Once again we are pleased to have Robert David Sullivan offering his analysis of the latest debate:

As with the first presidential debate, I’m putting down my thoughts without hearing or reading any analysis (or tweets), and I can’t imagine Obama supporters feeling reassured right now.

The Republican message has become clear and consistent: What have you got to lose? In an inverse of the adage “don’t change horses in the middle of the stream,” Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have both used their debate appearances to argue that there’s no risk, only potential gain, in voting in a new presidential administration. It’s not that they’ve pivoted to the center of the political spectrum. They’re running on the widely mocked statement of another Massachusetts governor who was nominated for president: Democrat Michael Dukakis, who said, “This election isn’t about ideology; it’s about competence.” George H.W. Bush countered this idea with attacks on Dukakis’s values, including his insufficient allegiance to the American flag. I’m not sure what Obama can do as a response.

Tonight Ryan repeatedly argued that a President Romney will boost economic growth, “tackle the debt crisis,” and stop the “unraveling” of American foreign policy. He also reassured voters that there will be no weakening of Social Security and Medicare benefits (“We are not going to jeopardize this program,” he said of the latter) and no shifting of the tax burden onto the middle class. Following Romney’s lead, he declined to explain exactly how a cut in tax rates – the key piece of the GOP economic plan -- can be lowered without a huge deficit increase; the virtual elimination of a social safety net; or the elimination of tax breaks, such as the home mortgage deduction, that benefit middle-class households. “You fill in the details,” during negotiations with Congress, Ryan explained while Joe Biden sputtered in disbelief.

Nothing shook Ryan from his “Why not just try a new guy?” message. The only hint of a specific change in policy – as opposed to vague notions like “championing small business” and promising not to “project weakness” to foreign adversaries – came in the last question, about abortion. Even here, however, Ryan spoke out against “activist” judges and implied that a Romney administration would sign pro-life legislation that passes Congress, but he did not suggest that the administration would initiate new legislation restricting the legality of abortions. His obvious passion on the topic made me think he wanted to say more, but Romney must have been pleased that he stayed on message: We’re here to fix things, not impose an agenda.

The demeanor of the two candidates matched the mood of the campaigns. Ryan was mostly poker-faced and could frequently be seen taking long sips from his water glass – as if to show off his steady hand. (By the end, I also figured out whom he sounds like: Conan O’Brien.)

Biden (who now looks disconcertingly like Lou Dobbs) was far more theatrical, in the manner of Matlock or a trial lawyer playing to the jury with smiles, head shakes, and even an “Oh, God!” in the middle of a Ryan statement. As someone who is also exasperated by the Republican ticket’s apparent success at obscuring its, well, severely conservative views, I could sympathize with Biden, but he might have been too “hot” for TV. He called Ryan’s statements “malarkey” and “a lot of stuff”; I don’t know if he gets points for coming right up to calling his opponent a liar without saying it.

As for moderator Martha Raddatz, her preference for foreign policy topics did not help Biden. Almost the entire first half hour, and half of the entire debate, was on foreign policy questions. This is far too much, given how much weight actual voters give to foreign policy issues. (Justifiably, since it’s far harder to predict how a party will govern on these issues.) This meant that half of the debate featured Ryan boasting about the new resolve of a Romney administration (“We’ll call a terrorist act for what it is”) while Biden tried to explain nuances of diplomacy and looked defensive.

Robert David Sullivan

 

Comments

Tim O'Leary | 10/12/2012 - 1:23pm
Vince #8
Many commentators last night on CNN and this morning on NBC said they expected him to be very good (''wonky'') on the economic details, which he was, but his solid command of the foreign policy questions was a big surprise. I think he demonstrated his intellect last night - certainly more in command of the details than President Obama was last week, and some of you believe Obama has an ''immense'' intellect.

I just found out the the US Bishops conference has come out saying Biden was not factual on the HHS mandate. http://catholicliberty.com/591

Mary#7
There is only one candidate who has a record of bipartisan acomplishments. Romney was able to work with both parties as Governor but Obama couldn't wasn't even able to get things done with his own party, who had control of both House and Senate, the first 2 years.
Mike Brooks | 10/12/2012 - 11:47am
My favorite part of the debate was an old lawyering trick by Ryan that went something like this:

Ryan:  Do You know what the unemployment rate is in Scranton today?
Biden:  Yeah.
Ryan:  It's 10%.
Biden:  Uh, huh.
Ryan:  It was at 8.5%.
Biden: Yeah.  No, wait!  Wait! It's going down! It's going down!

Aside from the "gotcha," what's interesting about that is the fact that the reports most of us read about unemployment and job creation are national averages.  When I read that the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8%, I was intrigued.  But a national average of even, say 5%, doesn't mean much to someone living in a town where the rate is 10%.  This local effect gets to the heart of Republican versus Democrat approaches to government; that is, that Democrats believe that the Federal Government should have more power; whereas the Republicans recognize that many issues are local issues and are better handled at the state and local levels (e.g., education, health care, work training programs). 

I don't get why people think that a larger and larger federal government, disconnected from the people, with more and more programs, bureaucracy, unaccountablilty, and corruption is a good thing.  Trickle-down government just seems like a boondoggle.
Tim O'Leary | 10/13/2012 - 8:52pm
Stanley #15
Ryan got the navy quote from Obama’s Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who wrote: “Rough estimates suggest after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.” – so take that up with the other bozo, as you so unmannerly put it.

David’s right that having the Libertarian or Green Party candidates would be a complete waste of time for deciding the next President. Neither will get more than 1-2% of the vote, so they would turn the whole thing into an academic exercise.

And what’s this “climate heating” term?  Shouldn’t it be “climate change”, or at least the older “global warming” term. Whatever it’s called, the economy will have to improve for anybody to get back to that fixation. The unemployed have more immediate things to worry about. I think Bjorn Lomborg has it right that pollution of our water and air is our greatest environmental problem, in terms of the health of humanity.

As regards Paul Ryan’s response to the abortion question, it resonated well with me. It is the difference between a clear principle and a practice. Even though he and I do not think those children conceived by rape or incest are any less human, and it is wrong to snuff them out, it is probably true that, given the hardness of the hearts of the “pro-choice” side, including those tiny subsets would only further ensure the status quo of millions killed each year in the name of freedom. And the Church has endorsed a step-wise approach.
Stanley Kopacz | 10/13/2012 - 8:21am
David,
The debates are part and parcel of the bracketing of our range of thinking.  If tweedledum and tweedledee argue vehemently enough, it deludes the masses into thinking that there is a real difference between them and that they constitute the full spectrum of possibility.  The debates are what you say they are and they are useless.  Since presidents no longer conduct freewheeling press conferences and don't have open conversations with anybody in public, the skill set tested in these debates is meaningless for the job.  It's as useless as the big rack on a moose after it's finished fighting off rivals for the cows.  There IS a difference between the candidates.  One is a dupe of the oligarchy, the other is a member of it.  One is spinelessly steerable by Netanyahu, the other would be Netanyahu's golem.  The effective differences may be small, but in a country as powerful as ours, it will be important for the future.  The most important issue is climate heating.  And there IS an appreciable difference between them on that issue.
David Smith | 10/13/2012 - 1:42am
Stanley (#13), a third-party candidate would have been out of place. The debate style in these things is mainly for showing off candidates' ability to handle stage pressure and stop-watch pressure, for being smooth and fluent under the television lights and for not falling on their faces. All that would be irrelevant for candidates who don't have a snowball's chance in hell of being elected.

Now, if this were about issues, sure, third-party candidates would be good to have in the mix. But it's not. We don't do that any more, if we ever did. It would take far too long - many hours, instead of eighty minutes.  Nobody but C-SPAN and PBS could afford to televise it and almost no one would watch it.

Stanley Kopacz | 10/12/2012 - 6:57pm
Didn't watch the debate. No third party candidates.  But I did catch one stupid comment by Ryan in reruns. Our navy will be smaller than before WWI.  Not if you include the nukes, bozo.  Politicians, man.  Do they even know how to inflate a tire?
The neocons are welcome to post something stupid from Biden. 
Michael Barberi | 10/12/2012 - 3:50pm
Well, for once I agree with Tim O'Leary. LOL.

Both candidates made good points, but the debate was terrible in that Biden interrupted Ryan about 82 times. I don't mind small appropriate interruptions, but Biden went too far and his smirking and rudeness annoyed me. Most independent voters did not like Biden's behavior either according to a small opinion poll of independents voters just after the debate (Fox).

The debate moderater jumped around too much, questioned Ryan far more about his responses than Biden, and frankly did a terrible job.

In the end, both candidates will use each other's remarks with policial spin to disparage the other in the coming weeks. However, Biden made some big mistakes. His answer to the Lybia disaster will come back to bite both Obama and himself. Blaming the intelligence community was a major error and misleading. There are contradictions within the Obama administration about what happen, in particular the Defense and State Department personel acknowledging requests for more security, and the fact that no one in Lybia mentioned a video. The cover-up will get more legs, so expect to here more about it in the next Presidental debates. 

Unfortunately, Ryan could have been better and his lack of specifics likely gave ammunition to his opponents. In the end, I was not impressed with this debate, but Ryan did make a good point about using a "framework" and negotitating with Democrats (and reminding the public about Romney's demonstrated ability to do that). While many questions remain about the Romney/Ryan plan, I don't believe that another 4 years of Obama is the answer. So, there is some good reasons for "let's try something different"...unfortunately without a lot of specifics.

As for the issue of abortion, both candidates are against it "except for circumtances". Unfortunately, the Church does not recognize these circumstances. Hence, each candidate does not fully abide by all the sexual and social teachings of the Church. This is not surprising since there is a pluarity of opinion within the Catholic Church itself inclusive of the laity, theologians and clergy. Many Catholics attach, "circumstances" or profess outright disagreements, to many Church teachings: contraception, same sex marriage (civil), condom use for seropositive couples, abortion (the Phoenix case), deportation (an intrisinic evil according to Vertitatis Splendor)...the list goes on.

As for the poor, do we merely calculate the need and fully fund it? What about the alarming number of minority women with children out of wedlock. What about the responsibility of these so-called fathers, not working or selling drugs or simply not being there? This does not represent the majority of the poor, but we have many problems that throwing money around will not solve. Many that can find work make the minimun wage. Clearly, the income is not much different from what they would get on welfare. Many stay on welfare. I wish I had the right answer or financial number so that "love of neighbor" can be appropriated implemented for the poor and disadvantaged in the public political process.

In the end, there are few right or wrong answers in voting for political candidates. No one issues defines all of their policies or the person themselves. Cardinal Ratzinger said it best: use the principle of proportionality, educate yourself and reflect of all the facts and issues, and make your decision.


Helen Deines | 10/12/2012 - 9:56am
Amazing how differently we see things.  I heard Joe Biden speak up for "the little guy," and I heard him clearly state he would not impose his religious beliefs on others.  I appreciated both those messages.  I heard Representative Ryan talk about closing loopholes, but he would not specify which ones.  And I heard his newfound beliefs about abortion, which he will now-if he has his druthers-impose on all.

And then there is the Affordable Care Act.  I heard Representative Ryan emphasize the lawsuits...and a pitiable silence about the common good. 
Vince Killoran | 10/12/2012 - 2:40pm
Well, at least Obama, when asked about the auto bailout didn't respond that he was a "car guy."

I didn't find Ryan very good at articulating his ideas.  That's his strength (I've heard). BO was lackluster inasmuch as he treated the debate like a policy briefing.

As for the USCCB: surprise,surprise. 
Vince Killoran | 10/12/2012 - 11:55am
I was surprised by Ryan's lackluster performance.  I mean, all we've hearing about is this amazing young intellect and all he did was yammer on with a few meaningless stories and talking points. I really thought he would do better.
William McGovern | 10/12/2012 - 1:42pm
In my view, the biggest story was how rude and disrespectful VP Biden was the entire night and how Martha Raddatz did not step in and stop him from interrupting. He acted like a ''smarty'' teenager throughout the debate.

Near the end of the debate when VP Biden misspoke about how repeal of Roe V. Wade would ''make abortion illegal,'' (of course we know repeal would simply turn the issue back to the various states to decide), Congressman Ryan tried but Martha Raddatz did not give him a chance to rebutt. 

Mary Sweeney | 10/12/2012 - 11:53am
''The Republican message has become clear and consistent: What have you got to lose?''

Guessing for starters that a woman's response to the question would be markedly different from that of Robert David Sullivan. Perhaps next time you can get a female commentator, someone who has a family?

Now let me see, where to start...
- Being a woman, I would be charged a higher health insurance premium.
- If I have a pre-existing condition and my workplace changes providers, I could be rejected for coverage. The same would be true of my child.
- Without health insurance (repeal Romneycare) I may be unable to afford preventive care like physicals, mammograms. When things get really dicey though, Governor Romney tells me I can go to the ER - but that will make your premiums go up.
- My 24 year-old son/daughter can no longer be covered on my policy.

But let's move on. There may be some men who read America.
- Defense spending which the Defense Department says it does not need will be in place. Pell grants to help you educate your children on the other hand are on the chopping block.
- Waterboarding will be reinstalled. In addition to that big moral collapse of ''Love your neighbor as yourself'', that puts our men and women in the service at ongoing risk. I believe John McCain explained that clearly and I think he should know.
- Cuts in local police service. My city is going to be hiring because of that money.

There is another aspect to consider. ''What have you done for me today?'', though the time parameter needs to be adjusted. If you want to know the answer to that question, go to www.recovery.gov and you can click on your State and get a detailed listing quarter by quarter as well as a categorized graphic of how federal dollars have been spent in your State. But hey, if that's way too general, put in your zipcode and check out your neighborhood right down to street level. I believe you can find work that Congressman Ryan requested for his State. All of this techie accountability (which if I were in a debate I would be raving about) was initiated by the Obama administration. If I were the current administration and I lost in November, I would definitely dismantle all those toys because after all Romney and Co like to ''build things'' all by themselves. They don't want to hold hands with others who have gone before. Reaching across aisles is NOT their strong suit. Not one Republican vote in the House/Senate for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

But then again, if you make more than a million dollars a year, I guess you would be more focused on ''What do you have to gain?''. That grand European vacation or that new yacht or the 2nd vacation home?

I could go on as I am sure you can guess. But the question is important. ''What do you have to lose?''

Yes, think about that. Remember in November.
THOMAS FARRELLY | 10/12/2012 - 10:39am
Biden apparently felt he had to appear more active and aggressive than the lethargic Obama, but chose an unfortunate way to accomplish this. He grinned and laughed like a drunken clown while Ryan was talking, and frequently interrupted him in mid-sentence.  It was a violation of basic good manners, and I was surprised the moderator didn't try to impose some basic rules of courteous debate.
The arguments really resulted in stalemate.  Nobody won.  Each side proclaimed victory.
I hope that Obama, in trying to avoid the awful performance of the first debate, doesn't follow Biden's example.  If he does, I imagine Romney will not let him away with it.
I hope also that in future debates the moderators will insist that the questions be answered.  In a number of cases a question was answered by a speech on a totally different subject.  Biden was the primary culprit here, though Ryan did this too.
Tim O'Leary | 10/12/2012 - 11:46am
I think Robert David Sullivan has it about right. Biden has the weaker case, if only because he has to defend real-life failures that befalls any administration, vs. the ''Obama's-not-working-give-us-a-try challenger. Biden was way off-putting with his smiles and laughs when Ryan was talking about people dying in Syria. I bet the Romney campaign puts the many smirks of both Biden and Obama into a political ad.

Also, the Libya scandal may have real legs, as Biden contradicted some statements made by the intelligence witnesses at yesterday's Congressional hearings.

CNN's flash poll on who won the debate has Ryan at 48% to Biden's 44%, but that is too close to call. Their headline this morning is ''Stats, Grins, and Malarkey - not a good focus for Biden.'' NYT has front page article titled ''Show of Teeth by Biden Spurs Debate on His Performance'' and Wash Post has ''Too much Malarkey?'' So, I don't see any change to pre-debate momentum for Romney,

Helen #3 - the Democrats haven't been for ''the little guy'' since they abandoned the unborn. To me it is a huge contradiction to say one agrees that the unborn are human (as Biden did) and also say that society has no responsibility to protect those humans - the poorest of the poor (as Mother Teresa would say).
John Barbieri | 10/12/2012 - 8:45am
Biden looked like an old time political hack.
Ryan looked like a new model poltical wonk.

Scores Biden: 0
         Ryan: 0 

Results:''America'': 0 
        ''Catholicism'': 0 

All in all, mission accomlished!
David Smith | 10/12/2012 - 1:06am
Just finished watching the recording.  It's nice to be able to stop it for a while now and then.

Both were OK, I thought, with neither either making a fool of himself or slipping up badly. Biden's the blustery old pol, the angry boss in your face, and Ryan's a smart and earnest kid determined to stay on message, the manager at the head of the table. The moderator was almost not there. Judy something?

I don't like the format of these debates, chopped up as they are into tiny pressurized pockets of time. It favors style over substance and almost demands great oversimplification. But I suppose it works well enough for viewers with extremely short attention spans.

I've not thought of the Republican message as being ''What have you got to lose?''  But I don't watch television - maybe you're seeing that there.

I don't see all that much difference in the two parties' positions. The single thing I hoped for from Obama four years ago was immediate immigration reform. He certainly disappointed there, and I'd not bet a dime that he'd do it in a second term. He's been far from the game changer he promised to be. One still remembers with great embarrassment Obama's accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, that sort of set the tone.