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Vice presidential debate: All things considered, it was Biden's night

October 12, 2012|By Michael McGough
  • Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during a debate with Representative Paul Ryan, Republican vice presidential candidate, unseen, in Danville, Ky.
Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during a debate with Representative… (Scott Eells / Bloomberg…)

Without the advantage (or contamination) of listening to other instant analysts, I gave the debate to Vice President Joe Biden on style and on the substance of economic and tax policy.

Rehearsed or not, his exasperation with Rep. Paul Ryan's posturing was engaging, not overbearing, and he checked the "47%" and "don't voucherize Medicare" boxes. With some aid from the moderator, he pounced on Ryan for teasing the voters about which tax breaks Mitt Romney would eliminate to offset his tax cuts.

Ryan was snarky and supercilious. But he scored two palpable hits, both on foreign policy.

DEBATE LOG: Vice Presidential Debate

The first was his attack on the administration’s changing explanation of the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Yes, he went too far in portraying it as a metaphor for President Obama’s supposedly unraveling foreign policy, but the indictment was crisp and coherent: The government had warnings about lax security; it disregarded them and then dissembled about what happened for political purposes. Biden’s response was weak: We’re looking into what happened.

Ryan also leveled a damaging charge about the Obama administration’s policy on Iran: The U.S. is imposing mega-sanctions on the country (including its central bank) because Congress forced Obama to adopt a tougher line than he originally espoused. Biden never countered this accusation, the sort of ball-dropping that high school debaters are warned about.

Yet I would still give Biden the edge on foreign policy because he managed to insinuate that Romney and Ryan are either itching to go to war with Iran and send troops to Syria, or pretending to be more hawkish than the Obama administration for crass political purposes. Paired with Biden’s insistence that the U.S. is getting out of Afghanistan in 2014 whatever happens, those comments suggest that the Democrats believe voters are weary of war and wary of saber-rattling.

PHOTOS: 2012 vice presidential debate

Weirdest moment: Ryan’s anecdote about Romney’s compassion, which was offered as a refutation of complaints about his running mate’s public policies.

Second weirdest moment: Moderator Martha Raddatz’s goofy question about how the two men’s Catholicism had shaped their views on abortion. Both candidates rewrote the question, separating it into two parts: How has Catholicism affected my thinking in general, and what I think about abortion. (I was surprised Biden didn't use the question to mention Romney's latest flip-flop on abortion.)

Ryan had his moments, but this was Biden's night. 

ALSO:

Vice presidential debate: Biden's mission accomplished

Vice presidential debate: Joe Biden has reasons to smile

Obama vs. Romney -- prepping for a presidential debate rematch


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