Friday, October 12, 2012

Round Two

After the first, very entertaining, first presidential debate, I was looking forward to the VP debate last night—but with some concerns. Our expectations for Joe Biden were so low, I thought anything he did that wasn’t a total gaffe-fest would be regarded as a win. And our expectations for Paul Ryan were high, for good reason. While he hasn’t had experience on the national debate stage, he has been one of the clearest elected officials at explaining conservative principles, especially in relation to budget issues. He has a good grasp of data and details, in the context of framing principles. So, with high expectations, my concern was that anything less than a home run would be spun as a loss.

So it was with that slight apprehension that I watched the debate. I found myself agitated, irritated—had to get up and pace. Went through part of my tai-chi routine (which, it turns out, doesn’t relieve stress very much if you do it while continuing to allow the stress input) and did some deep breathing. It wasn’t fun.
I didn’t fully understand the agitation while going through it. I was pleased with most of Paul Ryan’s answers. Despite the odds against him (a brawling Joe Biden aided by a complicit moderator, Martha Raddatz), he made some well-worded points.
I think what upsets me is bullying. And that is pretty much the only way to describe Joe Biden’s behavior. It was inappropriate in a world leader. It was inappropriate for any civilized person involved in a respectful exchange of ideas. He talked over Ryan. He interrupted endlessly. He sneered, laughed, rolled his eyes, referred to some of Ryan’s assertions as “malarkey” (followed by a response that totally failed to address said assertions).
I was thinking Chris Matthews must be pleased that the VP followed his advice to watch his show (Hardball) to get pointers on how to debate. (Tweet passed on from Greta Van Susteren @gretawire: “Does this debate feel like a Chris Matthews show on crack?”) To me that means: raise your voice, talk over your opponent, ridicule any dissenting opinion as self-evidently stupid, and by all means prevent the dissenting opinion from being expressed uninterrupted.
One surprise I’m experiencing this debate season is the response other people are having to the debates. I am simply not used to having the general public see what I see. So some of my apprehension during the debate was that Biden might be seen as powerful, engaged, and in control of the debate. And it was a while before I got the chance to hear from the outside world. I missed the immediate post-debate discussion on TV; I was talking about what we’d seen with Mr. Spherical Model, and then got a phonecall from our son Political Sphere, to hear his reactions. Mr. Spherical Model was concerned that there was too much on foreign policy, which is a disadvantage to anyone not in office where the administration is privy to secret briefings. (I thought Paul Ryan had done well on foreign policy nevertheless.[*]) Political Sphere was better able than I was to explain what we’d seen. He had noticed the split screen comparison, with Biden laughing, mocking, and sneering inappropriately, and he predicted that would be off-putting especially to independents.
Eventually I got online to gauge the public’s reaction. The most common reaction was that it was painful to watch. The interruptions were frustrating and anger-inducing, particularly to conservatives, but also to independents and undecided who were trying to actually hear both sides. Someone counted:
OFFICIAL INTERRUPTION COUNT: 116 times in under 40 minutes. Moderator interrupted Ryan 34 times, Biden interrupted Ryan 82 times. [The Blacksphere Facebook status early morning 10-12-2012]
I did not see any count of Ryan interrupting the others when it was their turn to speak—possibly because he didn’t. (The think the 40 minutes refers to time allotted to Paul Ryan, of the total 90 minutes.)
Speaking of moderator Martha Raddatz: we knew going in that she was liberal, that she was tight with the Obama crowd (Obama attended her wedding and later hired her husband). We have no other expectation from moderators than that they will side with the liberal side. That was true of Jim Lehrer as well. He tried to guide Obama to make a point at times, and offered Obama more time by several minutes. But, to his credit, he mostly stayed out of the way, and when Romney made it clear he would respond to false allegations against him, Mr. Lehrer stepped back and let that happen, which was respectful. Also, his questions allowed an actual comparison of philosophies.
Ms. Raddatz asked a question, interrupted the answer, insisted we hadn’t heard details, got the question answered again, repeated that we hadn’t gotten details, got the answer again…. To the point that I was wondering why she seemed unaware of a large hole in her head. I think those who were angry with Jim Lehrer for “letting things get out of control,” which should be translated into regular person-speak as “didn’t prevent the dissenting opinion from getting spoken,” were pleased with Martha Raddatz’s performance. And therefore we can expect that behavior from moderators in the next two debates.
There were moments when I temporarily longed for a Newt Gingrich debate attack on the moderator; in the long run, I think Ryan’s respectful deference is the better way. While it’s hard to watch meekness and see strength, in the end, “the meek will inherit the earth,” or, in this case receive the vote.
I wondered about the fact checkers. It is a luxury we didn’t used to have, and even though these services tend to come from the liberal side, there is more fairness there than we are used to. Biden’s evening wasfull of untruths. Ryan’s was exceptionally accurate. (The only complaints were more rhetorical interpretation—and considering how few words Ryan was allowed to get out, his performance is even more amazing. I could quibble about the comparison to Obamacare and Massachusetts Care, where they say in Massachusetts more people actual go private insurance--they fail to note that Massachusetts offered no public option, as Obamacare does, so Massachusetts was not designed to pull people away from private options. In other words, Ryan was right again.)
Most amusing was possibly Biden’s assertion, more than once, that “I always say what I mean.” Oh, my! The list here could take an entire post. He apparently truly supports China’s one-child limitation and believes a person really does have to use a slight Indian accent to go to a deli. While he was inaccurate in the debate, I didn’t think he was his usual gaffe explosion; but this allowed us to attach all his previous gaffes to his debate performance.
My expectation is that the VP debate will not have a huge effect on the polls. Biden’s performance will certainly not erase the failure of the President’s first debate performance, and could possibly hurt further. And Ryan’s performance will certainly not interfere with the momentum  picked up by Romney in that first debate.

[*] Romney continues to press the Obama administration on mistakes in Libya. And on that note, I was amused at the top-of-the-hour radio news headline I heard this afternoon: “The administration claims to be clueless, rather than lying, about the need for greater security at the Libyan embassy.” [This is KTRH Radio, Houston, 3:00 PM 10-12-2012; I am recalling the words after the fact, so this might not be an exact quote, but the use of the terms “clueless” and “lying” were used as I’ve reported.]

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