Shhhh….hear that sound?
It’s the sound of millions of Democrats exhaling all at once.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone here that Vice President Joe Biden got the job done in the VP debate last night – and then some. Paul Ryan was very disciplined, very even-keeled, and very well-prepared. But despite this, he looked lost numerous times during last night’s debate – and on a few points, he was rebuked by Biden so authoritatively that he just had no choice but to drop his spiel and pray for a new question.
The exchange on Afghanistan was a particular highlight. It was established by Joe Biden that the Obama administration plans to have our troops back home from that war in 2014 – PERIOD. The Romney/Ryan position, as far as I could tell, was that they ALSO want the troops home in 2014, but that they aren’t SAYING that, because actually SAYING that in a definitive way is bad.
As Ryan demonstrated last night, actually saying ANYTHING in a definitive way is bad when it comes to policy proposals. How to pay for those across-the-board tax cuts? Sorry, that’s for me to know and you to find out. Iran? Well, we’re not saying we go to war with them, but we’re saying we should do more than what we’re doing. Even though, short of war, we acknowledge that there’s really not much more we can realistically do. Jobs? Hey, 5 point plan! None of the points go beyond generalities, and the 12 million jobs we’re promising to create are jobs that most economists believe will come back on their own anyway, but still…there’s 5 whole points in there! FIVE!
Many people (and that includes many Democrats) would criticize Biden for the whole grinning/laughing thing. I agree that it comes off as rude, but I have to be honest. It’s about goddamn time these blatant and unapologetic liars were treated with just a little smidgen of contempt. They have acted in a thoroughly contemptible manner from Day One of this campaign, and they have not been called out on it nearly enough – by the press, by the public, or by the Obama campaign. Any lack of respect that Biden may have displayed toward Paul Ryan last night was completely and totally earned by Ryan himself due to his own dishonesty. I will concede that not everyone agrees with me, and that for the sake of political strategy, Biden maybe should have toned it down a little. But for the sake of integrity, the only appropriate response to the foulness of Ryan’s bullshit was to laugh in his face. Standing there and acting as if the words coming out of your opponent’s mouth are NOT steaming heaps of dung, when they so obviously ARE, requires a forced obliviousness which Biden is not capable of. The beauty of being the VP – and the particular beauty of being Joe Biden – is that you have some flexibility in showing a bit more of your unfiltered self than you would if you were the president. Biden took full advantage of this fact last night, and I personally understand exactly why he did so. If you have to get up on a stage next to someone who is happily and knowingly misleading the entire nation, then the least a decent person can do is make it clear that you ain’t buying a word of it, and that nobody else should either.
All that being said, we must keep in mind that this was a VP debate. It was a much-needed shot in the arm for the base, but it will not likely be a game-changer in the way that Debate #1 was. For the narrative and the momentum to shift again, the second presidential debate must go as well as this one did. To begin with, we will need to have a moderator who will handle the debate like an actual DEBATE, and not like a free-for-all, talking points marathon (can I just get a standing ovation right now for Martha Raddatz? I mean, DAMN, she was good). By keeping the questions tough and the responses tight, they covered so much more ground, in a more substantive way, than was managed in the presidential debate. Candy Crowley is in charge next week, and I hope she took notes tonight.
Additionally, the president will need to study the tape of this VP debate over…and over…and OVER again, between now and Tuesday night. Look for the areas where Ryan had a hard time, and keep them in mind, because these will be weak spots for Romney, too. That lack of specificity on the tax cut proposal – hammer it. Do not let that slide. The fact that, in terms of dealing with Libya, with Syria, and with Iran, there were virtually no contrasts presented between what Ryan/Romney would do and what Obama is ALREADY doing – restate that and make it clear. The Medicare issue – illuminate some reality when it comes to that $716 billion that they keep talking about, and do not accept the rewrite they are pushing about how Obama “stole” it from the benefits seniors are getting. Abortion – man, that’s an area where there is no question that Romney and Ryan are on the wrong side of the Constitution, and that needs to be emphasized repeatedly and forcefully.
I think Democrats are feeling a lot happier this morning than they have been feeling over the past week. So thank you, Joe Biden, for standing up last night and representing everything we were thinking and feeling in such a powerful way. But even if we believe that he truly did win last night’s debate, that’s not gonna be enough. The game ain’t over yet; it’s only halftime, and right now it’s a tie. We’ve stopped the downhill slide, but let’s look ahead and recognize that we need two things to happen at the next debate before we can really feel like we’ve regained our footing. First, the president must be willing and able to rise to the challenge this time around, without trying to maintain his cool at the expense of making his points. And second, we Democrats must not go overboard in our reactions as we did last time. The way so many of us bought into the media spin about Obama’s “failure” and Romney’s “dominance” was both embarrassing and counter-productive (I’m looking at YOU, Chris Matthews!). But if Obama can learn something from what Joe Biden did last night, then we won’t have to worry about that sort of collective “WTF just happened?” sort of feeling coming back to haunt us after Tuesday’s debate. I know our president is up to the task, and I want to see him prove me right.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…STAY TUNED, Y’ALL!