10/14/2012 07:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Believing Is Seeing on Veep and Benghazi

By Mark Green

While fact-checkers wore themselves out later, there's little doubt that -- love or loathe him -- Joe Biden dominated the VP debate. He was certainly not too polite, passive, professorial. When conservatives complain about Martha Raddatz's pointed questions and Biden's frequent smirks, can there be much doubt who politically "won" the smackdown?

Next: can Obama expose the new Moderate Mitt as a turnaround artist... not of companies but himself?

*On Biden and Ryan. A split decision according to our panelists. Torie -- an assistant secretary of defense for public affairs under Donald Rumsfeld -- thinks that the young congressman "had to do no harm and didn't" but that "Biden really ticked a lot of people off by sounding like their crazy uncle... and interrupting Ryan 82 times! The VEEP probably fired up his base... and Republicans too." Ron gives the nod to Biden because "he had more to do after Obama's passive performance and he did."

On style points, it's easy to see how people could score the debate differently. But not on substance. While Ron agrees that sometimes Biden was too caffinated, "if Ryan's lyin' Biden had to fire back the moment the words came out of his mouth." So when Biden asked who do you trust on Medicare, the party who never supported it ("my father didn't!" declares Ron) or he and the President - and when he mocked the congressman for disparaging the Stimulus though asking for local funds to create jobs ("hypocrisy was dripping off Ryan like flop sweat" says Ron) -- it seemed clear the veteran was mauling the rookie.


Did either or both help themselves for 2016 if Obama wins? Torie thinks that since most people didn't know much about Ryan, he advanced his cause greatly by a good performance. But not Biden who, she contends, wasn't presidential or vice-presidential. (Speaking of presidential, can anyone doubt that there will be more national debates in Martha Raddatz's future?)

*On #2 POTUS Debate. When Chris Matthews, Ed Shultz and Jon Stewart conclude that Obama badly lost the first debate, he badly lost the first debate. As one wag said, if this were an NFL game, during the contest he would have been checked for a concussion. But then, a self-aware Obama doesn't disagree. We listen to him tell interviewers that he was too "polite", had "an off-night" and would learn from that.

We also hear two partisans explain what happened. Robert Gibbs argues that Romney just walked away from his previous positions on taxes, Medicare, teachers etc. etc. and won't get away with such 180's again. John Sununu explains that Obama simply is "lazy...and not very bright." (Sure, that's how someone with Hussein as a middle name brained and worked his way from Hawaii to Harvard to the Oval Office.)

How would our two panelists each advise the contenders if they were ringside? Torie, who had this experience with Bush43 after his first faltering debate with John Kerry, reminds us that incumbent presidents with a record are usually on the defensive. But "because Romney had a commanding presence in the first encounter, he no doubt now has a lot more confidence. He should keep asking: are we better off four years later? has Obama kept any of his promises?"

Since Gibbs and Democrats unanimously believe that Romney sincerely lies about next to everything, exactly how does Obama tactically call him out since he's not allowed to use the L word? Ron argues that the President has to be personal and specific, like referring to someone with juvenile diabetes being denied insurance under Romney's plan because of that pre-existing condition. Basically, Obama has to raise the level of his game and energy. "But he apparently doesn't like being in these contentious situations. He needs to do more of what Biden did."

Host -- three conclusions: a) VP was an entertaining, substantive debate which kept the race in place; b) the Democratic frame for the final POTUS debates should be not just tit-for-tat tactically but "trust"; and, c) given tightening polls, the perceived winner of the next debate will be the next president, while a draw allows Obama to maintain his edge and squeak by.

*On Romney's VMI address. Shades of Giuliani! We listen to Governor Romney three times refer to the attack "on 9/11" in Benghazi and conclude that America is under assault around the Middle East because of Obama's "weakness."

"Six to nine months ago," says Torie, "I wouldn't have thought that a Republican could have successfully challenged the President on foreign affairs. " But the riots in Egypt and deaths in Libya, after warnings of more security, have made this a real political problem for the President, "especially after he referred to them as 'speed bumps.' Tell that to the families of those killed in Libya. That's highly annoying."

Ron leaps in. "The president didn't say that about the ambassador's death. Do you really think that he thinks the death of an American ambassador was a 'speed bump'?" Torie: "That's what he said." Ron: "I'll tell you what's highly annoying, even obscene. Romney saying that the President sympathized with terrorists killing Americans. I considered that disqualifying."

Doesn't President Obama's success with bin Laden and al Qaeda generally speak louder than the recent turmoil there? Torie says it's offensive how Obama claims so much credit when thousands of people over years did the work that led to OBL's death. "He acts as if he pulled the trigger." Ron: "No he doesn't. The very night he announced it he immediately gave credit to the Seals and all those whose work led to this. He's not taking too much credit - at least he didn't land on an aircraft carrier in a tight little jump suit looking like... well, I won't say what."

Host: Did Democrats immediately blame Republican presidents after the Beirut barracks bombing killed 241 American soldiers in 1983 and after nearly 3000 Americans died on 9/11? Did they right after launch Darryl Issa-like investigations into how Reagan and Bush sympathized with our enemies and failed to anticipate what happened...or did they rather rally behind their presidents when Americans were killed in massive numbers? Is bipartisanship abroad for one party only? Romney's effort to accuse Obama of excusing terrorism and then to rhetorically conflate the tragedy in Benghazi with the epic catastrophe of 9/11 is... well, I won't say what. But Ambassador Stevens's father did say that "it would really be abhorrent is this were made into a campaign issue."

It appears that Obama-Biden will be going on offense against Romney/Bolton-like "toughness" in hot spots like Syria, Libya, Iran. Obama on 60 Minutes: "If Mr. Romney wants to start another war in the Middle East, he should tell us." Biden in his debate: "The last thing we need is another war."

*On MO and CN Senate Races. Since Todd Akin has stayed in the Missouri senate race even after his infamous comment about "legitimate rape", will GOP poobahs now endorse him against Sen. McCaskill or worry more about swing women voters in the other 49? Lamenting that the GOP had an easy pickup that now seems unlikely, Torie doubts those at the Romney/Priebus/Rove level can embrace him; Ron assumes other Republicans will do so because winning one more seat could be pivotal to the GOP control. As for Connecticut, a talented Rep. Chris Murphy is likely to prevail in the very blue state of Connecticut in his wrestling match with repeat nominee Linda ($100 million) McMahon.

Quick Takes: Reparative Therapy. Gay Referenda. Bachmann Referendum. Argo. Not easy finding consensus this presidential season but Torie Clarke and Ron Reagan agree that Governor Jerry Brown's law banning reparative therapy to convert gay youth is good science, not big government. Ron discusses how a marriage equality referendum in his home state of Washington next month is likely to pass (and in three other states perhaps as well - Maine, Minnesota, Maryland). Speaking of reparative therapy, the two agree that Rep. Michele Bachmann is in trouble in the sixth CD in Minnesota but split on whether she'll prevail. And Torie is excited to see Affleck's Argo (so the Host does that night -- 94 percent rotten tomatoes!)

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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