Reflecting on his widely praised speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, former President Bill Clinton said that “I was just determined to get the facts right and to simplify the argument without being simplistic. I didn’t want to talk down to people, I wanted to explain what I thought was going on.”
At the vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, Vice President Joe Biden followed Clinton’s example. Biden’s approach to the debate could be summed up in two words that he repeated to moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News: “Facts matter.” On issue after issue, Biden did to Ryan what President Obama failed to do to Mitt Romney in their debate: Forced him to play defense by calling out his deceptions and distortions.
When Raddatz asked the candidates who would pay more taxes and who would pay less if their tickets were elected, Biden replied simply: “The middle class will pay less and people making $1 million or more will begin to contribute slightly more,” then backed up his response by explaining the Obama administration’s support for extending the Bush tax cut for the middle class, while letting the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans expire.
By contrast, Ryan again promised a 20 percent tax cut across the board, claiming they would make it “revenue neutral” without naming a single deduction that a Romney administration would eliminate to pay for it. After Raddatz correctly pointed out that Ryan had still not named any specifics (perhaps he felt that he didn’t have enough time), Biden pounced.
“The only way you can find $5 trillion in loopholes” to make the Ryan/Romney tax cut revenue neutral “is cut the mortgage deduction for middle-class people, cut the health care deduction for middle-class people, take away their ability to get a tax break to send their kids to college,” he explained.
When Biden added that Ryan and Romney’s promise was “not mathematically possible,” it forced Ryan to claim that the plan had been accomplished “a couple of times before,” which is simply not true.
The candidates had similar exchanges on several other issues. After Ryan trashed the stimulus bill as a prime example of wasteful government spending and corruption, Biden pointed out that not only has there been little to no evidence of waste, fraud, or “cronyism” in the stimulus spending — but that Ryan himself had requested stimulus funds for his home district to promote jobs and growth.
On Medicare, Ryan made his usual pitch that Obamacare raids $716 billion from Medicare, and that both Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt — making his unpopular “reforms” unavoidable. In response, Biden explained that “we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare” to keep the system solvent through 2024.
“Any senior out there, ask yourself: Do you have more benefits today? You do,” Biden continued. “If you’re near the donut hole, you have $800 — $600 more to help your prescription drug costs. You get wellness visits without co-pays.”
He also took a shot at Ryan for pulling out PolitiFact’s 2009 lie of the year — Obamacare’s mythical death panels. “You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels.”
Biden also repeatedly fact-checked Ryan on Iran, shutting down the congressman’s false claims that Iran has enough fissile material to make five nuclear bombs (it doesn’t) and that the Obama administration attempted to water down sanctions against Iran (it didn’t).
When Ryan attacked the administration for providing inadequate security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi before it was attacked, Biden correctly pointed out that Ryan’s own budget slashes the State Department’s funding by $300 million, limiting the amount of security it could provide.
These are just a few of the many instances in which Biden effectively parried Ryan’s false claims. He took issue with almost every assertion that Ryan made, and — unlike his opponent — Biden did not shy away from the details of his and Obama’s own plans.
Biden’s aggressive stance and his habit of smirking and interrupting Ryan cost him style points, but on substance there was no comparison. He blew the Republican vice presidential nominee out of the water.
Whether Biden’s victory will have any tangible impact is unclear; most polls suggest that there are very few undecided voters remaining, and vice presidential debates have historically not made a major electoral impact. One thing is certain, however: If these debates are designed to inform voters, than Biden used the forum exactly as intended. In doing so, he set a strong example that President Obama would be wise to follow when he meets Mitt Romney again.
Photo credit: AP/Mark Humphrey