Just hours after flying into Paris from Prague, I drank loads of coffee to ensure my capacity to stay up to watch the entire vice presidential debate and some of the media aftermath.
This time I watched the affair on CNN, after previously covering the first presidential debate from Amsterdam, and I was stunned by the CNN commentators, led by the increasingly annoying and innocuous Wolf Blitzer, who termed the event a draw.
By what universe did he, David Gergen, Anderson Cooper, Gloria Borger and others come to this conclusion? Though I am absolutely an Obama partisan, those of you who read my piece on the first presidential debate will recall my dismay with the president's performance. So I'm quite capable of seeing the flaws of those whom I prefer, but, with the exception of a slightly slow start for Vice President Joe Biden, whose overly broad smiling and occasional laughter did detract from his persona, it soon became clear who controlled the debate, and it was not his opponent, Congressman Paul Ryan.
From the outset Biden rebutted Ryan consistently well, with a command of facts which eviscerated the rote and often wooden Republican candidate's pronouncements. Whether it was in response to Ryan's accusations that we were lax in funding security for our embassies, a sensitive issue in light of the assassination of our Libyan ambassador, or somehow implying less support for Israel because the president didn't meet with Benjamin Netanyahu during the recent UN meeting, Biden blew him away. Didn't Ryan's Republican-controlled House cut three hundred million dollars from the embassy security budget? The CNN fact checker said this was true. Biden also cited numerous meetings President Obama has held with the Israeli prime minister and indicated a recent hour-long telephone conversation between the two, during which Biden was present.
Through it all, I'll admit I was bothered by Biden's repeated condescending smiles, but I didn't hear most of the CNN commentators refer to Paul Ryan's constant smirking while Biden spoke.
Yes, Biden interrupted Ryan a lot and Ryan did the same. However, I admit Biden did so on more numerous occasions, the saving grace being that he continually put forth facts to counter a number of Ryan's false claims. Ryan was generally cool and often appeared earnest, though his delivery was oft robotic. The best way to describe him was as a Stepford Husband. In other words, someone who might sincerely believe what he was saying, which doesn't in itself make what he is saying true.
An example is the misleading statement that Obama has cut Medicare benefits by over seven hundred billion dollars, when it has been stated and restated by neutral commentators that the cuts go to the providers, bringing down costs, and do not affect what services Medicare enrolled patients receive. And that the AMA and AARP have backed the policy. Biden nailed him on that point, unlike Obama who had failed to do so with Romney. Biden also took issue with Ryan's repeated assertion that Obama's desire to tax millionaires would affect so many small businessmen, interrupting to say that 97 percent of them were not in the millionaire category, so they would in fact be protected with a middle class tax cut if only the GOP would not insist upon putting all tax cuts in the same legislation.
Through the whole debate -- and the interruptions frankly made it appear more like a debate than the sterile question and answer formats to which we have become accustomed -- Ryan
rarely gave specifics, despite moderator Martha Raddatz repeatedly asking him to do so on taxation or what his ticket would do differently in foreign policy. He just recited the party line, repeating "facts" that were later revealed by CNN's fact checkers to be untrue. For example on a number of occasions he said that under Obama Iran had quintupled its nuclear capability, even as Biden reminded him that it did no good without the weapons to employ them, not to mention the fact that it had not been enriched.
Regarding the Afghan situation, Ryan accused Obama of pulling out thousands of troops leaving the remaining troops in harm's way, causing Biden to school Ryan about their replacement with Afghan military we had trained. It was incredible how the CNN commentators seemed to let Ryan slide by with so many errors, not to mention the fact that the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan was supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. How could David Gergen, who should know better, echo the prevailing thought that the debate was a wash, while nonetheless giving Ryan more points for style, thus indicating it was a slight win for the Republican side.
Was he not listening to the crap Ryan kept dishing out, or is it just that the media is so bent on keeping this election a horse race to induce interest and thus increase their ratings that they will say anything to keep one side from getting too far ahead?
Whether you liked some of Biden's body language or not, he was so much more substantive and in command of the reality of what really was happening, and I particularly applaud his occasional comments eyes directed squarely at the camera, clearly speaking to the viewing audience, emphasizing the threats to Medicare and Social Security, and asking candidly who the audience believed would be better looked after for the quality of their lives.
So, the real question is how many of those who watched the debate could see through the misstatements Ryan made and how many were convinced by Biden's point by point, very knowledgeable dismissal of what the Republican vice presidential candidate spewed forth, albeit in an intent and possibly convincing manner.
To my mind, though he might have toned down some of the condescension, American voters should care more about and appreciate Joe Biden's setting the record straight about what damage will await the country if Romney and Ryan should happen to win. Now, it's President Obama's turn to energize the base next week. And he really needs to do so. I'll be watching that one from Paris, too.
Michael Russnow's website is www.ramproductionsinternational.com