The vice presidential debate provided a test case about the way Americans think about civility. In terms of substance, both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their moments of strength. Ryan was strong on foreign policy, while Biden squirmed and threw the intelligence community under the bus about administration lies about the Benghazi attack. Biden delivered class warfare body blows about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.
But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive. But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.
This afternoon, the Obama campaign’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter melted down not once, but twice on national television. On a day the Obama campaign anticipated discussing the vice presidential debate, set to take place tonight at 9 p.m., they were instead issuing clarifications and creating a media firestorm.
While on CNN discussing the September 11 attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Cutter remarked, ”The entire reason that this [the Benghazi terror attack] has become the political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — it’s a big part of their stump speech, and it’s reckless and irresponsible.”
Going into the debate tonight, there’s one major false assumption that needs to be cleared up: the myth of Joe Biden’s likability. A common theme in the pre-debate coverage is that Paul Ryan needs to come off as less wonky to balance out that folksy, blue-collar persona Joe Biden likes to adopt. It’s good advice, but it also shouldn’t give anyone the impression that Biden has some remarkable ability to connect with the average American, or that Ryan is a socially-awkward number-cruncher. Actually, the polls show the complete opposite.
And by “the polls,” I mean all of the polls. Ryan has scored higher favorability ratings than Biden in every national, non-partisan poll since he was chosen as Romney’s running mate, as The Hill reported last month:
Who’s responsible for the security failures at the consulate in Benghazi? According to Dana Milbank, the blame lies with fiscal hawks in the House GOP:
For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration. House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.) Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected.
If Milbank was right, and this was just the predictable result of budgetary constraints, then the State Department had no business keeping an outpost open in a high-risk area, if it knew it couldn’t provide adequate security. The thing is, the State Department didn’t refuse to send additional security because it couldn’t afford it. It refused to send additional security because it said (and continues to say) that the security situation was adequate based on the knowledge at the time. Meanwhile, Ambassador Kennedy said yesterday that he has no faith in the diplomatic security services ever being able to defend against an attack of that level. “Under that kind of lethality, we’re never going to have enough guns,” hesaid. “We’re a diplomatic service. We are not an armed camp.”
The headline of today’s front-page feature in the New York Times on the future of health care in this country, “This Election, a Stark Choice in Health Care,” is exactly right. The future of President Obama’s attempt to impose a government-run system on the country that will raise costs and intrude into the personal decisions of individuals is on the line in November. If the president is re-elected, ObamaCare will survive even if the Republicans win control of both houses of Congress. If Mitt Romney wins and the GOP takes the Congress, it is certain to be repealed.
That’s a rather straight-forward choice, but what is interesting about the article isn’t the editorializing in favor of the bill’s retention in what is ostensibly a news article, but the historical context in which the Times attempts to place this choice. As far as the paper is concerned, the Republicans are not playing by the unwritten rules of modern American politics that state that once liberals pass a major expansion of government power, conservatives are forever barred from rolling it back. That was the conceit behind the president’s decision to ram ObamaCare down the throat of a reluctant Congress and a disapproving American public. He believed that once passed, that would end the discussion for all time. But the funny thing about democracy is that the voters always get the last word and it is that, rather than the rule-braking Republicans, that is the president’s problem.
If we can get any indication on the tone of tonight’s debate from Paul Ryan and Joe Biden’s chosen debate preparation opponents, it will be two things: wonky and heated.
Biden’s team has tapped Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a strong opponent of Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Van Hollen’s participation in Biden’s debate prep shows just how seriously the vice president is taking Ryan’s plan, and just how badly the Obama campaign wants to put the Romney camp on the defensive tonight. In advance of tonight’s debate the Obama campaign has released a new ad featuring Van Hollen; The Hill reports on its contents:
The worst thing to happen to the Israeli left was not the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu, who managed somehow to win the first Israeli election after Oslo and then find the political acumen to take Likud back to power after Ariel Sharon bolted the party. It was not the eventual end of the Israeli left’s one-party rule, for such a political monopoly could not have gone on forever in a democracy, and if it had it would have corrupted the movement from unaccountability. No, the worst thing to happen to the Israeli left was the Palestinian leadership, which humiliated Israeli peacemaker after Israeli peacemaker until the country could no longer watch the ritual humiliations.
The last such humiliation wasn’t all that long ago. It was when, battered by a failed premiership, a mistake-ridden war effort, unpopularity that seemed to have no floor, and the murmurings of corruption scandals, Kadima leader Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas the store. And the final indignity was that Abbas didn’t even attempt to renegotiate or engage the offer in any way. He simply walked away. Now that Netanyahu has called for early elections to take place this winter, Olmert has returned—maybe—as the great hope of those on the Israeli left who cannot bear the thought of another four years of Netanyahu, who has presided over relative peace, security, and tranquility, but who they don’t like, with his perfect English and his Republican friends.
For mainstream American Jewish groups, it has long been an article of faith that strong alliances with liberal Protestant denominations with whom they shared a common agenda on domestic issues is integral to the safeguarding of the security and the rights of the Jewish community. That has been tested in recent years, as some of their liberal Christian partners debated supporting efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel. But the latest instance of liberal Christians attacking Israel ought to cut the cord completely.
As the Times of Israel and JTA report, the leaders of several of the leading American Protestant denominations and one small Catholic group have signed a letter calling for a congressional investigation whose purpose would be to end U.S. aid to Israel. The letter alleges that Israel is involved in crimes that violate U.S. law that should prevent the sending of aid or arms to the Jewish state. These charges are a tissue of deceptions, distortions and outright lies that are the product of Palestinian propaganda. (Though some of it is supported by radical leftist Jewish groups like B’Tselem, whose leaders own ambivalence toward Zionism has been documented in COMMENTARY.) The main focus of the letter is to delegitimize Israeli self-defense and to ignore the reality of Palestinian intransigence and opposition to peace. However, the reaction of Jewish groups to this latest development should not be ambivalent. To its credit, the Anti-Defamation League has said it will withdraw from a national Jewish-Christian dialogue event. They should not be the only Jewish group to do so.
When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate in August, Republicans spoke about how they couldn’t wait to see the Wisconsin congressman take apart Vice President Biden. But two months later, the stakes in that anticipated match-up are turning out to be far higher than anyone thought. After Mitt Romney’s smashing victory over President Obama last week in the first presidential debate, rather than just being a test of the strengths of the lower halves of each ticket, the vice presidential debate is now seen as a crucial second round that could help shape the rest of the race.
That sounds like an inviting opportunity for conservatives who could be said to have fished their wish when Ryan was put on the ticket. Ryan is the intellectual leader of his party as well as its most prominent advocate of entitlement reform and has long been seen as one of the brightest young stars in the GOP. He is an experienced Washington debater in the House as well as in other forums, such as his highly publicized confrontation with President Obama during a 2010 White House health care summit. But tonight’s encounter is a very different kind of animal. While Biden’s weaknesses and strengths are well known, the pressure is on Ryan to show that he belongs on the biggest political stage. If he fails, it could be a body blow to Republicans who in the last week have begun to feel as if victory in November is within their reach.
Several months ago, the New York Times editorial column ran a piece headlined “What Sheldon Adelson Wants” (which is sort of like Russia Today running a story on “What the National Endowment for Democracy Wants”). The Times’s answers ranged from money, to ending a Justice Department investigation, to Adelson’s supposed opposition to a two-state solution.
“He is even further to the right than the main pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,” the editorial board wrote breathlessly. Today, Adelson finally weighed in with a column for the JNS wire service.
Now that Moscow has expelled USAID from Russia and announced it will not renew one of the pillars of U.S.-Russia post-Soviet cooperation–the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program–the Obama administration and other disappointed actors will be looking for a silver lining.
At least the Obama administration can take solace in the fact that while Putin is thoroughly dedicated to publicly and without consequence bullying Obama in the last month of the presidential election, he isn’t only isolating the U.S. As usual, Putin reserved some of his ire for NATO as well. Reuters reports:
Hopefully the “Daily Show” wasn’t one of those “comedy shows” that Team Obama planned to air its “satirical” Big Bird advertisement on, because Jon Stewart tore the ad to shreds last night. Noting that “the most damning line in that ad” was “I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message,” Stewart practically pleaded with the campaign to “let it go”:
It’s not just Stewart; in a Reuters report, Democrats said they’re stumped by the small-ball strategy as well. Some wonder whether there’s some hidden strategy here, aimed at cutting into Romney’s gains with women voters, or if it’s simply an effort to rally the base:
If you’re already angry about the administration’s stonewalling on the Benghazi attack, get ready to be furious. Anderson Cooper’s interview last night with the mother of Sean Smith, who was killed in the attack, is simply devastating. She says President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Leon Panetta all promised her they would get to the bottom of her son’s death as soon as possible, but so far she’s heard nothing (h/t Dan Halper):
Much attention has been focused in recent days, and for understandable reasons, on the emergence of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as a serious threat in Libya. Indeed Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led a security assistance team in Libya, testified yesterday that its “presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we are.”
Libya is hardly alone, however. There is also growing evidence of al-Qaeda’s reemergence in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that “the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.” There are said to be as many as ten al-Qaeda in Iraq training sites in the western deserts of Iraq.
As he has done many times in recent years, ABC’s Jake Tapper hit the nail on the head when he asked White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday whether President Obama hadn’t done exactly what he and other Democrats and liberals accused Mitt Romney of doing:
TAPPER: President Obama, shortly after the attack told “60 Minutes” that regarding Mitt Romney’s response to the attacks, specifically in Egypt, the president said that Romney has a tendency to “shoot first and aim later.” Given the fact that so much was made out of the video that apparently had absolutely nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi, that there wasn’t even a protest outside the Benghazi post, didn’t President Obama shoot first and aim later?
CARNEY: First of all, Jake, I think your assessment of what we know now is not complete, but I would simply say that the -
TAPPER: I’m just going by what the State Department said yesterday.
CARNEY: Look, there is no question that in the region, including in Cairo, there were demonstrations reacting to the release of that video, and I will leave it to those who are testifying on the hill to -
TAPPER: You said yesterday there was no protest? I’m talking about in Benghazi.
This was yet another cringe-inducing moment from a White House that is allergic to the truth. But Tapper’s question hits an important political point that has been ignored, as the country seeks answers to the questions about the Benghazi attack that the Obama foreign policy team still finds itself incapable of answering honestly. Mitt Romney is still taking abuse from those who claim he was wrong to criticize the administration’s behavior in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi disaster as well as the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Republican spoke out before all the information about both incidents was aired. In retrospect, that was a mistake. But it pales in comparison to the many deceptive statements from the president, the secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations that were not only wrong but part of what appears to have been a campaign of deception aimed at distracting the American people from a major security breakdown.