On Thursday, October 11, Vice Presdient Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan will square off in the vice presidential debate in the run up to this year's eleciton on November 6. Historically, the VP debates do not play a critical role, but this year may be different. Given President Obama's abysmal performance in the first debate with GOP candidate Romney — and the obsessive way not just the media, but also the Obama campaign itself has continued to keep the analysis in the news cycle — there is an increasing amount of pressure on Biden. However, Ryan and the GOP need to be careful about their historic underestimating of Biden's popularity and message articulation. He knows how to talk to people through the camera in a way the other three candidates may never achieve and as we saw from the last debate — style counts. Here are some elements you may not have thought about to be on the look out for during the debate:
1. The Table: The candidates will both be seated. If you remember the Edwards-Cheney debate of 2004 (C-SPAN) you may understand the implications of this. Seated at a table is much more initimate and immediate than standing at podiums on a larger stage. It seems as though the candidates are engaged in more of a managed conversation sometimes than an actual debate. However, in the case of the 2004 debate, the seated format can also prove to be more initimidating to certain candidates. Cheney appeared much more formidable and "adult" than the younger, more handsome Edwards — like a son being schooled by his father in foreign policy. ("You're dead wrong" was one of Cheney's famous lines from the debate). In Biden and Ryan there is the same age and experience dynamic, but it remains to be seen whether Biden can bring his mettle and "attack dog" role to the table, literally. Insiders have said he is less prone to his famous gaffes when doing seated interviews, so that does bode well for him. Ryan is a wild card in this respect, this being his first debate on the national stage. The pressure of the more immediate setting could be getting to him, as he ended an interview earlier this week by claiming "you're trying to stuff words in people's mouths?" when asked a question about specific tax cuts. Here's the full video with the ABC affiliate in Flint, MI. Also, take note of the candidates body language in the split-screen camera shots. Most likely, the timing devices will also be visible and right on the table in front of them.
2. The moderator. It's always wonderful to see the specific energy, rhythm, and topics of debates depending on their moderators. Moderator choice may not be looked on by the public with much scrutiny, but is a careful and thoughtful selection that is made. Female moderators are very rare, but this year's VP debate will be presided over by veteran journalist Martha Raddatz. (In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit I am an admirer of her. To be fair, I did not agree with all the criticisms of Jim Lehrer in the first debate either though. The man was essentially fired, on air, in front of millions by Mitt Romney's PBS de-funding declaration. Cut him some slack!) She may play a bigger role in all this than we expect. It's interesting to note, no women's rights issues came up in the first presdiential debate despite a plethora of proposed legislation regarding reproductive rights, health care matters, and equal pay rights playing a huge role this year. I think we can expect that to change, especially given Biden's likeability factor with women on average and on the campaign trail specifically.
3. The world at large. Given Raddatz' extensive foreign policy experience, this debate will be a real test for Ryan, who comes in to the election much as Obama had in 2008 — lacking any specific experience in the area. Afghanistan and comments made about troops may also be on the agenda, with Raddatz having written a book (The Long Road Home - A Story of War and Family) on the subject which was a New York Times bestseller. This is the one and only debate the VPs will have this year. These two men are in the running for a position that is one heartbeat away from the presidency. Foreign policy is a major concern, but also the area in which there is the most daylight between Biden and Ryan. The election will not be won on foreign policy, but it might be lost on the threat of new or continuing wars in my opinion. Expect the Romney plan to dramatically increase defense spending to be discussed in light of Ryan's budget plan, the main reason for which he was taken on as candidate.
4. Tweet tweet. Big Bird isn't the only one chirping. The last presidential debate was the "most tweeted about even in U.S. politics," according to Twitter, a tool used to great effect by both Democrats and Republicans. The candidates are well aware of the astounding 10 million tweets sent out about the #debates. We can expect curated sound bites, as always, but given Ryan's relative youth, he may be the one who is more consciously aware of the real-time news implications of every single word and action during the debate.
The debate is scheduled to take place in the small town of Danville, Kentucky on October 11, Thursday evening. Broadcast live at 9pm on nearly every network (including PBS!) and online at www.2012presidentialelectionsnews.com for 90 minutes.
PolicyMic will be covering the vice presidential debate live. For live updates, bookmark and refresh this page.
The next day:
The real winner of the debate was moderator Martha Raddatz! She pushed for specifics (literally, as you can read below) and asked poignant questions of real importance. She did ask some more open-ended questions towards the end which didn't illict quite the same policy/numbers/wonky response people need to hear but they did serve to illustrate the characters of Biden and Ryan. She really understood that though the position of VP is often seen as an empty suit, there is a deep, albeit, hidden importance in the office. A VP still has to articulate policy and position as well as the President as his most visible surrogate.
I still feel Biden 'won' the debate, but that Ryan aslo fulfilled his obligations as the challenging VP candidate. See my initial reaction below.
Vice Presdiential debates are often more contentious than Presidential debates which is one of the reasons I don't understand the lack of attention. Still, the viewing numbers were impressive and on Twitter there were approximately 3.5 million tweets regarding last night's #debates/#VPdebates.
Biden was passionate and came off as 'fired up and ready to go.' Some have said his several interruptions and laughing were rude, but they did serve to set the tone - Democrats are not weak. As I pointed out a few days ago the table format looked like it was a bit initimidating for Ryan. To his credit he stayed on message and didn't back down during Biden's attacks. However, people often forget that the VP is one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. They could be Presdient. Thinking in those terms, Biden came across as the more assertive person who leads with experience rather than ideas. Both types of people are needed in the White House, but in this period of unsteady economic growth and foreign policy events - people may have seen the "I was in the room" experience as a very positive thing.
Ryan's biggest pitfall was foreign policy. VPs are at a disadvantage in that respect because they have only one chance to show their wares in the marketplace of debate performances. Raddatz, who has an impressive background in war reporting, pushed on several foreign policy topics but especially with the question: "What's worse? A nuclear armed Iran or another war in the Middle East?" Ryan jumped at the answer, saying the former. Does that mean a Romney/Ryan administration would be willing to begin another armed conflict in the Middle East?
He also lost on the Afghanistan questioning. Biden was clear in saying that the responsibility for frontline fighting would fall on Afghan shoulders. Ryan continued to argue that we were sending less Americans to fight the terrorists crossing the border from Pakistan. Biden was on full tilt at this point, bluntly asking - "would you rather send more Americans to the frontline?" It was a bad decision to argue about sending more Americans into harm's way with a man who is already an emotional person, clearly the more experienced statesman, and has seen their own son fight in Iraq. Politics is nothing if not personal.
On the Syria and Libya issues, I would call a draw. Clearly Ryan did not fully understand the complexities of Iran sanctions with several economic actors' interests coming in to play. In my opinion, sanctions don't necessarily work - really only serving to makes the everyday lives of the innocent miserable and difficult. However, I agree with Joe Biden when he pointed out that 'war should always be the last option.' Biden was not explicitly clear on the Beghazi security issues however. Just that morning members of the Embassy said they had asked for more security, but Biden noted that they (he and the President?) were not aware of that request.
I actually did think Ryan's Medicare argument resonated more with me than Biden's. Making it a personal argument for savings and long-term vision actually worked better. He could have articulated it better but the fact that he looked in the camera more often than Biden helped him immensely.
Then Raddatz moved the debate over to domestic issues and again, I'll have to say Biden appeared more solid on the point of abortion. American voting women everywhere, I hope you listened to that part closely. There was a shocking line from Ryan who noted that the Supreme Court are not elected officials and should therefore not be making any decisions on abortion rights. This is the Supreme Court of the United States. The panel of nine venerable judges who have played a major role in every civil right you have today. Take note because the next administration may have an opportunity to replace a few Justices.
Overall, it was an entertaining debate with substance as well and hopefully that will carry on to the next Presidential debate. I'm not sure why people are just now waking up to the 'Biden attitude.' He's always been like this and he's lasted in political office as a result for the past 40 years. Ryan will have to deal with that intense pressure on a daily basis should he get elected. Both sides are claiming 'victory,' in any case.
There's the thought that Biden basically took Ryan to task with his fight and definite advantage in foreign policy.
BUT, Ryan also did his job. He appeared calm, collected. He stuck to his points consistently - as he has articulated on the campaign trail. He had to push the leadership qualities of Romney and the idea that continuing along the same road will lead to the same place.
Further analysis coming...
10:28PM: Candidates' closing remarks about character.
Biden does the scratchy voice whisper: I want families to be ok, for parents to sit their kids down and say 'Honey, it's going to be ok.' Pulls out: Ryan said 30% of you are 'Takers.'
Ryan: We're offering real reforms. We want to earn your support. "At the time of a jobs crisis in America, wouldn't it be nice to have a job creator in the White House?" "We will reapply our founding principles."
10:12PM: Ryan going off about listening and 'going through' the UN. We should have armed the 'freedom fighters' in Syria. We should not have waited for (our arch nemesis) Russia to give us the green light.
Biden is exasperated by the lack of understanding of how the UN works. Ryan should not have spun off on the Syria issue. His inexperience shows through.
Raddatz finally asks: What is your green light for intervention? (She's doing a wonderful job moderating)
Ryan: National security interests.
10:18PM: Question about faith and religion. Raddatz asks them to be personal.
Both candidates say being Catholic has defined them. Ryan clear that life begins on conception. Biden beleives in Catholic church doctrine, but 'refuse to impose that on anyone else.'
Biden goes on to tie in Ryan's previous definition of rape and women's rights to control their own bodies.
Ryan on Supreme Court: They aren't elected and they should not be making that kind of decision.
Biden: You'd rather have MORE Americans go to the frontline?
Ryan: No we're sending less to fight more of those that cross border from Pakistan.
Biden: (He's shouting at this point and clearly angry) Yes, we're sending less Americans. And MORE Afghans. It's THEIR responsibility.
Biden is fired up. Ryan coming off as more calm though.
9:57PM: FINALLY> AFGHANISTAN. Here's what you should know.
Ryan: We can't lose the gains we have made. We want to make sure the military has everything they need to get the job done. (But, we don't want to stay in Afghanistan). The point we're making is that we don't want to stay past 2014. The war however is not a success under the Obama administration. We don't want to broadcast to our enemies when we are leaving.
Biden: We are absolutely leaving in 2014. We want our troops home. We will not be doing joint missions with Afghan Security forces if the measures to control blue on green crime does not work. We have to set a timeline in order to push (Baghdad) and Kabul to 'step up' and take on leadership otherwise they will be more than happy to have us do it (spend billions of dollars).
9:56PM: Ryan: We're not saying increase by a trillion, but don't cut defense spending by trillion. Saying a smaller military invites weakness.
9:53PM: Biden: Just let the taxes expire, like they are supposed to, on those millionaires.
Raddatz pushes more on mortgage deductions, but doesn't get an answer from Ryan and asks about defense spending: HOW DO YOU DO THE MATH??
9:52PM: Biden: Not mathematically possible! Ryan: Kennedy and Reagan did it. Biden points out tragically low Congressional approval rating.
9:49PM: Raddatz: Do you actually have the specifics for your tax plan? Is it that you're still working on it and that's why you haven't told voters?
Classic partisan tax debate going on now. Biden - we want to help you, middle class. Ryan - there aren't enough rich people to pay for Dem spending.
Ryan makes an odd joke about Canada. Biden is at least looking Ryan and the camera occasionally. But the laughing, not sure how that will play if it keeps up.
Biden: Bottom line - The families I know can't afford your plan.
Ryan: Your statistics are crap. Stop interrupting me.
9:40PM: Biden: There's no longer one Democrat who supports the health care plan.
Raddatz asks how Romney/Ryan will help seniors who really cannot make up the difference in the premium support/Voucher system and full cost. Ryan says they will offer 100% coverage by reducing disbursements for wealthy seniors. It came out convoluted though because of interruptions and digressions.
9:37PM: Biden laughing a little too much. Ryan has an awkward smile on his face in the split screen.
Biden on healthcare: Folks, follow your instincts on this one. Gives numbers/specifics and also speaks to vouchers.
9:35PM: Ryan playing the generation card. Change entitlement programs for 'my generation' so we can make sure current seniors are taken care of. The spectre of the $716 million comes up again. Let's see what Biden does with it. Ryan stole thunder by mentioning 'Vouchers' saying they are just a scare tactic word.
9:31PM: Raddatz doing a good job keeping the timing tight.
Biden's response: "But I say what I mean!"
Biden: Provides numbers and tax rates for income brackets. Points to Ryan's comments that 70% Americans want the American Dream, 30% want welfare state. Says Ryan is 'holding hostage' the middle class relief.
Ryan: Champion small business. Points to Scranton employment rates (8.5% in 2009 vs 10% now) and says that it's like that all across the country. We'll need to fact check the last part.
Awkwardly, starts telling a story about a family that lost two children in a car crash that Romeny helped and talked to...seems kind of harsh given what happened to Biden's family.
9:23PM: Ryan: Nuclear-armed Iran is worse than another war in the Middle East.
Biden: War should always be that last option. Points to Romney's flip-flops, saying "I can't keep track."
Makes me wonder what veterans and soldiers and their families think about those two points of view.
9:15PM: Ryan on Iran: Ayatollahs have to change their minds. The Obama has 'no credibility' on this issue. What is 'credibility' and how will Romney administration which has less foreign policy experience than when Obama/Biden entered office??
Biden asks, how are you going to prevent war and still speak in those terms? We will be clear in not letting Iran acquire nuclear weapons but a war-mongering attitude is dangerous.
It seems like Biden wants to say: You can't impose American values on them in that disrespectful manner. He should have just said that.
Ryan: We can debate the timeline on 'Iran timeline' Not articulating how he plans on changing 'Ayatollah's minds' Doesn't seem to realize how ridiculous that sounds. There are other ways to say that.
Biden is coming off very confident, but needs to be careful about arrogance.
9:15PM: How effective would a military strike be against Iran? Raddatz doing a good job keeping the pace and controlling time of responses.
9:12PM: Raddatz asks about "No Apologies" Romney's book. Should we apologize for Quaran burnings.
Ryan says we should, but not for standing up for our values. Doesn't make clear distinction.
9:08PM: Raddatz asks about the Romney statement on embassy attacks prior to knowing about Ambassador Stevens that claimed an apologist attitude. Raddatz asked if that was 'appropriate.'
Ryan: We should always stand up for peace and 'our values."
Biden: "With all due respect that's a bunch of malarkey!"
Raddatz: Be specific Joe.
Biden: States Ryan response was a 'lecture' and saying 'these people are always betting against America' as a response to Romney's 'Obama is apologizing' statement.
9:05PM: First question is about Libya and Ambassador Stevens' tragic death. Biden says the most important job of the President is keeping the citizens safe, which Obama has done consistently. Biden closes with "the last thing we need is another war."
Ryan on Libya: Brings of Libya and refers to Beau Biden. Also brings up Afghanistan. Ties Benghazi to all wars/conflict areas.
9:00PM: Martha Raddatz! She will switch between foreign and domestic policy because that's what a Vice President of President will have to do on a daily basis. No visible wink. She called him Congressman Ryan.
8:58PM: I'm just waiting for VP Biden to wink at Martha Raddatz. I'm not sure the club could even handle that right now.
8:45PM: Accoridng to Paul Ryan, Social Security is a 'Ponzi scheme." Biden may have to tread carefully if they decide to play this note. It could come off as personally insulting and crossing the line given the reasons for it: His father passed away when Ryan was just 16, a sad event without a doubt. He was able to save the Social Security benefits, and at 18 used them to attend college. Yes, he did use student loans like many of us, but you don't always hear the role of how government 'built' Ryan, in part at least.
8:42PM: Do what you will with this, I humbly submit it to you as part of my comprehensive reporting:
8:34PM: Is this the beginning of a more agressive, post-Debate #1 Obama Campaign? Dems hope it's not just on Twitter, interviews, and rallies...but in the townhall with Romney in the room.
8:25PM: There is this.
8:10PM: Here's the link. Expect Biden to try and hit some homeruns on any number of the differences between Romney and Ryan.
7:48PM: Unemployment numbers will certainly be inserted somewhere into tonight's show. Yes, the October jobs report was 7.8%, the lowest during the Obama administration I believe. However, Ryan will point to the numbers of those who have stopped looking for work. Both sides should talk about an oft-ignored group where many of us in our 20-30s fall - the UNDEREMPLOYED. I wonder what the average education level, and thus student loan black hole debt, is for the Upper West Side Starbucks... (Waitstaff, baristas, 'consultants,' start-ups, and freelance journalists/writers UNITE!!)
7:08PM: Then there's this --
6:51PM: Via ABC News:
May have something to do with the age gap I pointed out above. Biden may have the tendency to refer to Ryan as Paul, not referring to him as an equal candidacy. Or it just has to do with the disgustingly low approval rating of Congress. Seriously, people like root canals and bikini waxes more than the approximately 500 people chosen to represent us...by us. I hope the Ryan camp realizes, no one is going to forget Ryan is still a Congressman - who is actually running for his Congressional seat this year in Wisconsin. I hope people watching realize they have the privilege, not jsut the right, to vote.
6:40PM: Are you better off than 4 years ago? Paul Ryan will definitely be asking you that tonight so be prepared with these indicators from Kiplinger.
6:37PM: Dems have a hell of a lot of work to do tonight. Maybe Joe needs to take a cue from pal Elizabeth Warren, here in the Massachusetts Senate Debate against Republican Scott Brown.
5:30PM: As I channel-flip to get various pre-debate analysis and thoughts i just happened upon Chris Matthews' Hardball on MSNBC. A woman from the crowd just called President Obama 'a Communist.' As a journalist you are told to have a point of view but be unbiased in your reporting of information - but this is one of those comments I simply don't understand. The woman was wearing what looked like nice clothes and sunglasses. She had a nice purse and jewelry. She was peaceably assembling in public. She spoke her thoughts out loud in a largely Democratic crowd. She got jeered and was still able to voice her opinion with a microphone on a cable television station with a wide audience. She also, persumably, owns a home and/or car of her choice. She presumably sees the doctor she wants. She persumably has a doctor. I'm not sure why people think the President of The United States is an 'unamerican' Communist when we clearly live in one of the most open societies on the planet three and a half years into his term. Yes, I disagreed with several Bush policies, but we were still living in a capitalist society at that point too, despite his introduction of the Patriot Act.
4:30PM: POTUS says "I think Joe should just be Joe." regarding advice to Biden for tonight's debate.
And then there's this gem of Ryan doing his best A.C. Slater impersonation - from Time magazine, no less. Don't buy into that this was some sort of coincidence that the images were released this week. At the time Ryan was not named the VP candidate pick, but he was a Congressman. These appear in Time magazine. Yes, that one. What is this supposed to be? They are not inherently scandalous or bad for him, but there are already several memes regarding Saved By The Bell and the infamous school pictures of grammar school yore...the laser background.
It's sort of a caricature against the more venerable Biden, which I don't think is necessarily fair. Then again, there have been PLENTY of Biden gaffe memes.
4:00PM Den Sneor, Senior Romney campaign official said earlier today, it's Ryan's job to defend the Romney plan and not speifically focus on his own budget plan. It may bode well for Biden to focus on any discrepencies between the Ryan and Romney to catch him off guard, to force Ryan to defend the well-right but also have the same moderate appeal that Deabte #1 Romney had. I'm not sure Ryan will fall for it with all the supposed preparation he has been going through. In any case it will certainly be an interesting debate. Expect Biden to bring up the 47% comments to make a reappearance.