a lively contrast to last week’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, tonight’s match-up between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican rival Rep. Paul Ryan offered moments of riveting television as Biden used his populist persona to full effect against the wonkish and prevaricating Ryan.

In a discussion surprisingly heavy on foreign policy, the two also sparred over the federal budget, Medicare and reproductive rights -- with Ryan making the surprising claim that the courts should have no role in deciding the legality of abortion.

With the first few moments, it seemed that the whole mood of the liberal blogosphere turned from despair to elation amid a chorus of “Attaboy!” -- especially among those who gathered on Twitter and other social media. 

The debate pitted Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman with the earnest demeanor and a penchant for half-truths, against Biden, the former U.S. senator who has the smile of a used car salesman, but a reputation for calling it as he sees it.

Martha Raddatz of ABC News proved to be a much more engaged and challenging moderator than PBS’s Jim Lehrer, who all but sat dumbfounded during the first presidential debate. In fact, appraisals of Raddatz’s performance no doubt benefited from the comparison.

The ghost of Jack Kennedy

Sitting across from Biden, Ryan sometimes looked like a kid sent to do a man’s job, wearing his father’s suit. But on the split screen that is now the standard in televised debates, Biden’s dismissive laughter and broad smile sometimes came across as a bit smarmy.

The contrast in the personalities of the two men seemed to put Ryan at a disadvantage. Biden, sometimes a bit too comfortable in his own skin, didn’t hesitate to interrupt when Ryan uttered a mischaracterization, or to mock his young opponent when he inadvertently left Biden an opening. 

During a tussle over taxes, Ryan, after fielding volley upon volley from Biden, sought to make his case for tax-cutting on the backs of past presidents.

“Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth,” Ryan said. “Ronald Reagan--

“Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?” Biden interjected, in a quick-footed move that brought to mind the famous exchange between Dan Quayle and Democratic vice presidential contender Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, when the much older and more seasoned senator responded to Quayle’s invocation of Kennedy by saying, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”

On the matter of a tax increase on people with incomes above $250,000, Ryan made the familiar argument that such an increase would hamper job creation, because many small businesses file their taxes as individuals. Biden made mincemeat of that claim by saying that 97 percent of small business owners earn less than $200,000, and that the kinds of small businesses Ryan was talking about were actually hedge funds.

The longest war, and an epic 'tragedy'

On the matter of the war in Afghanistan -- our nation’s longest war -- Biden fared less well, unable to muster an adequate rejoinder to Raddatz’s citation of the fact that the U.S. had just passed the milestone of 2,000 U.S. military deaths in the decade-long conflict.

“The primary objective is almost completed,” Biden replied. “Now, all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's.”

Ryan did even worse on that question, though, first contesting the administration’s announcement of the drawdown, and then saying that he and Romney actually agreed with the timeframe. He also challenged a military decision to pull troops out of the eastern part of the country, where the fighting is most fierce, which brought a response of incredulity from Biden, who contended that’s exactly where not to put U.S. troops.

There was no discussion of drone warfare, which has killed hundreds of civilians and created an atmosphere of ill will toward the United States throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Biden deftly handled a tough opening question on the apparently inadequate security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the the U.S. ambassador and three staff members died in a militant attack last month, by pivoting to a broader critique of Ryan’s and Romney’s foreign policy. Asked by moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC whether or not the attack was “a security failure,” Biden replied, “What is was, it was a tragedy, Martha.”

As Ryan took his turn with a long-winded answer assailing the administration’s handling of the Libya attack, Biden laid in wait, broadly grinning, displaying a set of teeth that looked unnaturally white. Then he landed his first blow. “With all due respect, that’s a lot of malarkey...” Biden said. “The congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for, number one. So much for the embassy security piece.”

A lie and a surprise

During a discussion of the Romney/Ryan Medicare plan, Ryan repeated the lie that the $716 billion in reduced future Medicare spending were actually cuts to the program. Perhaps that was to be expected. More surprising was Ryan’s riff on abortion.

The question arose when Raddatz asked each man to describe how his Catholic faith informed his politics, particularly on abortion. After describing the first time he saw an ultrasound of his wife’s uterus when she was pregnant with their first child, Ryan volunteered: “We don't think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.”

The Romney/Ryan position is for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Ryan’s answer suggests that the constitutional rights of Americans should be decided in state legislatures and Congress; not by the enforcement of the Constitution through the courts.

And if you look at the numbers of legislative restrictions on abortion introduced just last year in the states, you know where that would get you.

Thu, 10/11/2012 - 13:27

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