Second debate serves up rehashed republican talking points

Another week, another debate. This time Vice President Joe Biden, and Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan got a chance to battle it out.

With Biden’s track record and certainly after last week’s less than stellar performance by President Obama, one would have expected to see more fire in this debate. And certainly, fire is what we got.

Not just the candidates were more involved, but also the moderator. As you may recall, last week saw the candidates running rough shot over the moderator, whom also restricted his questions to, “tell me what the differences are between the two of you.” Last night’s moderator, Martha Raddatz, however, was certainly more involved, not only when it came to keeping a close eye on time and getting through all the topics, but also about getting answers. She pressed the candidates with specific questions about things that have come up in this campaign and also pressed for specifics.

And specifics is what we needed, especially from the Republican side.

As the first topics focused on foreign policy, with the attacks and murder of the US ambassador to Libya you might have been hard pressed to find differences between the candidates. Ryan focussed on the fact that the administration changed its story and didn’t want to call it a terrorist attack from day one. But in the end, he couldn’t answer questions about what he or Mitt Romney would do differently.

Ryan even agreed that the US should apologize for some of the things that have happened in the previous wars, though he wouldn’t commit to an apology on burning the Koran, in stead saying “it was never to soon to talk about values.” Biden countered that the requests for more security in Libya never made it up the chain and that investigations were underway as to why this was and further added that congress cut the budget for embassies, thus also making it more difficult to secure them. As the intelligence community usually doesn’t speak out, it’s hard to know whether or not he was correct in laying the blame on their doorstep when claiming that they initially thought the Libya attack was fueled by protests.

There was also a sudden agreement from Ryan when he got pushed into a corner by Raddatz when asked if what he was saying was correct, that Iran was close to a nuclear weapon and as Israel has stated, they will be there by spring, what he hoped to change in two months. Then, all of a sudden, Ryan stated that the timeline was debatable.

On Afghanistan, Ryan stated that he agreed with the 2014 deadline (but that he wouldn’t broadcast is), but that he would have kept more troops in Afghanistan until then, while Biden kept repeating that the fight was still ongoing, but in stead of sending more US troops to the front line, they were now sending US trained Afghan troops to bear the brunt because it was their responsibility.

On Syria, Biden deflected questions from Raddatz about why they had helped Libya but not Syria by saying it was a country 5 times the size of Libya, with 5 times fewer people and thus much more difficult to control the fighting from spreading out towards a regional conflict. As both Biden and Raddatz once again pressed for specifics on what Romney-Ryan would do differently, the only thing he could come up was not outsourcing foreign policy to the UN and working more closely with allies. Biden shot back and asserted that they have been working with Jordan, Nato, Turkey and others. Ryan was further able to only argument that he would have done it sooner, but offered no further substantive arguments.

In between all the foreign policy, the debate also focused on domestic issues, most importantly the economy, taxes, jobs and entitlements.

As the debate shifted to that last one, entitlements, Biden reminisced for a second about his previous debate, saying all that talk of “death-panels” had also come up with Palin four years ago. He further rebutted Ryan’s claim (one that Romney used last week as well), that the administration has taken money away from entitlements and put in into Obamacare by saying that that money was actually saved in social security by a better management. (something that proves to be somewhat accurate, at least overal, as last week reports surfaced that another Medicare fraud was uncovered for the sum of $452 billion.

Ryan further claimed that he would save Medicare and social security and his plan wasn’t a voucher plan because, well, you wouldn’t get a physical voucher, but a guarentee and poor people would be covered up to 100% of the costs. It sounds great, but with his track record, I have my doubts.

And I wasn’t the only one. Raddatz also once again cornered Ryan when she reminded that he was one of the few people in Congress whom sided with the Bush-plans for social security. Ryan quickly distanced himself from his own record, saying that it wasn’t the Romney plan. He then tried to go on the attack, bringing forth something he used more than once during the debate, the Obama quote that if you don’t have a record to stand by, you attack, but Biden shut that down pretty fast, countering with CBO projections about Ryan’s plans that state that both seniors and young people would pay more.

As the issue turned to money, the debate focused on taxes and what would be cut, raised or stay the same. Biden immediately came out of the gate with a statement that he wanted to make the Bush middle class tax cuts permanent, but allow the tax cut for incomes over $1 million expire.

Quick personal note here, I have studied these tax cuts in my MA American Studies with a prof from the Itinera Institute and the maths does work against those tax cuts. Even if there is an increase in jobs when the people making over $1 million a year get a tax cut, those jobs will come at a much much higher cost than with that money going to middle class families.

Maybe knowing this, Ryan didn’t get into the Bush tax cuts, but spoke in broad terms that the Romney-Ryan tax plan would grow the economy and create jobs. Even when pressed by the moderator that he hadn’t divulged any specifics about how they would go about getting the 20% tax cut across the board, the only thing he said was that they would work with Congress to get something done, but that it was possible.

This of course, left him open to attacks, and sure, Biden jumped right in, saying his math couldn’t and wouldn’t work and that even Reagan, whom they referenced as their example, gave specifics before working with Congress. Ryan, after some back and forth, finally gave specifics, that is, he said that for instance, mortgages would still be deductible. He also said that he wouldn’t do an increase in defence spending, but in stead that he wouldn’t cut spending as Obama would do and that the statements that they would increase spending actually came from that. So no increases for the military, just no decreases and that makes for a campaign speech on how military will get more money.

Finally, as the debate grew to a close, the tone became more subdued when Raddatz asked about how two catholics had seperate views on abortion and asked about their personal lives.

Both Ryan and Biden said that religion had made them into who they are, and that the tenants of their Catholicism, caring for the weak and poor, were very much in play. Ryan also said that his view on abortion “wasn’t all about faith, but also about science,” and then went on to say that he “believe(d) that life begins at conception.” Biden also agreed with his church’s stand on abortion, but he said that he didn’t want to infringe on other people’s religious beliefs.

Republicans, take note, it’s about personal freedom and choice, about, you know, being free, that thing you always preach about.

The moderator further asked Ryan whether or not people should worry about the legality of abortion if Romney got elected. Ryan didn’t really answer that and in stead said that decissions shouldn’t be made by unelected judges.

I guess that concludes the reality of an impartial court, above party and interest.

The candidates further danced around questions about the negativity of the campaign and finally concluded the debate with some very weird statements coming from the Republican side. Even though he hasn’t, and will not offer specifics about for instance the 20% tax cut he proposes, Ryan went out with a statement that his campaign had a clear plan.

What struck me most about this debate wasn’t the fact that the democrats went on offense, that was only to be expected. What struck me was that the Romney-Ryan side hadn’t changed their plans. They kept firing the same half-truths and lies, like the $90 billion that was being wasted on green energy projects at the public. They should have realised that Biden had been trained in this, and for instance, on the 90 billion, he was able to state now that the program had 4% failure rate and that Ryan himself had intervened for two different projects in his district to receive some of this money because it would “create jobs and growth.”

Even though Biden sometimes come of as a bit too strong and in some sections got too agressive and interruptive  I do believe that this debate was more of a win for Biden than for Ryan. I also believe it was a win for the media. After the weak performance of the previous moderator, Raddatz got down and dirty with the candidates and pressed for answers, for specifics and managed to put both candidates in some tough situations.