Today’s Courier Herald Column:
With my travel this week I wasn’t able to watch the Vice Presidential debate. Instead, I listened to it on the radio. In today’s instant technology digital age it was a “retro” way to observe political discourse. I did, however, have my twitter stream handy to keep me connected to the 21st century instant feedback machine. I wasn’t burdened, however, with having to observe whether one of the candidates had shaved or not to determine my opinion of the performance.
The debate had a rare expectation to it in that the pressure was on an incumbent Vice President to perform well. In most past presidential debates, the incumbent Vice President generally is viewed to have won the debate. With the performance of President Obama in his first debate and his corresponding fall in the polls afterwards, Biden needed to inspire his base to stop the bleeding. By most accounts, his performance seemed to be what the doctors within Democratic circles ordered.
Biden’s first response to a question on the economy seemed to be a laundry list of things President Obama didn’t say during last week’s debate. It was almost as if it were designed to ward off another explosion from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews than to address the specific question at hand. Regardless, Democratic spin masters after the performance largely patted themselves on their backs for having heard the constructs that they are convinced this election is about.
More troubling long term for Biden and his ticket however is the response to his first answer, regarding the Administration’s continuing bungling of the response to the September 11th assignation of America’s Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens along with 3 others. Biden clearly stated “we were not told they (the embassy) wanted more security.” Various news accounts have contradicted this statement, noting that multiple cables from Libya had been received requesting additional security. Instead, the State Department told the embassy to quit requesting security.
Biden’s separate statement that their triumphs in the Middle East have occurred “largely without incident” was evocative of President Obama’s “bumps in the road” statement. If Biden gave a statement that will outlive the news cycle of the debate, it seems lie within the evolving description of how the administration chose to respond to the Bengazi attacks.
The demeanor of Biden will also be remembered, but the reaction is clearly judged through a partisan lens. To Democrats he was “tough” and taking the message back to Republicans in a forceful manner. To Republicans, he was interrupting, rude, dismissive, and condescending. If any independents were swayed based on Biden’s posture, we may have to wait and see if he receives the “Saturday Night Live” effect.
Ryan, on the other hand, most mostly calculated and reserved. Overall, he answered the questions generally according to script. He handled foreign policy by demonstrating a working knowledge of the field. As with most debates, the strength of his performance will also be viewed through the partisan lens with which it was seen.
The net result of this debate is that it was likely a placeholder for the political class to focus their own energy for a week while those at the top of the ticket prepare for the final push. Biden likely provided field triage for Democrats who were still bleeding support from the first Presidential debate. In reality, few undecided voters will likely be swayed by what they saw (or heard) Thursday night. Virtually all studies show that people do not decide support based on the Vice President.
There are two more Presidential debates. Next Tuesday the 16th will be President Obama’s turn to show a stronger Democratic message. Based on the expectations game along, the President is likely to win that debate. The real show is on October 22nd. That will be the final time the candidates share the same stage, and will essentially make the closing argument to the nation.
The Vice Presidential debate was nice entertainment. The Presidential Debate on the 22nd will likely be the consequential debate, if there is to be another one.