"With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey." -- Vice President Joseph Biden
Last night's vice presidential debate was a war compared to the first presidential debate of the 2012 election season. More daggers were thrown between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan last night than during the debate between the presidential candidates, yet the best sound bite uttered in either debate belongs to Mitt Romney for attacking PBS and Big Bird.
The talk dominating the media airwaves over the last week was Big Bird-centric. My kids loved it. Suddenly they had a stake in politics! But was it good for the election? Was it good for our country? My wife made a salient point the other day when she said, "Imagine what people from other countries must think when they read our election news and all they see are stories about a big, yellow, fake bird."
Our country has lost some of the luster from its external image of the democratic process. Our democratic street-cred is suffering. And I've always felt like Europe, in particular, considers Americans lazy, fat, shallow and unable to focus on the real issues. Is this campaign proving those suspicions wrong? Between the mud-slinging advertisements and the sheer lack of a plan from both candidates to address the issues that plague our country, I'd say no.
Perhaps the most poignant sound bite from last night's debate came from the moderator, Martha Raddatz?
"I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, "The ads are so negative and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country." What would you say to that American hero about this campaign, and at the end of the day are you ever embarrassed by the tone?"
Did the candidates on stage address her question? They most certainly did, but not without attacking their opponent. Biden led off with a meandering answer, but eventually spit out what Raddatz and the audience was looking for when he said:
I would also tell him that there are things that have occurred in this campaign, and incur in every campaign, that I'm sure both of us regret anyone having said, particularly in these... these... these special, new groups that can go out there, raise all the money they want, not have to identify themselves and say the most scurrilous things about the other candidate. It's an abomination.
His debate friend, Ryan, did not do much better in terms of providing Raddatz and the viewers with a sense that he truly heard the question and cared to answer it, when he said:
"You have a president, who ran for president four years ago promising hope and change, who has now turned his campaign into attack, blame and defame."
Both answers seem heartless to me. Add to that the fact that both parties' message to the current struggles of the middle class, but without any concrete solutions and the result is the type of finger-pointing we see our children do on the playground -- an instant turn-off for the adults in this country and to those who view our politics from abroad. Where is the strength and conviction we saw from Obama's camp four years ago? And what happened to Mitt Romney's compassion for others? Did he ever have any?
The 2012 election debates have proven something else; Americans are more fascinated with ridiculous sound bites than sound bites with substance -- witness the Big Bird phenomenon. Biden tried his best during the debate with Ryan to drop a sound bite that would dominate this week's media coverage, but regurgitated an iconic sound bite from a debate in 1988 between then-Democratic vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen and Republican vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle when Bentsen said: "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Biden's version?"Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy."
America's response to that sound bite should be, "Oh Joe, you're no Lloyd Bentsen."
Next Tuesday's debate between President Obama and Romney will hopefully fill the missing substance gap and provide us with sound bites with substance that can help all of the voting public make an educated decision.