Before the veep debate, I heard essentially two predictions about how it would go: (1) the debate will turn out much like the presidential debate, Ryan knows more about policy and will smash Biden. (2) Biden will be very agressive to compensate for Obama’s apparent weakness in the first debate, potentially bringing the Democrats a win. The second prediction turned out to be more accurate. Biden interrupted Ryan, yelled a lot, accused Ryan of spouting a “bunch of malarky”, laughed and made faces at the camera while Ryan talked. In the wake of the debate, Democrats have been claiming that Biden won or that the match was a draw, depending on whether or not they found Biden’s behavior off-putting. Republicans have been claiming that Ryan won, or that it was a draw, also seeming to depend on whether they found the vice-president’s rhetorical tactics to be effective. I’m in the “draw” camp. Biden’s tactics were dirty, and so on a purely rhetorical level, Ryan came off as the more respectable candidate. Having said that, I do think that Biden’s behavior succeeded in undermining the words of Romney’s running mate, at least in the eyes of Democrats. So on that level, for Democrats, the debate was a success.
In terms of ideas, I found the debate less interesting than the presidential debate. But let’s look at the arguments point by point:
On Foreign Policy:
Biden began the debate by praising Obama’s foreign policy and contrasting it against Romney’s stated positions. Ryan countered by arguing that Obama failed to adequately protect the four American ambassadors from harm and then took too long to acknowledge that the Benghazi murders were a terrorist attack, an indication of a broader problem: that Obama’s foreign policy is starting to crumble, that Obama’s defense cuts are making the US appear weak to their enemies, thereby making said enemies more likely to test us. Biden counter-argued that Obama’s foreign policy has in fact been repairing alliances around the world, and preventing Iran from developing a nuke through the imposition of crippling sanctions. Defending Obama on the Libya affair, Biden claimed that the Obama administration was misinformed by the intelligence community, and criticized Romney’s campaign for holding a press conference on the matter before any real information was made available.
Ryan claims that the Obama administration’s sanctions will not prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities because the military option is not being viewed as credible. In order to change the Ayatollah’s mind, the US needs credibility. Biden counter-argues that Obama has imposed sanctions, that the sanctions are tough, and that the US does have credibility. Ryan rebuts that the sanctions are not tough enough, they’ve been getting watered down, and that they’ve been imposed not because of Obama, but in spite of him. Preventing Iran from going nuclear should be top priority because if they do, it will start a nuclear arms race in a part of the world that sponsors terrorism more than anywhere else.
Who won on foreign policy? Draw. Romney’s running mate showed a surprising proficiency on matters of foreign policy, an area that is not his main focus. While Biden gave an adequate defense of Obama, Ryan leveled some real criticisms that did some real damage. However, in my opinion, the criticisms leveled were not great enough to warrant a turning away from the incumbent president on those grounds alone.
On the economy:
Biden argues that when the great recession hit, Obama acted for the middle class, and that Romney cares little for these people. Ryan counter-argues that Obama’s plan is not succeeding at bringing about an economic recovery. Romney’s following five point plan will: (1) Get America energy independent in North America by the end of the decade. (2) Help people who are hurting get the skills they need to get the jobs they want. (3) Get this deficit and debt under control to prevent a debt crisis. (4) Make trade work for America so we can make more things in America and sell them overseas, and champion small businesses. (5) Don’t raise taxes on small businesses because they’re our job creators. He then gives a nice little anecdote to show that Mitt Romney cares about people. Biden responds with a personal story about how wife and daughter died in a car accident, and then argues that while Romney may care about individuals, he did not care about the auto-industry when he callously claimed “let them go bankrupt”, while Obama bailed them out. Republicans created the debt, Biden argues, they can’t be trusted to actually care about eliminating it.
Ryan responds by arguing that when Obama was elected, the Democrats had control over everything. They passed the stimulus, it put us into even greater debt, and it didn’t succeed at its goal of improving the economy. Since the stimulus, the economy has gotten worse. Romney’s plan will lead to real growth by strengthening the middle class. Biden counters that Ryan is a hypocrite. He asked for stimulus money for his state, and now he’s claiming moral high ground against it. Ryan justifies himself by explaining that he was advocating for constituents who were applying for grants, and then accuses the Democrats of wasting taxpayer money on electric cars in Finland and windmills in China. Biden almost offers a defense of green jobs as being important for growth. Doesn’t seem to finish the argument.
Who won on the economy? Ryan. He offered Romney’s plan and appealed to intuitively compelling evidence that Obama’s plan has not been working. Furthermore, Biden’s biggest criticism in this round seemed to be more of a character criticism than an ideological one. Rather than masterfully defending the stimulus, he accused Ryan of supporting it. While this makes Ryan look bad, it does not make the stimulus idea look better. So, if we’re judging based on the arguments for the competing ideas being offered, Ryan’s criticisms were more substantial.
On Medicare and entitlements:
Ryan argues that medicare and social security are going bankrupt. He tells a couple anecdotes about people who have benefited from the programs. He argues that the programs need to continue for older people who depend on them and reformed for the younger generation so that America doesn’t go bankrupt. He claims that Obamacare takes funding from medicare in a way that will hurt current seniors. Medicare will be cut every year by an unelected board of 15 people who aren’t even required to have medical training. Ryan defends a modified version of medicare for future seniors that relies on choice and competition in order to save money so that such programs can continue.
Biden argues that the cuts to medicare just reduce overpayments to insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors. They don’t actually effect seniors. Biden says that seniors actually have more benefits today, that Ryan’s plan would hurt future seniors, and that the audience “follow their instincts”. He argues that if social security had been privatized during the Bush years, there would have been no social safety to catch them now. Republican ideas are old and they are bad.
Ryan starts giving statistics to defend his claims: 1 out of 6 hospitals and nursing homes are going out of business as a result of the medicare cuts. 7.4 million seniors are projected to lose $3,200 of coverage. Biden denies the statistics. Ryan claims that they come from the Obama administration’s own actuaries. Biden calls Ryan’s plan a voucher plan. Ryan denies the accusation. They would keep the plan essentially the same and raise the retirement age over time. It wouldn’t get to 70 until 2103 according to the actuaries. Biden argues that they would not be keeping the program essentially the same. They would be changing it from “a guaranteed benefit to a premium support”. Ryan counters that that’s why it would cost more for higher income people and less for lower income people.
Who won on medicare and entitlements? Ryan. Biden claims that the plan proposed by Romney/Ryan will raise the cost of medicare, but he never denies Ryan’s fundamental premise that the programs are on the road to bankruptcy unless they’re reformed. He fails to substantially criticize the reforms, or defend the current programs from the charge of inevitable bankruptcy.
Biden claims that the middle class will pay less and the rich will pay slightly more. The Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire. Romney/Ryan has a tax-cut that will make the middle class have to pay $2000 more per year. Ryan responds by claiming that Romney will cut taxes across the board for everyone. Martha Raddatz asks for the specifics about the tax plan. Ryan waffles. Biden claims that Ryan’s tax cuts are mathematically impossible and then interrupts him a lot when he tries to defend himself.
Who won on taxes? Biden. He scored some good criticisms of Ryan’s tax plan, and Ryan was not sufficiently able to explain himself.
Ryan claims that Obama’s proposed defense cuts are no good. In order to have “peace through strength”, it’s important to have a strong military. Biden claims that defense is too expensive and that Ryan also voted for the automatic cuts. Ryan counters that Biden is misrepresenting him. He voted for bipartisanship.
Who won on defense? Draw. Both made good points. Biden didn’t really argue against the notion that a strong military is necessary for peace. Neither did Ryan give reason to think that not cutting from the defense budget was fiscally defensible.
On Afghanistan and Syria:
I’m not going to summarize the points made in this section because there seemed to be very few points of real and substantial disagreement. Who won? Hard for me to tell.
Biden defends the woman’s right to choose. Ryan defends Romney’s position of opposing abortion with exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Biden reminds the audience that the president will have supreme court appointment power. Ryan assures the audience that Romney and him don’t believe that unelected should make the decision.
Who won on abortion? Biden. Regardless of whether or not I find abortion right or wrong, I think we can all agree that, to many liberals, the idea of Romney appointing supreme court justices who could then help to overturn Roe v. Wade is probably scarier than almost any other issue. If any argument could have been made to get Democrats to show up on election day, that was probably the kicker.
So who won the debate? While it’s still difficult for me to separate the ideas from the rhetoric in trying to make a call, I think that Biden may have just edged it.