The Chattering Class: The VP Debate, Cheshire Edition

Porter

Okay, Shane, we’re back again discussing another debate. This post comes quickly on the heels of our response to the first presidential debate between Governor Romney and President Obama, so we’ll try to keep it a bit more succinct and just respond to the debate in terms of what we wrote in anticipation of it.

Having now watched the debate, I think my predictions were proven correct. That is, no one “won” the debate. Both men held their own, and I’m sure partisans on each side will argue that their man got the better of the opposition. That said, I think Biden did more to help President Obama than Ryan did to help Governor Romney. As you mentioned, Biden had to come out and (ironically given his age and hair plugs) inject life into the Obama campaign. His histrionics and grins may give Reince Priebus conniptions, but Biden tapped directly into the emotional soul of Democrats by showing indignation and fight when faced with a Congressman Ryan who blasts the stimulus for political points and then turns around and asks for stimulus funds because they’ll create jobs and improve the economy in his district. So while Biden may not have won over any more undecides with this debate than Ryan, he gave his base the sense that team Obama was in it to win. It’s like seeing a linebacker level a crushing hit on on a receiver when your team is getting pushed around on defense; no, it doesn’t change the score and it may not even get you the ball back, but it just feels SO good. And that is exactly what the Obama campaign needed. (Yes, I realize I’m agreeing with your assessment from the last post.)

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I also wanted to talk about optics. Clearly the story of the night was Biden’s grin, but Ryan has some challenges here as well. Diana, who was walking in and out of the room as the debates progressed, stopped at one point and observed, “man, Ryan’s creepy looking.” And I think I agree. To me Ryan comes across as a mix between the school bully and the bible camp councilor you’re glad you never had. I was hit with this impression most of all when he tried, unsuccessfully, to support Romney’s position on abortion. You could just see the righteous angel of indignation burning behind his eyes as he was forced to say words that offended his soul (“the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother”). Those five minutes cost the Romney ticket some women voters, make no mistake. That said, still on the topic of optics, I was shouting at the screen during Biden’s closing comments, “look up! look at the camera! stop looking at the moderator!!” Biden, apparently, didn’t hear me. Ryan on the other hand looked straight into the camera, spoke clearly and directly, and then asked for America’s vote. Hard not to give him a thumbs up on that one. Oh, and he’s got a great widow’s peak.

Here then is how I score the debate. Feel free to use this scale or come up with your own. (Scores are out of five).

Biden

Ryan

Optics

4*

3

Crushing hits

5

2

Looking like he belongs

4

4

Not being Quayle or Palin

N/A

6

Policy

5

2

Total

18

17

* I think one can rightly criticize Biden’s grins and guffaws, but since they worked exactly how he intended for his base, it’s a net positive for him.

So what’s your take, Shane?

Shane

Yesterday I was excited about posting my thoughts regarding the VP debates, but now I’m a little intimidated. Football analogies? Optics? A graph?!!  I can’t compete with that.  Now you’re inside my head, Porter.  The crafty veteran showing the novice-pundit how to kick it Scranton-style.

It reminds one of the expectations going into the VP debate Thursday night.  Biden, with his years of campaign experience and familiarity with foreign policy was supposed to use his butterfly knife to serve up Ryan’s liver on a plate.  And he certainly tried.

As I read through your post I thought of how people generally approach these debates looking for a particular trend, and (not suprisingly) tend to find it.  I think most Democrats would agree with your assessment of Ryan.  If you already view him as a puritanical budget slasher who wants to steal children’s lunches and force women into back-alley abortions, then his tense smile and steady gaze would come across as creepy.  If, like me, you view Biden as pseudo-populist career politician and back-slapping buffoon, you’re going to be far more likely to interpret his performance as off-putting and rude rather than congratulate him for injecting life into his campaign.

In terms of substance, I thought Biden did extremely well to expose the Romney ticket’s lack of details regarding their plan to somehow cut taxes and reduce the budget. His best moment by far was when he pointed out that Ryan was asking for Badger-state handouts while simultaneously railing against the stimulus.  Ryan did exactly what the Romney campaign needed. He continued the process of humanizing Mitt, exposed the administration’s dishonest/incompetent handling of the Benghazi incident, and convinced everyone that he could handle the big stage.  When Biden tried to push him into a corner, Ryan pushed back.

Last thought: overall I was disgusted by this debate for precisely the reasons I was so impressed with the Presidential debate.  The Romney-Obama exchange was a conversation between two extremely intelligent and articulate men who (I thought) were a credit to the political process.  By comparison, the VP debate was like listening to angry, insecure sports fans call in to the Jim Rome show. Interruptions, put-downs, condescending sighs and tones, it was embarrassing at points.

As much as I want to blame Biden for this (it was the perfect environment for him) I really can’t – he had little choice given the circumstances.  In the end, as much as the media and voters want to complain about negative campaigns and style rather than substance, we get exactly the type of candidates and conversation that we demand.

Porter

Hmm, “disgusted” is a strong word. I’ve been surprised how strongly the right has reacted to Biden’s interruptions, given that Romney employed them so effectively in the first debate. Ah, well, I guess what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

All right, thanks for reading and feel free to disagree with anything Shane said in the comments section. Here’s a little 80’s pop to play us out.

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