The ordinary "voter in the street" now gets his/her
turn to grill the Major Party presidential candidates
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
With the Entertainment Portion of our program (in the form of last week's Vice-Presidential Debate) having been completed, the 2012 Presidential Election campaign now runs headlong into the "turn" coming immediately off of the "Back Straight"- a turn in the form of the Second Presidential Debate (the Third Presidential Debate a week hence will, therefore, mark the "final turn" going into the "Home Stretch").
First of all, let me point out (this in answer to a couple e-mails I recently received asking me about this) that- yes- I do treat a Vice-Presidential Debate at least somewhat differently than the Presidential Debates in the same Presidential Election Cycle but only in this one respect: I presume that what the running mates each might say is intended to best reflect the message of those at the top of each National Ticket, rather than their own personal views on the issues of the day... thus, vice-presidential candidates can lose points re: "Ten Point Must" were they to stray too far from a presidential nominee's own views (thus- to take one example [from that which I called 'Round 8' of the most recent Vice-Presidential Debate]- Congressman Ryan didn't lose anything, in my own Scoring, via his rather strong assertion that "the policy of a Romney Administration will be to oppose Abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother" [Vice President Biden, perhaps picking up on Ryan's actual wording (note that Ryan never said that this was his position!), did try to bait him quite a bit in the "open discussion" in that Round (it is well known that Ryan has well flirted with a more restrictive definition of just under which conditions Abortion should, or should not, still be legal) but Ryan- smartly!- never took the bait and, thereby, never wavered from what is clearly Mitt Romney's position on this issue]).
Simply put: Congressman Ryan held his own- yet, despite his own claim that he was expecting that which he, indeed, got from Vice President Biden during that debate, there were many a Romney/Ryan supporter, as well as conservative pundit, decrying Biden's behavior and demeanor and terms such as "arrogant" and "inexcusable", "embarrassing" and "rude"- among many others- were well bandied about within such complaints and commentary. Many- if not most- Obama/Biden supporters and more liberal pundits, on the other hand, seem to have well enjoyed Biden's performance last Thursday evening.
Was the Vice President, at times, rude to Congressman Ryan? Yes-- at least a few times, he was (most notably during the opening "2 minutes per candidate answering the question initially" portion of one of the Rounds when Biden interrupted Ryan and Ryan, albeit rather gently, chided Biden on grounds that it might be better for those watching and listening if the two of them didn't so interrupt each other: either Biden forgot [or even ignored] the "rules" behind the format at this point or, perhaps, even mistakenly thought that he was a guest on one of those nationally televised Sunday morning TV talk shows [a feeling, perhaps, enhanced by having each of the Major Party vice-presidential candidates sitting side-by-side, while facing the Moderator, at a table rather than each standing behind a podium as had the two Major Party presidential nominees the week before])...
did Biden employ quite a bit of sarcasm against not only Ryan, but also Governor Romney himself, during the course of the proceedings? Sure!...
but this was- after all- supposed to be a debate, fergawdsake!...
and almost all of the time Biden so "lit into" Ryan, it seemed to be when the Vice President clearly felt that the Wisconsin Congressman was distorting and/or defaming the Obama Administration's position (particularly on Foreign Policy issues [well note, for instance, their exchange in what I called 'Round 6' where Ryan was clearly implying that drawing down American forces in the middle of the so-called 'fighting season' was leaving that part of Afghanistan closest to the Pakistani border more or less wide open for the Taliban and Biden was left to so strongly retort, in the manner to which he himself had become accustomed, that said American troops were being replaced by Afghans, thereby allowing the setting of a deadline for total American withdrawal from that country (Biden further explained why there even needed to be a deadline) in the first place]).
In a nutshell: Vice President Biden didn't let much- if anything- negative Congressman Ryan said about actions taken by the Administration (and/or related policy proposals by the Obama/Biden campaign) go by unchallenged (including- in at least one case- intimations of criminal investigations of Administration actions by the Congressman) while, for his own part, Ryan did not do so nearly as much in this regard (though he would say things such as "That is inaccurate!" and the like from time to time): my having scored this debate as an overall "win" for Biden was (as was my having scored the First Presidential Debate as a "win" for Romney) largely based on just how well the "winning" candidate parried the rhetorical/informational thrusts of his opponent as compared to that very opponent.
Although, yes, Biden did dissemble occasionally (in such cases, taking no little time in answering a question directly before getting to his defense of his boss [most notably, in Round 1 re: the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in Libya]), though defend President Obama- eventually- Biden almost always did (which was what "won" the Vice President most of the debate's 'Round's) and- as had been the case in the First Presidential Debate in the President's own case- there was really nothing the Vice President could do when (as happened in Round 3 on the Economy and Jobs) Ryan cited negative economic stats (such as the Unemployment Rate in Biden's old hometown of Scranton having gone up during the Obama Administration), something that gave Ryan the one Round that was wholly about the Economy per se.
In addition, Biden did fudge his factoids from time to time (for example: his notion of Libya having "1/5 the population" while being "five times as large geographically" as compared to Syria may well make for a good mnemonic, but the reality is that Libya is some 10 times the area of Syria with but 2/7 Syria's population-- yet the Vice President's essential point about the dangers of outsiders getting more directly involved in civil strife within a more urbanized region of denser population so close to the "usual suspects" amongst Middle East 'hot spots' [left unstated, of course, was the additional fact that Syria happens to be- through its sharing a common border with NATO member Turkey- one of the 'marchlands' (as is Iran, for the same reason) abutting America's own "empire" were we to analyze the NATO alliance itself in just such terms: therefore, that "empire"'s very 'metropole'- the United States of America itself- had best be most judicious!]).
Indeed, if there was one thing that was quite clear from this Vice-Presidential Debate, it is that the Romney/Ryan ticket is yet at its weakest on Foreign Policy (and much of the conservative punditry umbrage taken re: Biden's approach included its scoring Biden's so questioning what Romney/Ryan might actually do differently re: Afghanistan, Syria and especially Iran [re: which Biden implied that the only option left, so far, on the proverbial "table" is War itself (which, by the way, it is!)], yet this is all but part and parcel of the very political problem Romney/Ryan actually has here [see my own Commentary of this past 3 October]) and, therefore, should Foreign Policy pull at least even with the Economy as "Issue of the Day" in the remaining time before the upcoming Presidential Election, it does not bode all that well for the GOP National Ticket's chances (Mitt Romney could well win the Presidency on the Economy, yes-- but the Republican nominee could still lose it on Foreign Policy nonetheless) which is precisely why the last Presidential Debate (the one actually specifically devoted to Foreign Policy) a week from now as I type this looms ever larger as we go forward--
but I will have yet much more to say on this particular score (Foreign Policy itself) going into that debate!
For now we have the one Presidential Debate in so-called "Town Hall" format (though I myself much more prefer the term "Town Meeting"-- then again, I am a native of New England!), in which ordinary undecided voters are invited to attend (as the result of their own demographic relationship to the available polling data) and put questions directly to the candidates themselves (although just which questions will be asked will be culled- as a result of which by whom within the audience said questions will be asked will be determined- aforehand). As- unlike in the First and Third (more formal, if you will) Presidential Debates- there is no subject matter to which this Second Presidential Debate is specifically restricted, the issues to be discussed can well range widely within and between both Domestic and Foreign Policy, much as did the Vice-Presidential Debate so recently witnessed.
Thus: Governor Romney (as will President Obama) will be, in essence, setting up his Foreign Policy points during the course of this Debate as these will then have to be utilized in order to better shore up the GOP nominee's Foreign Policy "street cred" come the Third Presidential Debate-- yet I so strongly suspect that the Economy will still be # 1- "with a bullet"!- on the minds of at least most of those in the audience (here assuming that the very voters chosen to participate are, indeed, well reflective of ordinary Americans throughout the Nation) and this very subject matter- more so than Foreign Policy- will, thereby, most likely be predominant (in addition: this Second Presidential Debate will be the last time both candidates will be allowed to so square off directly on Matters Economic [including those ancillary to Economics, such as Health Care] even though I am sure both men will try their utmost to, somehow, sneak economic issues into the Foreign Policy discussion the following week [surely Governor Romney, in particular, would want the remaining weeks in this Fall's Election Campaign to remain the more focused on the Economy in any event: despite the terrible incident last month in Libya, Foreign Policy still looms as more of a distraction from Romney's own potential best key to the White House]).
Beyond all this, President Obama has to well defend his own policies and proposals- and on much the same grounds as did Vice President Biden this past Thursday- but without going too "over the top" in so doing while- for his own part- Governor Romney has here a genuine opportunity to much better "connect" with the average voter (something this "Town Hall Meeting" format might well afford him).
Yet, all in all, whatever happens (or not!) during the course of tonight's Debate, it still largely serves as but a precursor to that Third, and final, Presidential Debate next Monday the 22nd which will be the very Denouement itself setting up the Final Act-- the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election itself!