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Debate Watch: Pointed Questions and a Hot Cuppa Joe

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There was another election 2012 debate last night, with a moderator and two candidates, and this time all three showed up.

One striking difference between the vice presidential debate and the Oct. 3 presidential face-off was that Vice President Joe Biden was assertive, spirited and lively where President Barack Obama was placid and passive. The other was that moderator Martha Raddatz chose to moderate the debate, rather than, as did her predecessor Jim Lehrer, sitting back and letting it happen.

It was clear from the get-go that more than the furniture would be different in Raddatz’s debate. She directed specific questions to the candidates, followed up and pressed. Whereas Lehrer set forth a short list of topics and allowed long alternating speeches, Raddatz kept the questions coming and the subjects shifting. I don’t think Lehrer deserves all the blame he’s gotten since last week–a moderator can’t force candidates to be forthcoming and answer directly. But a moderator can at least behave like she expects an answer.

Raddatz opened with a difficult question for Biden on the Libya embassy attack; pushing Ryan about how he and Mitt Romney planned to pay for a tax cut, she flat-out said he was giving “no specifics.” She was active, engaged and on her toes, not so much going for theatrics as she was acting like her first job was not to make everybody comfortable.

And the candidates obliged by giving her a debate, especially Biden. In 2008, Biden’s paramount job in his first VP debate was not to seem sarcastic or condescending toward Sarah Palin, for fear of looking sexist or insulting. And last night he seemed to have about four years’ worth of reacting and gesticulating to get out of his system.

He guffawed. He called “malarkey.” He employed the greeting “my friend” as if it were one of the Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television. He emoted, interrupted and grinned blindingly. He raised both hands to the sky as if asking the Lord God, “Can ya believe this guy?” Biden’s modus operandi in a debate is to laugh as if someone had just told him the world’s most hilarious joke and it was about breaking a 2×4 over your head.

Voters might be divided—as they seemed to be in post-debate polls—on whether Biden’s performance was exhilarating or exhausting, masterful or manic. But one way or the other the debate, and the post-debate analysis was all about Joe: Biden did well, or Biden did poorly. Ryan, mainly, was done to. He kept his tone level, only occasionally lightening up for a zinger or showing flashes of pique, mostly defaulting to a slight, closed-mouthed slant of a grin. This may have been the goal all along for him—to try to show that a young man could have some stature, that a small-government crusader could come across as calm and not a zealot.

(What Ryan did not want to come across as, apparently, was a seven-term congressman at a time when Congress is unpopular. Reportedly, his campaign requested that Raddatz address him as “Mr. Ryan,” not “Congressman Ryan,” a directive she quickly and repeatedly disregarded.)

Whichever way you read the debate, it at least covered far more substance than the previous one. Part of this was by structure—the only VP debate, it was about foreign and domestic issues; and Raddatz, whose forte is world news, probably a good bit more interested in international subjects than the home audience overall. But even within the shorter domestic sections, Raddatz managed to hit on subjects, like abortion and the math of tax cuts, that Lehrer either didn’t raise at all or didn’t pursue aggressively.

“Aggressively” being the byword of the night, or rather the Biden-word. (The debate did go into ballad mode in its closing minutes, as Raddatz finished with some personally reflective questions, including how the two men’s Catholicism affected their thinking on abortion.) It’s possible that both candidates “won” the debate, in the sense of going into it with different goals: Ryan to show calm on a national stage, Biden to rally Democratic enthusiasm after his boss’ sleepy outing a week ago, a whiskey chaser to Obama’s chamomile tea.

Biden succeeded at that last, at least if you go by the reaction on his home turf MSNBC, where Ed Schultz responded gratefully like a man, still hungry after a meal of nouveau cuisine, who was just handed a bloody porterhouse. (Biden seemed to have a checklist of topics Obama supporters wished the President had hit last time out, especially Romney’s “47%” remarks.) On Fox, conservative pundits were far more critical of Biden—but they were, largely, talking about Biden and not Ryan.

Vice presidential debates ultimately are proxy wars, a duel among seconds. They reflect on the presidential candidates, amplify themes and set a tone. Sometimes they also make the case that one of them should be in a Presidential debate next time around. This time, that person was Martha Raddatz.

Update: Here, my standard disclosure: I voted for Obama in ’08 and plan to do so again in ’12. To paraphrase Walter Mondale: most people who write about politics have voting preferences; the difference is, they won’t tell you theirs and I just did. To read my fuller thoughts on political writing and disclosure, click here.

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Roy Kaplan
Roy Kaplan

Putting aside the merits of each side, Biden's demeanor was inappropriate. I wouldn't want the youth of America to use Biden's behavior as a guide for them to follow when having a civilized discussion/debate with those that disagree with their own position.

anon76returns
anon76returns

"Putting aside the merits of each side ..."

Of course.  Because the purpose of these debates is not to inform the public about the merits of each sides' cases in the upcoming election.  No.  These debates are being held as a way of teaching our children how to behave in discussions.  Shame on Mr. Biden and Mr. Romney for their boorish behavior.

D_Bob
D_Bob

I wouldn't want the youth of America to think they can lie and get away with it. Spare the truth and spoil the child.

TryAgain
TryAgain

@D_Bob So you must have at least been bothered by Biden's disrespectful behavior while he was demonstrably lying about Libya.

Roy Kaplan
Roy Kaplan

Yes, you are correct.  Don't call out Biden for acting like a buffoon and we'll encourage all kids to act like buffons!

Birddog2012
Birddog2012

Well, one thing we did learn from the debate last night was that once the thin veneer of rationality is stripped away from 'Mister' Congressman Ryan and his imaginary conversion to centerist bipartiship, his unhinged Eddie Haskell self is revealed.  Now, whenever Paul Ryan speaks in public his audience will be alert to that slightly cracked adolescent whine, "Good evening Mrs. Cleaver...."

Birddog

oldprofessor
oldprofessor

Biden was having the time of his life....because he knew the facts were against Ryan on the national debt,  tax rates, Medicare, foreign affairs and the personal freedom of women.

D_Bob
D_Bob

The complaint against Obama was that he did not call Romney on his BS, at least until too late -- and too little. Biden called it early and often, and set things straight with FACTS against Ryan's dissembling and canned lines -- and refusals to simply answer direct questions (which questions? Ask Martha Raddatz). 

I don't see any counts of Biden 'lies' -- that's because there weren't any, while Biden on the other hand saved the fact checkers the trouble when it came to Ryan.

And the response from Repub partisans is to call Biden 'rude' and a host of other juvenile names -- and in turn praise Ryan for his 'coolness' and style, without commenting on the substance of what he had to say -- or didn't. 

All of a sudden, you guys are very prissy about Joe being 'impolite' -- while you mocked Obama as being weak for being polite with Mitt's bouts of Romnesia — and interruptions.

Biden came for a debate and to set things straight. You got served. Stop whining that he was laughing at you (yes, you -- via your second brilliant pick in a row for vice president) and scornful. He had every right to be.

akpat
akpat

So after all this can someone tell me how Mitt and Paul intend to balance the budget with 20% in tax reduction and increasing military spending to almost 1 trillion a year.

lurch3
lurch3

 Math is harrrrrd.

Sheri
Sheri

Yeah it is - ask Obama who has increased our National debt from 10 trillion to 16 trillion in four years !!

This country cannot afford four more years of Obama

anon76returns
anon76returns

Beautiful statistic.  Mind if I ask you how you think that figure should have behaved over the last four years?

Specifically, ~2 trillion dollars comes from finally adding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to the books- do you think a Republican administration would have kept the debt lower by disingenuously keeping those off the books?

Second, a large portion of that increase came from decreased revenues due to the historic recession we had in Obama's early years.  Do you think a Republican administration would have cut federal spending during the recession in order to offset the loss in revenue?  If so, what effect do you think that would have had on GDP, and what would the corresponding effect have been on revenue?

Third, most economists think that the <1 trillion stimulus bill improved the GDP and saved jobs.  Do you think a Republican administration would not have spent this money because of deficit issues?  If so, how would they have decreased other federal spending in order to offset the GDP drop we would have experienced without the stimulus?  If not, what would have been the net effect on the deficit.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful reply.

tinatrent
tinatrent

Ryan had to "show calm"?  You mean he behaved like an adult as Biden acted like a toddler and the moderator stuck her tongue down the toddler's throat.  What a humiliating spectacle -- for the Democrats.  

romerjt
romerjt

 If your sensibilities were offended by Biden's approach you probably don't watch Fox news because so much of it is like this and worse  . . . . do you?  . .  come on, tell the truth.

Sheri
Sheri

ARE YOU KIDDING ?? Fox is the ONLY station that gives you BOTH sides.

Anywhere else all you find are liberal HACKS, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, NBC, CBS, ABC ------- none of these outlets provide balanced reporting, and that's why NOBODY watches them and Fox is and will continue to be the top rated news station

anon76returns
anon76returns

Most news stations have left-leaning reporters, and right leaning producers.  A question for you: when you have reporting from left-leaners, production decisions from right-leaners, and final decisions made by multi-national corporate media conglomerates, is the final product left-leaning, right leaning, or corporatist?  I just report, you decide.

lurch3
lurch3

Ryan interrupted Biden too.... this is a debate format the back and forth was encouraged......... bunch of whiny hypocrites.

A4O4
A4O4

I do not care, who won or who lost. I enjoyed it like winning a game against an arch rival. And I think that is what all it matters. Biden's goal was to re-ignite his base (like me), who felt let down by Obama's timid performance. And He did it way better than I expected.

I must also add, the reason Obama lost was that he felt like the Romney lies will be hated by people, and he does not need to address them. Instead, people believed those lies. So, it was not as much of an Obama lose as it was a defeat of the intellect of the undecided voters.

kandw101
kandw101

I'll give em 50-50. But, King Obama's boy was a nasty, smirking old fool that

certainly didn't live up to the image of a Vice President of the United States. I can't imagine young folks who watched the debate actually voting for the likes of Biden again!!    IMO

lurch3
lurch3

I  find it amusing that Ryan interrupted Biden as well... but that is ignored in a quest to make Biden a bully (who unlike Romney when he did it was praised) In this debate format the back and forth is encouraged.. Funny hypocrites, Republicans are.

kandw101
kandw101

Biden interupted Ryan 81 times. Keep your hand out for that hope and change.

kandw101
kandw101

Are you kidding me? Biden not wrong, really! Joe Biden, better known as Joe Gaff wasn't wrong? Once in a while you really should read something besides white house .gov and actually learn something.

Sage__Owl
Sage__Owl

It's a funny thing. A lot of people, including kandw101, are saying Biden was rude. No one, including kandw101, is saying he was wrong.

lurch3
lurch3

 Wow Ryan lied 81 times!

kandw101
kandw101

Only in a liberal mind. Just keep your hand out and King Obama will fill it!

Sage__Owl
Sage__Owl

So Ryan needed correcting 81 times during the debate? Noted.

BemusedOne
BemusedOne

Respectfully, I disagree. I think Biden's feistiness would be more appealing to "young folks" than Ryan's manner.

TryAgain
TryAgain

@BemusedOne I think the feistiness would have been more welcome by viewers if it came from a real place. But from essentially the first seconds of the debate he started doing his faces and rolling his eyes, at times doing it while Ryan was speaking but not about any kind of policy disagreement. 

It was a clear political strategy (which I don't have a problem with) to go in there and give the impression that he's talking to some punk kid, show the audience that you think he's in way over his head, etc. But he overused it, and several of his outbursts were mistimed and borderline creepy.

kandw101
kandw101

I don't think being disrespectful and rude dozens of times is feisty, but that's just me.

Poppersci
Poppersci

1) If your vote is based on debate performance--last night's or last week's--instead of the copious record, statements and actions of the four candidates over many, many years, then you fail as an American and really shouldn't vote. There. I've gotten that out of my system. Do I feel bad calling people highly uninformed and not diligent enough to do basic research? No.

2) And as long as the campaigns are like this with little journalistic professionalism as exemplified by last week's moderator, and can-you-believe-what-he-just-said? instances (Mr. Romney's remarks the other day on how people without health insurance don't die, all the unbelievable stuff Congresspeople and state legislators are saying) then The Newroom, for all it's giant, glaring flaws is very necessary.

3) Unless we do have strong moderators, all debates are meaningless and highly misleading. Candidate 1: My opponent believes in X. Candidate 2: No, I don't. Repeat for ninety minutes. If anyone can say anything and not be called on it, he will.

4) Anyone remember the Poplers episode of Futurama? The four way screen where the hippie keeps murmuring shut up as the guy is talking. That's what Joltin Joe reminded me of. Not that it was rude as Mr. Ryan was telling whoppers. From now on whenever you read that this candidate was "rude and condescending" that means my guy didn't win and I don't like it.

lurch3
lurch3

It seems strange to care more about someone's demeanor in aggressively pushing back against the GOP lies, rather than the lies themselves.

embeth123
embeth123

If a wise man debates with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs and there is no peace. -Proverbs 29:9

A fool gives full vent to his anger but a wise man keeps himself under control. -Proverbs 29:11

Great debate Paul Ryan - the only wise man at the table!

jada916
jada916

where were all the rude monitors when joe wilson interupted the president during the st of union?

vrcplou
vrcplou

The clear winners here were the audience and Martha Raddatz.  She did a fantastic job as moderator and gives me hope that there are still journalists around who care about reporting real news on real issues instead of repeating the talking points of celebuticians.  Ryan did a good job, though his deficit math is still deficient.  I though Biden was great, though the grinning and gesticulating teetered on the precipice of overkill.  All in all it was far, far better for everyone than the Obamney debate.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

Biden had to show that he could carry the water for Obama if necessary, and last night it was necessary, and he did. Ryan did not offer any evidence that he is ready to be commander in chief in a heartbeat. That's what the job of vice-president is all about. Biden showed that he is ready.

TryAgain
TryAgain

@Dan Bruce Politics aside, people may have liked what he said or hoped he'd wipe the floor with Ryan. But I doubt many people came out of there thinking Biden looked ready in maturity or temperament to have his hand on the button or be in the middle of middle east peace talks. 

bpcofny
bpcofny

 I don't even know how to react to your logic.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

Well, it is rather complete as it is, no further comment needed.

lancedal
lancedal

Ryan did himself a big favor: proved to his base that he is ready for 2016. He didn't do any damage to Romney, but brought no benefit either.

Biden, wow, loved him. Didn't like his handling of the 1st question, but after that, it was pure joy. Only Biden, not Clinton nor Obama, has that gift: slap your opponent on the face for being a liar, yet not appear angry.

Biden had straighten out almost every factually-bended argument Ryan put forward last night.

cbig
cbig

oh well...i'm an independent too; and i've had it w/the shape-shifting romney-ryan ticket. ignoring bush's bankrupt agenda,  global economic downturn, and their party's self-avowed "obstructionism" (oblivious to the unpatriotic consequences,) their "trust me" attitude (w/no specifics except cuts to social safety nets) to entice the 1% into the market w/more tax cuts can only appeal to the older, white, male voting group. i say if americans are this unconscious, (women really don't care about "choice") and can "block out" recent history (including the "never mention" gwb aberation")...bring it on, and let the last bubble of the dream, bust, and titanic-like... save the rich.  (not allowed to laugh at distortion, or misrepresentation?...isn't that pompous!? obama ignored, biden laughs...how about crying then? jeez! can't wait for more rove "bush mind"/cheney "deficits don't matter"/rumsfeld "we create our own reality" types.

Matt Koester
Matt Koester

Yea..right...your a independent...

cbig
cbig

deciphering: i think you mean "yeah, right;  you're an independent"...but i could be mistaken. in a way this could be good news; having changed my voter reg during the clinton yrs... (after he ended welfare, and adopted the thatcherite "workfare" system, throwing millions of women/children into unassisted poverty [ http://www.pbs.org/wnet/taviss... ] (workfare/privatization/vouchers being the 3 part  british conservative platform,) i guess i thought that having "independent" on my voter reg card meant i was "authentic." hopefully you're going to tell me that after that time, the party has reorganized and needs some further verification... i have not been able to vote in either demo or gop primaries since that time. but i get your point.  in the 60's, when i went to college (and mitt was protesting for the vietnamese war) the adage was "don't trust anyone over 30;"  in the eternal digital "now," it's don't trust anyone with a memory." in philosophy, i was taken with the idea of "dialectics." i don't have to tell you; thesis, antithesis...synthesis. of course, this is how logic and reason work together to produce the most effective ideas, to progress to the best our society can provide, for everyone.

what i didn't foresee was the purposeful breakdown of this process...due to fabrication, misrepresentation, dissembling, and outright falsification of facts and records...ie; propaganda. the conservative party here has decided that previous statements, positions, proposals, compromises, (or mass. healthcare legislation) etc, are not binding, in any case...and therefore engage in a kind of " code-talking," that while may be effective in the short term as a power-grab ploy, the result is a poisoning of the wellspring of meaning, from which we all drink.

there was a reason gwb was not invited to the gop convention (the first ex-pres to be treated in this fashion;) similarly, i would say, to what happened to queen hatshepsut of egypt. [ref: wiki- " Her cartouches and images were chiselled off some stone walls, leaving very obvious Hatshepsut-shaped gaps in the artwork."]

as a true independent, i could give the cw (conventional wisdom) critique of obama, as well. (contrary to ryan, it was Not neglecting the effort toward "bipartisanship.") but that's for another day...

may i suggest this piece of "unbiased" journalism?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

thank you for your enjoinder.

cbig
cbig

addendum:

 hmm; i see the trans process eliminate my hotlinks. so...

the first reference was peter edelman on tavis smiley(pbs,) speaking of his book "so rich, so poor."

the second was the pbs frontline doc, "2012; the choice."

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

Biden's theatrics were a bit over the top but I was glad he did it.  Some of the things that Ryan said were so wrong there would laughable if not for the fact that he was saying them on national television and someone might actually believe them if he didn't get called out right there and then.  Biden and Obama both needed to be aggressive about calling a lie a lie when they happened right there in front of them.  It's unfortunate but Romney and Ryan both have relied on civility as cover to get away with telling some severe lies during these debates.  Obama let Romney get away with it, Biden didn't.  I say good for Joe in this case.

bdcstrong1
bdcstrong1

If you like a laughing buffoon who constantly interrupts you than Biden did win the debate, no doubt about it! Think about it, Biden a 69 year old man playing high school bullying to win a contest, how sad...

oldprofessor
oldprofessor

Joe Biden knows where the Congressional and Presidential mistakes are buried.  He was having a ball calling Ryan on his mistakes.

lurch3
lurch3

 So.....you are saying Paul Ryan got schooled by Joe Biden?..................I agree!

BemusedOne
BemusedOne

If by "bullying," you mean refusing to let distortions and lies go unaddressed, then yes, Biden was a bully--a 69-year-old man bullying the 42-year-old star Republican policy wonk and fitness king. And someone who wants to be a heartbeat from the presidency better be able to take real bullying.

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

"This may have been the goal all along for him—to try to show that a young man could have some stature, that a small-government crusader could come across as calm and not a zealot."

I don't think that's quite right.  I don't think it's his age they were worried about as much as the baggage that came along with him and his budget plan, gushing Ayn Rand endorsements, and strict pro-life stance.  Appearing calm and reasonable is a smart tactic for a guy who endorses social security privatization, advocated converting medicare into voucher program (which is what a portable fixed value government subsidy is), and wouldn't make any promises that abortion would stay legal.  

BemusedOne
BemusedOne

I largely agree, but when people bring up Ayn Rand, I have to wonder how many voters have any idea who she is or what she stands for. My guess is a pretty small percentage.