MILLER: VP Debaters Fall Flat
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 03:10
The vice presidential debate this past week was a doozy — in a very bad way. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic contender performed up to par.
Paul Ryan was not his usual charming self. He wasn’t flustered per se, but more bland and unimpressive. I had high hopes for the man who, to me, embodies a more modern and accessible conservative ideology. Ryan is young, principled, articulate — a breath of fresh air in the stereotypically stuffy Republican Party. All of that seemed to be lost, though, as he kept himself tethered to his script.
And let’s talk about the script. I would like to meet the person who came up with it and give them a piece of my mind. I get that the Romney campaign must strategically push Ryan’s well-known budget plan out of the public’s attention in order to avoid saddling the presidential candidate with it, but it is precisely in the area of federal finance that Ryan shines the brightest. Not using that to his advantage was a mistake.
Instead, the campaign seems to have fed him a script riddled with pitfalls, like the anecdote about Romney's paying for the college tuitions of the children of a family who had lost a child in a car accident. What brain trust thought that viewers — Republican or Democrat — would hear that story and focus on Romney’s generosity more than his deep pockets?
When talking about the auto bailout, the best Ryan could come up with was, “Mitt Romney’s a car guy.” Republican viewers across the United States let out a collective sigh upon hearing that. That not only threw viewers’ attention off the topic at hand — government's saving failing businesses — but also turned it to one of the more negative moments of the Romney campaign thus far: The harsh criticism about how many cars Ann Romney has.
If Romney took two steps forward in personalizing himself during his first debate, Ryan pulled the campaign back at least one.
As this past debate evidences, Ryan is clearly not a foreign policy guy. However, he could have made the discussion about U.S. engagement abroad more about facts than principles. This would have drawn Biden into uncomfortable territory, forcing him to say something more substantive than his broken-record repetitions of “We will leave [Afghanistan] in 2014.” Ryan’s point that the Romney-Ryan ticket supports that timeline but contends that the process leading up to that pull-out date must leave no loose ends untied was a very strong one. However, he let it be washed out in the dramatic garble and expressions of his debate opponent.
This leads me to my next frustration: Joe Biden’s commentary and expressions were grossly inappropriate and not fitting of either a vice president or a vice presidential candidate. His smiling and interruptions were disrespectful to both his debate opponent and the event. In fact, I think Biden’s behavior evidences exactly the kind of attitude that makes people so frustrated with Washington — a blatant unwillingness to hear, let alone engage with, someone not espousing the same views.
Biden was lauded by Obama supporters for supposedly calling the Republicans’ bluff. The vice president is an intelligent politician with decades of experience on his opponent. He could have engaged directly with Ryan but instead chose not to. That is indicative more of haughtiness and arrogance than righteousness and correctness. Biden failed his party — and the entire electorate — by not addressing the issues and defending his positions in a meaningful way.
I’d call the vice presidential debate a draw, which is really a shame and, frankly, rather unsettling given that each candidate is vying to hold an office second in line to the presidency. Given the blanket mediocrity of their running mates’ performances, the presidential candidates are under increased pressure to distinguish their tickets. The ante for Romney to sustain his positive performance has been upped even more.
Hannah Miller is a junior in the College.