That gusty sound you heard across the country last night was the sound of millions of Democrats and progressives letting out a huge sigh of relief after the vice presidential debate.
This was the debate that the Obama campaign should have had last week in Denver between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Per the New York Times:
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan fiercely quarreled at the vice-presidential debate here on Thursday night, with Mr. Biden using the cutting attack lines against the Republican ticket that Mr. Obama did not and Mr. Ryan delivering a spirited case for conservative policies that Mr. Romney had soft-pedaled.
The 90-minute debate, which unfolded in rapid tempo, offered a spirited airing of the sharp contrasts over the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack in Libya, the pace of the economic recovery at home and the role of government in addressing the nation’s fiscal burdens.
The straight news sources are trying to make it sound like it was an even match with phrases like “Ryan held his own,” etc., but if you were watching the body language, you could see it was obvious that Mr. Ryan was uncomfortable, irritated, and at times floundering for an answer. And when he came up with one, it was often a boilerplate campaign talking point, even if it was strangely out of context or had just been called a lie — oops, I mean “malarkey.” It was impressive to see how many ways Joe Biden was able to call Mr. Ryan and the Romney campaign liars without actually using the word.
This was a real debate, and kudos to moderator Martha Raddatz for asking tough questions and controlling the floor, not letting either man get away with stock answers and following up. It was not a complete shut-out for Mr. Biden; Mr. Ryan got in a few hits, but it was pretty lopsided. Even when Mr. Ryan was able to get off his “zingers,” Mr. Biden was either ready with one of his own or laughed it off. And when he got back one of his own, it didn’t sound rehearsed. He was clearly enjoying it, far more than Mr. Ryan.
Based on the GOP reaction, they know that at the very least, Mr. Biden stopped the bleeding and may have gained ground; a lot of them are having “lookit the kitty” moments by knocking Mr. Biden’s smiling and laughing. They know they lost a lot of points on the substance and the fact that Mr. Ryan was never able to give specifics about his tax cuts, Medicare, and Social Security. Even Ms. Raddatz called him out on that. So expect a lot of snark from the right wing about Mr. Biden’s “manic” and “angry” performance. That means they know they have very little more to go on.
The abortion question was a delicate one, given that you had two men taking on a woman’s right to control her own body, wrapped up in religious freedom and the Catholic Church. Mr. Biden gave by far the clearer answer, making it about the right of one faith to impose their will and influence on people of different faiths or no faith at all. And when the crunch was on, Mr. Ryan came out with what many people consider to be a “moderate” answer on abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. That’s going to raise a few hackles with the Todd Akin hard core baby Jesus base.
If we can get the same kind of sure-footed and spirited performance out of Barack Obama during the next two debates, knowing that Mitt Romney does not take well to being thrown off message — “The program has encountered an error and needs to close” — then the Obama campaign will be back on track.
Okay, readers; your turn.