With Baltimore on the verge of elimination, it was wrenching to switch the channel from the Yankee/Oriole fourth playoff game, but duty called; and truth be told the Vice-Presidential debate had its own October drama. And in that regard it was clear that Alex Rodriquez is to Barack Obama, what Raul Ibanez is to Joe Biden. Just like the journeyman Ibanez pitch-hit for the woeful A-Rod in game three when the Yankee superstar couldn’t hit a beach ball, and put the Bronx bombers up over the Baltimore Orioles, so too old Joe Biden bailed out his boss when the president couldn’t put two sentences together at last week’s debate. The V.P. replaced the underperforming president and saved the Democratic Party’s chances in November.
The V.P. debate could not have been more different than the first encounter between the presidential candidates. First of all, the moderator, ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz who happens to be one of my favorite journalists, was in control of the debate throughout. She had an agenda of issues to be covered and she was almost uncanny in her fairness, allocating 41 minutes to the Democrat and 40 to the Republican. With the playing field level and the world watching, style and substance both mattered, but style counted for less.
The vice president smiled too widely and too often, and interrupted way too much. Like those ballplayers in the dugout that the camera catches chewing and spitting ugly dark stuff, Biden’s dentist-provided choppers looked too big, white and fake. He also waved his arms around like he was swatting summer flies on a ball field. Still, there is no denying that Joe Biden is like the old pair of shoes that you have been meaning to throw out for some time but just can’t bring yourself to do it because you really like them when all is said and done. He can be tiresome and goofy, but he’s sincere as the day is long, he’s been to hell and back, and he gets better with age.
His “friend” Paul Ryan has the biggest blue eyes and the biggest nose in politics. His shirt seemed too big for his neck, and he had the look of a rookie gamely stepping up to play in the big leagues. That is not to suggest that Ryan doesn’t have either the ability or the knowledge to compete with Mr. Biden. The congressman from Janesville, Wisconsin more than held his own against the hugely more experienced vice president who once headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was first elected to the Senate when Ryan was three years old. So all things considered, I called the debate a draw on style and superficial stuff.
So it all boiled down to substance, and who won depends on what you believe in terms of issues. The Democrat scored when he pointed out that neither ticket wants to send ground troops into Syria, and that both parties want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. The Republican made up some ground when he criticized the president for announcing the specific date of our withdrawal, but everyone is so sick of Afghanistan that neither would dare suggest that we extend our stay in that unhappy place anyway.
I thought Biden also got the best of the exchange about which candidate supports Israel more unequivocally, since the position of both sides is so similar when the rhetoric is discounted; similarly, they are essentially on the same page on whether we are doing all that is prudent to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Neither wants to invade Iran unless and until it is unavoidable to keep the ayatollahs from acquiring nukes.
Ryan scored on the “massive intelligence failure” in Libya regarding the fatal September 11th attacks on our consulate in Benghazi, but I thought he could have been even more aggressive given the Obama Administration’s utter incompetence in explaining what they knew about what really happened and when they knew it. Biden backed his young rival off the plate by inserting that we will track the terrorist perpetrators to the “Gates of hell” to bring them to justice, and reminding everyone that Congressman Ryan voted to cut embassy security by millions.
On the economy, Medicare and Social Security it was obvious that the vice president was not going to allow the congressman the latitude the president afforded Governor Romney. When Biden got in a jam, he brought up “vouchers” and “47%” and “125,000 millionaire families” who would reap the rewards of a massive tax cut just enough to appeal to many undecided voters earning less than seven figures.
That brought it down to abortion and the historic fact that both Biden and Ryan are Catholic. On this critical issue the differences could not be starker. If abortion is your litmus test one way or the other then there is no doubt who you will be voting for.
Because I think that is the issue that gave the Democrats the advantage among female voters that the president squandered with his woeful performance last week, it is reasonable to assume that the Democrats made back some ground Thursday night with that critical constituency.
But the vice presidential debate was as close as the presidential debate was lopsided. Call it a one run game. Like the Orioles win in the thirteenth inning of Game Four of the playoffs last night, this series is far from over.