Thursday, October 11, 2012

Initial VP Debate Thoughts

I know, I know.  It's been a week since my last post...ugh for finals and papers!  Anyway, at this point I'm so far behind on Libya, Medicare/Obamacare, and the first presidential debate that I'm not sure when I'll get to it.  I'll try soon.  For now, here are my initial off-the-cuff (without having looked at the real professionals) thoughts after watching the VP debate.

I'll admit, this was one of the first things I thought about after hearing the Ryan pick for VP.  I have a very high opinion of Paul Ryan.  I think he's genuinely one of the smartest economics guys in Washington, and he has a knack for explaining complex topics in simple ways.  Combined with Biden's demonstrable buffoonery, I expected this to be a slam dunk for him.

Unfortunately (for me), I don't think it was.  If I had to put a feel to it, I would say it was a roughly 50-50 debate.  I thought they both won some points, and they both had weak moments.

Ryan looked sharp, was very well-spoken, and spoke clearly.  He appeared to be well-prepared and had his talking points in order.  He was great on the economics and Medicare/Obamacare questions in the first half, but I thought he was weaker on some of the national security stuff toward the end.  I suppose that's to be expected, given his focus during his time in Congress, but he knew it was coming and I thought he should have been better able to handle it.  I wasn't sure it was wise to so clearly agree with the Obama positions on so many foreign policy items, though I can see where the political calculus might have made it a net benefit to undecided or independent voters (i.e. conservatives are already on his side, so maybe he was playing for non-conservatives).  However, the one glaring weakness I thought Ryan had -- and this came up on one point of agreement -- was on the question about what a Romney-Ryan administration would do differently on the question of Syria.  Ryan did a great job of showing what Obama had done poorly...but he almost completely failed to show what Romney would do differently.  It's okay to agree with the policy of the current administration to a point, but then you have to clearly enunciate where your policy diverges from theirs, and I don't think he did that at all on that particular question.  It made him look weak, and I'm certain the media will pounce on that a la Palin-style.  The comment about the 47% was begging to be slain, but he didn't do it.  The abortion question implied that he favored states' rights, but I think his answer would have been much stronger if he had explicitly explained that's how the Founders designed our system of government - to have the states decide these things rather than the federal government (this also would have countered Biden's off-hand accusation of "outlawing" abortion).  I think he did a fairly good job of separating the Afghanistan draw-down conditions, and really well on tackling the tax issues and Medicare/Obamacare questions.  Overall, I thought he scored some good points, but I feel like he left some great potential zingers on the table.  I don't know if nerves got to him or what, but I think this is far less than the kind of debate he is capable of.

Biden, like Obama before him, appeared smug and condescending.  He was clearly better prepared for this debate than Obama was for his, or at least has a lot more experience to draw on that makes him look prepared.  He was visibly flustered for much of the talk about taxation and economics, and his cheeser grin was obviously covering discomfort at being nailed to the wall time after time.  He really had no defense against Ryan's assertions that an awful record results in scare tactics against the other guy.  As the questions ranged into foreign policy, Biden started to hit his stride and answer more forcefully.  I think he was enabled by Ryan agreeing with him on several key points, but he nevertheless seemed to really pick up steam and close pretty strongly.  In another similarity to Obama, he had no problem lying through his teeth about any number of things, including the $716 billion Obamacare/Medicare double-counting, the tax cuts on the rich thing, about supporting (or opposing) various big-spending votes while in the Senate, and so on.  The thing about Biden was that he spoke with such force and bluster that he actually managed to sound authoritative, even when he was magically pulling things out of thin air.  To a non-junkie, I think that probably translated into coming off a lot more "correct" or knowledgeable than he actually was, and I think he appeared to do better than he actually did.  I think his arrogance and condescension will probably generate some heat (it was really obnoxious), but I would still be surprised if the media didn't call it a win for him.

Bottom line: I don't think this will affect most people's opinions.  I think the net result of this debate will be most people hearing what they wanted to hear, and it being a net wash.

I thought the moderator did a very good job of asking pointed questions and trying to get specific answers, but didn't let either of the candidates control it too much.  Kudos to her.

I'll try to post some follow-up thoughts from the real professionals in the next couple days.

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