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Ear to the Ground

Biden Laughs His Way to Victory in Vice Presidential Debate

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Posted on Oct 11, 2012
AP/Charlie Neibergall

The smile. That laugh. The look on Joe Biden’s face said it all during his commanding performance in Thursday’s vice presidential debate held in Danville, Ky.

Given President Obama’s less than stellar performance in last week’s first presidential debate, a lot was riding on Biden’s shoulders: the polls, which have swung Mitt Romney’s way in the past week, for one, and the critical undecided voter in swing states for another.

Could Biden deliver? The answer Thursday night was a resounding yes.

From the start, Biden attacked the Romney and Ryan ticket and never backed down, calling out the GOP vice presidential nominee on misleading statements and outright lies. 

The first instance happened early on in the debate, when the topic turned to attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. When Ryan began criticizing the Obama administration for not having enough security at U.S. embassies, Biden took that as his moment to pounce. 

“With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey,” Biden told Ryan, ripping him for Republican-enacted budget cuts to embassy security. In fact, Ryan was among the GOP congressional members who voted for those defense cuts. 

It was clear that someone from the ticket took his debate prep seriously.

As the candidates moved on to the issue of Iran, Ryan criticized President Obama for not doing enough as that country races “toward a nuclear weapon.”

Biden, who pointed out how tough sanctions already are on Iran, straight up asked Ryan whether his party’s ticket wanted the U.S. to go to war.

“Are you going to war? Is that what you’re going to do now?” Biden asked.

“We want to prevent war,” Ryan responded.

These initial exchanges set the tone for the entire night, as the candidates sparred on foreign policy issues, the economy and entitlement programs. The debate also touched on women’s issues, crucial matters that were noticeably absent from the first one. (They weren’t mentioned until well over an hour in, but more on that later.)

While Obama seemed wary of going after Romney on the “47 percent” comment, Biden dived right in, bringing it up several times in the debate. “I’ve had it up to here with the 47% notion,” he said at one point.

Another time, the vice president zinged Romney for flip-flopping on political positions in what was one of the better one-liners of the evening. “I may be mistaken, he changes his mind so often,” Biden said of the GOP presidential nominee.

What Biden did particularly well throughout the evening was call out Ryan on his hypocrisies, like when the Wisconsin congressman tried to attack Obama for America’s mounting deficit. The vice president merely pointed out that the Republican had personally voted to authorize two wars, in addition to voting for a prescription drug benefit and a trillion dollar tax cut, which, as Biden put it, Republicans put on the country’s “credit card.” “All of a sudden, they’re so seized with concern for the debt they created,” he said.

The federal stimulus was another topic that Biden bested his opponent on, as he once again highlighted a glaring Ryan hypocrisy. The vice president correctly pointed out that while the congressman had railed against the stimulus, he ended up accepting federal money from it for his district, funds that he had personally asked for in two letters to Biden.

Ryan and Biden also had a spirited debate on taxes that led to perhaps the best line of the night.

The GOP vice presidential nominee once again declined to state specifics on Romney’s tax plan, refusing to say what loopholes and deductions it will eliminate in an effort to offset a 20 percent tax cut, though remaining steadfast that the math worked out.

Biden argued, however, that the economic plan Ryan presented was mathematically impossible. “It has never been done before,” he said.

“Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates and increased growth,” Ryan answered, to which Biden sarcastically responded, “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy.”

The conversation then turned serious as the two discussed how religion informed and influenced their views on abortion. Both men, as it so happens, are Catholic. Ryan, whose extreme pro-life position has been well documented, said that he didn’t see “how a person can separate their personal life and their private life.” The Republican added that he was pro-life, but that a Romney administration would allow abortion exceptions in the event of rape, incest or when the mother’s life was at risk. (Ryan has consistently indicated that he himself does not believe in any abortion exceptions.)

Biden, on the other hand, supports a woman’s right to choose, and said he believed the decision should be between a woman and her doctor. “I do not believe we have the right to tell women how to control their bodies,” he said.

At the end of the evening, it was clear that Biden was the hands-down winner. But another victor emerged Thursday night—ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, the debate moderator. Raddatz managed to cover a lot of ground, asking pointed and relevant questions while also preventing the candidates from answering vaguely (or not answering at all). She also managed to stand her ground and keep control of the candidates the entire debate. In short, where Jim Lehrer failed, she succeeded.

The big question now is whether the vice presidential debate will actually influence any voters’ decisions. The one thing that appears certain is that Joe Biden did an impressive enough job to get the Democrats out of panic mode.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Biden is done with debates. And no, Bill Clinton cannot fill in as a debate surrogate for Obama.

That means, Mr. President, it’s your turn next.

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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