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The Telegram
  • Editorial: Dems right ship a bit, on to Romney/Obama II

  • Both guys took off the gloves from the get-go in a spirited vice presidential debate Thursday night in Kentucky. A Joe Biden who never went off offense landed more punches throughout the evening, but this was no knockout, as Ryan held his own.

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  • Both guys took off the gloves from the get-go in a spirited vice presidential debate Thursday night in Kentucky. A Joe Biden who never went off offense landed more punches throughout the evening, but this was no knockout, as Ryan held his own.
    In fact Democrats needed it more, as they had lost momentum after President Obama's anemic performance in the first debate against GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Against that backdrop, Biden injected some life back into the campaign. Given that, call it a split decision, slight advantage Democrats.
    Televised debates are mostly theater, of course, and how you look and act can be more important than what you say. As always, that's in the eye of the beholder. There is no escaping how perceptions are shaped by the partisan lens Americans bring to these debates in the first place. If Biden was off-putting pugnacious to many Republicans, he was passionate to many Democrats. Where liberals saw Biden's trademark high-wattage smile, conservatives saw bared fangs. What the latter defined as patronizing and disrespectful, the former interpreted as righteously defiant. It's true that Biden more often interrupted the Wisconsin congressman.
    This was a generational confrontation. As such one would have expected the 69-year-old Biden to trumpet his experience, but arguably he also brought more energy to the exchange. The 42-year-old Ryan, meanwhile, is the personification of calm, if earnest. Their styles could not have contrasted more.
    That's not to say there weren't hints of fluster on Ryan's part. Pressed to provide specifics by the moderator regarding what deductions and loopholes the Republicans would close to pay for their tax rate cuts, Ryan steadfastly refused to answer. Meanwhile, Biden was not shy about hammering the GOP ticket on Romney's "47 percent" comments, on Ryan's alleged hypocrisy in trying to partake of the Obama stimulus plan he so publicly derided, on the Republican running mate's denials of the $6,400 in annual, extra out-of-pocket costs for U.S. seniors as part of his original Medicare reform plan (since altered) - the Congressional Budget Office sides with Biden - on Ryan's advocacy for the privatization of Social Security, on Ryan's own deficit-driving "yes" votes on two wars and the dramatic expansion of Medicare through the addition of a prescription drug plan. Biden's theme was unmistakeable (and you don't hear the word "malarkey" much in political debates): Democrats support the middle class, Republicans don't. Ryan begged to differ, as he did - dramatically - on his definition of a "small business."
    Back and forth it went. Ryan scored in emphasizing the 10 percent unemployment rate, worse than four years ago, in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pa. - "This is not what a real recovery looks like," he said repeatedly - then faltered in saying that's "how it's going all across America." He must have missed last week's jobs report, which showed improvement, as well as the significant decline in joblessness in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. Where Republicans make plans, the president makes speeches, Ryan said, with some justification, in one of his more effective moments. Ryan continued to be fact-challenged regarding much of the projected fallout from "Obamacare," while Biden continued the Democratic mantra of misrepresenting the details of the Romney tax plan.
    Page 2 of 2 - Ultimately Biden couldn't resist trying to resurrect the Jack Kennedy line in a forced and obviously premeditated allusion to the 1988 vice presidential debate in which Lloyd Bentsen buckled Dan Quayle at the knees. Ryan couldn't resist taking a shot at the verbal gaffes for which Biden has a well-deserved reputation. Both attempts fell rather flat. Both candidates can smirk with the best of them.
    A significant portion of the debate was devoted to foreign policy. For a relative rookie Ryan did pretty well there, specifically pounding on the administration's handling of the consulate attack in Libya (where the White House is quite vulnerable given the revelations since). Biden counterpunched by noting that Ryan Republicans had insisted on cutting funding for embassy security (though he exaggerated the number). Meanwhile, Ryan was not convincing in trying to explain how a Romney White House would deal with Afghanistan or Syria any differently than an Obama White House has.
    There were sharper differences on Iran, where at one point Ryan seemed to suggest that a Romney administration would almost prefer war with Iran to keep it from developing nuclear weapons. Biden pounced on it and was quite right to say, "War should always be the absolute last resort." Beyond that, for a Republican ticket that rails about projecting strength globally, it is incongruous to hear its supporters whine afterwards about being bullied in a mere political debate.
    The good news is that both men were persuasive that they are up to the job of president in the event of an emergency. That has not always been the case.
    In any event, if past is prologue, most Americans won't base their vote on who's number two. Which brings us to Tuesday's second presidential debate in New York, where Romney no doubt hopes to replicate his performance in the first encounter, and Obama needs to up his game. Can't wait.
    Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.
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