“With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey.” Those were the words spoken by Vice President Joe Biden in his first response to Congressman Paul Ryan Thursday night in Danville, KY when they met for the first and only Vice Presidential debate
of the 2012 election cycle; and they set the tone for the rest of the debate.
Well known for saying whatever is on his mind – sometimes with rather amusing
results – Biden went into full attack mode on Friday night. On several occasions throughout the night Biden called Ryan and the Romney campaign as a whole out for failing to provide specifics, flip flopping, and for all of the “bluster” and “loose talk” they have taken part in. Further, where President Obama seemed unwilling to call out gaffes such as the 47 percent remarks made by Governor Romney, Biden had no such qualms.
Asked about if and when the unemployment rate could be brought under six percent Biden spent some time explaining the current successes and future plans of the Obama administration. Biden contrasted those with Romney’s opposition to the bailout for Detroit as well as the Republican challenger's assertion that we should allow foreclosures to hit bottom. This alone was more of an attack than we ever saw from Obama during the first presidential debate in Denver; however, Biden really took his gloves off with statements which followed:
But it shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend (Ryan) recently in a speech in Washington said "30 percent of the American people are takers."
These people are my mom and dad — the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, "not paying any tax."
I've had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it's about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class we're going to level the playing field; we're going to give you a fair shot again; we are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the super wealthy.
Biden was also quick to step in – even stepping over Ryan and the moderator once or twice – in order to point out inaccuracies in Ryan’s statements:
RYAN: Joe and I are from similar towns. He's from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I'm from Janesville, Wisconsin. You know what the unemployment rate in Scranton is today?
BIDEN: I sure do.
RYAN: It's 10 percent.
RYAN: You know what it was the day you guys came in — 8.5 percent.
RYAN: That's how it's going all around America.
BIDEN: You don't read the statistics. That's not how it's going. It's going down.
Amongst other things Biden called Ryan out for was the fact that while condemning the stimulus package as ill advised and a failure Ryan had in fact requested funds from the stimulus; according to Biden even going so far as stating in the letter "The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs." The culmination of this particular line of attack – that Ryan and Romney were not being straight with the American people – came to a peak (though it continued through to the end of the debate) when Biden said of Ryan, “I wish he would just tell -- be a little more candid,” in talking about supposed cronyism in the stimulus package which Biden pointed out Congress had found no evidence of.
More important than the fact that Biden remained on the attack, however, was that while doing so he also seemed consistently sincere and truly concerned with the issues facing the American people. In contrast, Ryan came across as scripted and detached throughout the debate. One person I spoke with after the debate even remarked that it felt like watching an infomercial during Ryan’s closing statement. Throughout the debate Biden made direct appeals to the American people as to why Obama and he were better suited for helping the middle class, including in discussing the Romney plan for Medicare:
The idea of changing, and change being in this case to cut the benefits for people without taking other action you could do to make it work is absolutely the wrong way.
These -- look, these guys haven't been big on Medicare from the beginning. Their party's not been big on Medicare from the beginning. And they've always been about Social Security as little as you can do.
Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this -- a man who introduced a bill that would raise it 40 -- $6,400 a year; knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he'd sign it, or me and the president?
On several occasions Biden also pointed back to his working class roots and how they help him to understand the needs of the middle class. Ryan attempted to do this as well but due to his demeanor it did not seem nearly as convincing. In particular, Ryan seemed to be speaking more from a script than from his heart when talking about his mom and grandma who had received social security benefits. Biden on the other hand seemed to be genuinely speaking about something that had made an impact on his life each time he brought up his past.
This was also seen in Biden’s closing statement in which he once again took personal offense to the statements made by Romney and Ryan against the 47 and 30 percent respectively. Biden did a good job of articulating much of what seemed to be the middle classes feelings when the tapes were first revealed; a disgust at the insinuation that so many of our fellow Americans were malcontents who were unwilling to work hard and wanted the government to take care of them. For many politicians, who are seen as elites themselves, this would be a very hard line to sell; for Biden, however, who has a always enjoyed a great connection with working class Americans and who has a well documented upbringing in the middle class this message resonated well.
With a combination of well timed attacks, sincere appeals to the public, and the spunk he is so well known for Biden quickly put Ryan on the defensive on Thursday night and never let up. In what I am sure will be seen as a resounding win, Biden effectively communicated with the middle class base that is likely to be the deciding factor in this election. It is hard to tell the effect this will have on the polls as Vice Presidential debates typically are low impact but Biden set the stage well for a great performance by Obama on the 16th in Hempstead. Most importantly, the Vice-Presidential debate will assuredly improve the momentum for the Obama campaign over the next several days.
Transcript of this debate courtesy of the Commission on Presidential Debates