Friday, October 12, 2012

In this debate, there's no clear winner

After the presidential debate, my wife, who had gone to bed long before it ended, asked me, "Who won?" I said I thought Romney had clearly won, and I was gratified later to see that the national pundits, and even the Obama-Biden operatives, agreed with me.

The outcome of last night's vice presidential debate was less clear. It was more of a draw with both candidates winning some points and committing some errors. Vice President Biden did not commit any of his famous verbal gaffes, and he stayed aggressive throughout the night. Maybe too aggressive. He repeatedly interrupted Congressman Ryan and often came across as a spoiled bully who refused to play by the rules. His eye-rolling, grinning, and guffawing at Ryan's comments made him seem condescending and contemptuous. Credit moderator Martha Raddatz with keeping control of the discussion and asking thoughtful questions. Maybe she should be on somebody's ticket.

Ryan committed no major unforced errors, and his quiet, highly focused demeanor was in sharp contrast to Biden's chuckling and bombast. Ryan came across as what he's been subscribed to be: a smart, deliberate, organized, cerebral policy wonk. That might be reassuring to some voters, but it's not charismatic. Simply put, Biden came across as a politician accustomed to rowdy debate while Ryan came across as a technocrat who can explain complex issues but can't make them sexy.

Ryan seemed to hold his own on tax issues, about which Biden frequently rolled his eyes and threw up his hands, and he made points on the Libyan consulate murders and the administration's changing explanations. The best Biden could do was to promise to get to the bottom of it. Ryan was less convincing about other aspects of Obama's foreign policy, and Biden defended the administration well. It came down to two views of foreign policy, neither of which is provably wrong. Ryan scored some points on the jobs issue, and Biden had little but his own assurances that the economy has improved and things would be better — soon.

In one of the final questions, Raddatz challenged the two Catholics to explain how their faith affects their position on abortion. Ryan responded clearly why his faith and his experiences have made him "pro-life." Biden said he accepted the church's teachings (without personally endorsing them) but said he did not believe government should impose his views on women who do not share his position.

In the end, Ryan did not hurt the GOP ticket, and Biden did not hurt the Democratic ticket. The presidential race has tightened and will likely be decided on the basis of the next two presidential debates and on events beyond the control of the candidates.

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