The 2012 Vice-Presidential Debate – Domestic and Foreign Policy

Last night, Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan met in the only scheduled debate between the the two men in the 2012 campaign for the White House. The debate was hosted by Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Martha Raddatz of ABC News was the moderator for the night, and I believe she was one of the highlights from a generally ok evening. If you want, you can read the entire debate transcript here or you can watch the entire debate here.

*Please note that I didn’t check every quote because this is a blog, and I don’t care that much. I tried to capture the essences of what these men were saying. You can check me or read/watch it yourself.*

One week ago, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney met in the first of their three planned debates (read my post on that here). The newsmedia across the board said that Romney won that debate, but I believe that is partially due to President Obama actively losing it. He under-performed far beyond my own expectations, so I’m hesitant to call it a real win (kinda like the best football team losing a game when the QB goes down on the first play of the game). This debate among VP candidates had the potential to be the counter-punch to what happened last week for the Democratic ticket.

For a bit more context – Biden and Ryan are both DC men to the core, so this debate looked to be very policy-heavy, with lots of rhetoric and lots of claims of misrepresentation of positions and plans. Pundits had been saying for days that Ryan needed to perform well, and that a “debate win” for Ryan would be more valuable to the Romney campaign than a Biden “debate win” would be for President Obama.

The planned topics of conversation were Domestic and Foreign Policy issues. Raddatz greeted the viewers and audience at Centre College, then brought Biden and Ryan out to the table. Raddatz got the night started off by asking VP Biden about the situation in Libya and the attack on our embassy in Benghazi that led to the deaths of four US Citizens including our Ambassador (Chris Stevens). During this segment, Biden happily referenced Bin Laden’s death, Iraq, and other foreign affairs issues surrounding the issue of terrorism facing America. Ryan brought up the YouTube video initially blamed by the Administration as a cause of the attacks, a position later reversed (sort of). Ryan then began hammering at a perceived weakness from the Obama administration throughout the world, and our lack of leadership. Biden responded by calling it malarkey. At that point, Raddatz went after the Administration and its poor assessment of what was the cause of the attack.

Ryan was then asked about the apologies to the muslim world for Quran burnings, which he handled well. He uttered one of his better phrases of the night by saying, “It’s never to early to speak up for our values” in regard to protecting America and our right to Free Speech (I think). Biden responded that all of Ryan’s statements on Libya were inaccurate. It was a very heated portion, and this was only the first question.

The conversation was directed next onto Iran, a hot topic in the news due to the possible threat of Iran and the Ayatollah acquiring nuclear (that is new-clear) weapons. Ryan stated that we could not allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. Biden then talked about President Obama’s foreign policy gains, referencing alliances with Russia and China (not a good example in my estimation). Biden said that Iran was a long way away from nuclear weapons. Raddatz then responded with how we could possibly keep Iran from getting one. Biden started to begin coming more unhinged throughout this question, urging calm on the Iran situation and then re-stating that an Obama administration would not allow Iran to possess a weapon. Not sure how they plan to do this when we aren’t 100% sure they don’t already have one.

Raddatz then shifted the conversation to domestic issues, to the only one that really matters right now: Jobs and the US economy. This was a moment I had been waiting for: how would Ryan defend the Romney plan, and how would Biden react to statements about mishandling the US economy. Raddatz’ first question asked VP Biden about President Obama’s promise to have unemployment below 6%, when in reality it just dropped below 8% last month (supposedly – there’s a lot of angst from the conservative side that the unemployment numbers are cooked). Biden responded by dropping Romney’s statements about the 47% of Americans not paying federal income taxes, twice. Given the chance, Biden didn’t answer the question, which Ryan pounced on. He discussed the unemployment in Scranton, PA (Biden’s hometown) being 10% today when it was 8.5% in 2009. He dropped another good line at this point in saying, “This is not what a real recovery looks like.”

(A quick aside – I am watching the debates on CNN. It’s better than MSNBC and FoxNews for many, many reasons. The main reason is the “Undecided Voter tracker.” CNN is supposedly tracking the likability/favorability of the debate participants by tracking in real-time how their statements are perceived by undecided voters (who will ultimately decide who wins this election in states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado and New Hampshire). It’s split out by men and women so you can get a sense of how either sex is relating to what the candidates are saying as they say it. It might all be a huge farce, but it’s interesting to me.)

Biden then fought back by saying that the Romney/Ryan ticket was “down on America.” Biden asked for Ryan to stop saying that he cared and to show him through his actions, a really good line to deliver. Ryan came back with the truth that the Obama/Biden administration came into the White House with single party control for two years, yet did very little to empower an economic recovery, instead focusing on passing ObamaCare. Raddatz stopped the back and forth jabs asking Ryan specifically when he would have the unemployment rate back under 6%.

(For what it’s worth, no one could accurately predict this. Too many external factors have impact, so it’s a very dumb question unless she was trying to get him to commit to a timeline, which he wouldn’t do.)

Biden then attacked Ryan for requesting stimulus dollars for Wisconsin although he very publicly opposed the stimulus, a fact Ryan admitted. He responded by stating that he requested federal grant money twice through VP Biden’s office. At this stage, Biden and Ryan began appearing more agitated with one another, and Biden really started his interrupting and outward emotional responses to Ryan’s statements. He asked Raddatz if he would be given a chance to speak, with Ryan asking him to stop interrupting him. It got testy for sure at this point. Ryan began discussing a plan he built with Democrat partners and Biden interrupted every mention by stating those people no longer supported the plan, though he never says why. It couldn’t possibly be that we’re in the middle of an election, and it would make Ryan look good if he had friends on the other side of the aisle. Couldn’t be it.

At this point, Biden began talking to the camera, asking senior voters (65+ years old) to listen to him and ask themselves if they had seen any negative changes in their own medicare plans. He did this twice during this portion of the conversation, and it came off a bit odd. Raddatz then asked Biden whether he would oppose raising the age for social security or medicare benefits (which is a great question). Ryan responded to Biden’s non-answer by saying that he wanted to preserve the program for young Americans by allowing them to have some say in how their long-term investment is made, something that got huge responses on that CNN voter-tracker thing.

Raddatz then changed gears by asking both men “a simple question, though I don’t think I will get simple answers” on tax plans. She asked each man who would pay more under their tax plans. Biden responded that high-wealth individuals would pay a slight percentage more, and then slammed Romney for not paying enough (though Romney has paid plenty of taxes). Ryan rebutted by saying that these type of attacks are what to expect when a campaign has no record of success on which to run.

When discussing the Romney/Ryan plan versus the Obama/Biden plan, Ryan was clearly on better footing. He is a policy nerd, and he has a much better understanding of how each plan will affect the American people. His focus was on small businesses, and he really handled that well. Biden then slammed “small businesses” like Hedge Funds for claiming to be small businesses, and not being willing to pay more in taxes because they make millions of dollars.

THIS is a defining difference in how workers are perceived by Democrats and Republicans. It’s not enough for Democrats that small businesses pay what they do based on what the IRS already requires of them. Many of them should pay more because they can afford to. By not wanting to pay more, they’re branded as un-American or unpatriotic. What can you do for your country? You can pay more in taxes to get us out of this mess. Republicans believe that when small businesses succeed, tax revenues go up. Why? Because businesses hire more people, so more workers are working (and supposedly paying taxes) and more revenues are made (because those businesses are earning more money, therefore paying more in taxes themselves). This is a huge difference. If you support the democrats way of thinking about it, more power to you. It’s a failing idea, and we’ve seen it fail many times before (see Russia, Eastern Europe).

Raddatz asked Ryan how his plan would add up, and asked for specifics (which he can’t give because they don’t have them yet). I appreciate her asking this question, because it’s important. Ryan and Biden went back and forth for a minute over where the money comes from, and Raddatz asked Ryan to guarantee the math would add and Ryan said it would. Much more was said here, but you get the idea.

Next up was Afghanistan. She asked about the 2014 planned withdrawal date, and whether or not we would hit it. Biden insisted that US troops would leave in 2014 no matter what. Ryan was less inclined to give away the farm of when troops would leave due to providing the Afghani people the resources they need to protect themselves from Taliban forces. This is a tough topic because no one is excited to risk US lives to protect other nations. Biden continued to insist the soldiers would be home in 2014. Raddatz asked both men why we couldn’t leave now, and what more we stood to gain by staying (another great question). Ryan re-affirmed his belief that US forces could not leave the Afghani people to fend for themselves after years of US occupation and protection from Taliban.

Interestingly, the CNN voter-tracker thing showed that when Biden or ryan spoke about leaving Afghanistan, independent voters agreed with those sentiments.In fact, the tracker was through the roof. Scott Rasmussen detailed this in his book, The People’s Money, where he talks about public sentiment being for bringing the troops home ASAP. It was clear from watching that tracker (again, assuming it’s not some joke) that the people of this nation want the troops home.

Raddatz asked Ryan what his criteria would be for intervening in foreign affairs with troops, and Ryan responded by saying whatever was in the best interest of the American people. When asked about what Romney/Ryan would do in the instance of peacekeeping or humanitarian needs, Ryan reiterated his initial position, one that bothers those who believe US forces should police the world (read the transcript).

Raddatz then ended the foreign affairs conversation and came back to domestic issues, centered in this case on personal religious convictions and how that impacts their position on abortion. Biden became noticeably more relaxed and quiet, changed his tone and his body language. Both men are practicing catholics, and the debate surrounding religious liberties in DC has been a topic many Americans don’t know is taking place, especially people who haven’t decided who to support in this election.

I won’t write about this because I don’t support abortion at all. You can check my twitter feed (@WBH_Politics) to see what I said last night, but I’m not going to go into it here.

Raddatz final question asked them men to explain their own personal character, and why they were qualified to serve. The answers didn’t strike me as very impressive.

Biden (who I assume lost the toss) went first with his closing remarks. He talked about what Barack Obama had done in his first four years. He talked about the situation they inherited upon inauguration in January 2009. He talked about leveling the playing field for future generations and letting them know that things are going to be ok. He also hit Romney for his 47% video comments. He mentioned it five times throughout the debate, and I couldn’t tell if resonated based on the voter-tracker.

For his closing remarks, Ryan looked into the camera first time all night. He asked voters to consider what kind of country are we going to be, and what kind of country will will leave for our children. “You deserve better. We want to earn your support.” He continued by saying that Mitt Romney is experienced, he has ideas, he’s uniquely qualified for this. His close was strong, and he asked for the vote. That’s a pretty important part of any campaign, and he nailed that. Biden missed.

Raddatz ended the debate, and there we are.


It’s tough to say who won the debate in my estimation. Biden was far more present than President Obama was last week. Ryan was a bit wonk-ish at times, but Biden behaved like a petulant child at times. After it was over, I felt the winner had to be Martha Raddatz, debate moderator. She handled the men very well, and she asked tough questions to both men. Aside from allowing Biden to interrupt, she did very well. Of course, I’m comparing that to Lehrer from last week, and that’s not a tough victory.

Pundits hit VP Biden immediately on his style of debating versus Congressman Ryan’s. Much was made of the chuckling, eye-rolling, interruptions and more from the Vice President. Ryan was the “style-winner” in my eyes, but on policy and substance many will call this a draw. On CNN Contributor said it best: there shouldn’t be any undecided voters after this debate. They both presented their positions well (Biden far better than President Obama did for Democrats last week).

A couple of odd moments:

  • VP Biden said “I always say what I mean.” This coming from a man who recently told an audience of largely black voters that the GOP would “put them back in chains.” I’m not sure he really means that. If so, we have big problems as a nation.
  • Congressman Ryan began an exchange where he called Romney a “car guy” and quickly pivoted to a story about a family whose children had been in an automobile accident. I watched it twice, and I still couldn’t figure out what he intended to do. Really weird.
  • Raddatz asking the men to talk about their faith in relation to their political beliefs and in regard to Abortion. I’m not sure, but these two men probably won’t be disclosing stories about how abortion affected their lives personally (if it ever has). As professed Catholics, this was a moment of clear hypocrisy for VP Biden. He accepts the churches position on abortion but his political belief is the opposite. Hard to understand why he would admit to the hypocrisy.
  • Prior to the debate, Ryan requested that Martha Raddatz refer to him as Mr. Ryan as opposed to Congressman Ryan, stating it took less time to say “mister” than “congressman.” I thought it was either a ploy to avoid being tied to a congress with devastatingly low ratings of approval, or a lifeline to tie himself to Tom Clancy’s character in his books on politics and government in the USA. Either way, it didn’t matter. No one noticed, possibly because of Biden’s constant interruptions, or because Raddatz was smart enough to make it a non-issue.

So, there’s the extremely long recap. If you read this far, you should be voting for Romney/Ryan. If last night is any indication, we shouldn’t want Joe Biden as second-in-command of anything, much less these United States of America. He was off-kilter, visibly angry at times, and was hardly the kind of person I want hosting peace-talks or talking Ahmadinejad off the ledge.

But seriously, if you haven’t decided who you’re voting for, I doubt you’ve read this far.


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