Monday, October 15, 2012

5 Reasons Joe Biden Won the Vice Presidential Debate

On the eve of the second Presidential debate, or Debate 2: Bate Harder, the results of the Vice Presidential confrontation a few days ago are quickly being forgotten. Here at Hofstra, campus is an absolute maze of news cameras and Secret Service, all focused on the two Presidential candidates. In my opinion, now is the perfect time to refresh our memories as to what exactly happened in the last debate, which people seem to be having trouble deciding who won.

Some very reputable and trustworthy news organizations are touting Paul Ryan as the winner. A number of polls indicate that the public considered it to be a tie. I think a lot of people with those viewpoints don't really know what "debate" means. Here's why it's pretty indisputable that Joe Biden scaled Ryan's harrowing widow's peak to become the clear victor.

5) He Was a "Bully"

A number of people keep pointing out that Biden continually interrupted Ryan, acted condescending by laughing, rolling his eyes, and smirking as the VP candidate spoke. The most overwhelming assessment of these actions were that Biden was "a bully."

So what's a bully, exactly?

A bully is what we call someone we see beating up somebody who can't defend themselves.

I do remember Biden stuffing Ryan's shirt with crud.

Neither of the candidates were completely honest up there, though Ryan did perhaps a bit more stretching of the truth than Biden. Joe did what Obama was not willing to do during the first debate - get up and in Ryan's face when he started lying. The most widely held reason people think Obama lost the first debate despite the fact that Romney told 27 lies in 38 minutes is that the President looked like he was floundering out there. His poise, his demeanor, his tone all bespoke a man who didn't want to be where he was. Romney, on the other hand, went on the attack, and no matter what he said, he looked good saying it.

Now the tables are turned. Biden put up a clear message of "I'm not putting up with any of that bullshit," and hammered back at Ryan on every point the Congressman tried to make. If Biden was a bully, it's because he made Paul Ryan look weak and ineffective by comparison. Detractors latched on to his attitude and confrontational demeanor because it's not like they had a lot of ammunition to hit back with otherwise.

Come to think of it though, Ryan does work out a lot.

4) He Looked Like a Human Being

                                                                               Image Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Paul Ryan is given credit for maintaining his composure and appearing dignified while accepting the beating he received. People have been pointing to his steadfast refusal to blink as a sign that he was doing a better job connecting with the audience. Biden's relaxed posture, eye-rolling, and laughing weren't "Vice Presidential," and so Ryan took that battle.

This is why we can't have nice things.

But if you go back and watch the video, you see a lot of Ryan staring ahead, grim-faced, while Biden enacts more or less the same body language Mitt Romney had in the debate he "won." The only difference being that Biden actually threw in some human emotion and reaction.

The people who want to make this argument are trying to have it both ways. If Obama is stoic and professional, he loses against a more animated and aggressive Mitt Romney. When Ryan is exuding the physical responsiveness of a coma patient whenever he's not speaking and Biden presses the assault, he's a bully and Ryan is "Vice Presidential."

Biden looked like a person who couldn't believe what he was being made to argue against. Ryan looked like he was trying to keep every muscle flexed at once throughout the entire hour and a half.

Even - especially - his face muscles.

3) Biden Wins the Personal Stories Battle

I'm not sure who briefed Ryan on what personal stories to tell, but whoever it was had never heard of Joe Biden before. In the midst of the debate, Ryan began rattling off an anecdote about what a great guy Mitt Romney is because when two members of his church were injured in an auto accident, Romney stepped in and told their parents he'd pay for their college education. Later in the debate, he discussed how he understands the hardship families with soldiers overseas go through because he's got a good friend in the service.

It must have slipped Ryan's mind somehow that Biden's wife and daughter died in a car crash, and his son Beau is a JAG officer recently deployed to Iraq. If Ryan's objective was to connect to the audience, he really couldn't have picked a worse set of subjects to go up against Biden on.

2) He Was There

Part of the reason Joe Biden became part of the Presidential ticket in the first place was to offset the doubts about the inexperienced young Senator from Chicago by partnering him with a senior statesman. Never has that paid off so much as it did during the debate against Ryan.

Several times Ryan brought up actions taken by Congress or by the Obama administration. He brought up Tip O'Neill negotiating with Ronald Reagan. He talked about trying to help those put out of work during the Great Recession. He talked about Ronald Reagan some more. Biden's response each time?

"I was there."

"When you were born, Ryan - I was there." - Biden, with a meaningful stare.

It's kind of hard to argue when the point you're making relies on telling people how a certain meal was plated and the person across the table from you is the chef. When you bring up Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and your opponent refers to him as "my good friend Bibi," you've lost a little credibility on the issue.

1) Paul Ryan Didn't Actually Answer Anything

I think a big problem here is that we have television. We can see a candidate's demeanor and hear the timbre of their voice, and this affects us and our judgment. So now, in the glory of written text, let's take a look at a few excerpts of the debate transcript.

On Afghanistan;

"MODERATOR: I'd like to move on to Afghanistan, guys. [. . .]We've degraded al-Qaeda. So tell me, why not leave now? What more can we really accomplish? Is it worth more American lives?

PAUL RYAN: We don't want to lose the gains we've gotten. We want to make sure that the Taliban does not come back in and give al-Qaeda a safe haven. We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition. Look, when I think about Afghanistan, I think about the incredible job that our troops have done. You've been more than the two of us combined.

First time I was there in 2002, it was amazing to me what they were facing. And I went to the Arghandab Valley in Kandahar before the surge. I sat down with a young private in the 82nd from the Menominee Indian Reservation who would tell me what he did every day, and I was in awe. And to see what they had in front of them."

Later, on the same issue,

MODERATOR: What conditions could justify staying, Congressman Ryan?
PAUL RYAN: We don't want to stay. We want-- look. One of my best friends in Janesville, a reservist, is at a forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan right now. Our wives are best friends, our daughters are best friends. I want him and all of our troops to come home as soon and safely as possible. We want to make sure that 2014 is successful. That's why we want to make sure that we give our commanders what they say they need to make it successful. We don't want to extend beyond 2014. That's the point we're making. You know, if it was just this, I feel like we would be able to do call this a success. But it's not.

And see if you can catch what happens as he answers this question;

MODERATOR: I recently spoke to a highly-decorated soldier, who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, quote, "The ads are so negative, and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country." What would you say to that American hero about this campaign? And at the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone?

PAUL RYAN: First of all, I'd thank him to his service to our country. Second of all, I'd say we are not going to impose these devastating cuts on our military, which compromises their mission and their safety.

And then I would say you have a president who ran for president four years ago promising hope and change, who has now turned his campaign into attack, blame, and defame. You see, if you don't have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It's what he's doing right now.

Look at all the string of broken promises. If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Try telling that to the 20 million people who are projected to lose their health insurance if Obamacare goes through, or the 7.4 million seniors who are going to lose it.

Or remember when he said this? I guarantee if you make less than $250,000, your taxes won't go up. Of the 21 tax increases in Obamacare, 12 of them hit the middle class.

I find that kind of incredible. When asked how he would respond to someone lamenting all the negative campaign ads, Ryan began giving a live negative campaign ad. The two examples about Afghanistan illustrate the majority of his responses throughout the evening - when given a direct question, Ryan would first restate the question in some way and then give a personal anecdote that may or may not have actually related to what he was asked. 

"The important thing is that I had an onion in my belt."

So let's revisit the point I made in the introduction.  A debate is a forum in which people are given a set of structured questions to answer, and the winner is the one who more clearly presents his case using factual statements to support himself. It's not about who looks poised or who comes off better. It's why the Debate episode of Community is both hilarious and hilariously inaccurate.  No one would ever have a professional debate on whether man is inherently good or evil, and we'd never have a Vice Presidential debate over whether the candidate is an angry old man or a smarmy douche. 

As to who won the debate, it can't be reasonably contested that it was Biden. Whether or not winning actually got him anything is an entirely different question, and one with an unfortunate answer. By maintaining his composure and continually looking good as he trumpeted the party line - despite the fact that he actively contradicted things Romney said in the last debate while doing it - Ryan did his job like a pro. He kept Biden's domineering presence from affecting the biggest prize in the game, the undecided voter.

So by all means, praise Paul Ryan for doing a good job. He looked good, he sounded good, and he probably smelled good. Some of that post-P90X musk that was driving Martha Raddatz crazy. Fortunately this was tempered by the smell of soup, moth balls, and Bengay coming from Biden, so she was able to do her job effectively. But what he didn't do was, by any stretch of the imagination, win that debate.

When Romney faces off against Obama again in Debate 2: Illinois Barack and the Town Hall of Doom, keep all this in mind. Maybe the President is going to do a better job looking poised and getting his points across, maybe not. But I'll bet you anything that as far as the debate portion of the evening goes, he's not going to lose.

Until next time.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Gautsche said...

So it was the crazy old grandpa vs. a stuttering, deflecting, but nicely toned gentleman.

I'm not the biggest Obama fan out there, but... go get'em, gramps!

I expect to see some transcripted responses from both sides after Obama Romeny Round Two