One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.
That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.
The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:
MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.
When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.
Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.
In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:
With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.
Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.
That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
I just hope the Taliban were too busying planting roadside bombs, shooting school girls, extorting merchants, or doing whatever is they normally do at 5:30 a.m.–when the vice presidential debate started by Kabul time–to watch the Biden-Ryan slugfest. Because if they had tuned in, they would have heard a message from the vice president–the deputy satan–that would have been music to their ears (if, that is, they did not prohibit music as contrary to their extremist beliefs).
Here is what Biden had to say about Afghanistan:
It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security. We have trained over 315,000, mostly without incident. There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed. If we do not — if the measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We’ll only train in the — in the Army bases that exist there.
But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security.
It’s their responsibility, not America’s.
The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.
The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.
Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.
As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:
As I predicted yesterday, Vice President Biden came out aggressive and swinging against his opponent, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even when it wasn’t his turn to speak, Biden interjected himself into Ryan’s speaking time. According to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Biden interrupted Ryan a total of 82 times. CNN instant polling after the debate showed 70 percent of respondents noting that Biden, not Ryan, spent the debate attacking his opponent (compare this to 19 percent for Ryan).
As Jonathan noted last night, Biden’s incivility could end up causing him more harm than good with voters in the long term. CNN and NBC anchors immediately weighed in on Biden’s tendency to smirk and laugh during his opponent’s allotted time. In the age of split-screen television, Biden’s aggression may have come off well with the Democratic base, but it likely did nothing but turn off undecided voters. His behavior, as already noted by the GOP’s research team, was deemed inappropriate at best by many in the mainstream media.
The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.
In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Among the chatter heading into tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate between Paul Ryan and current Vice President Joe Biden, it’s easy to pick up on the confidence conservatives have in Ryan and their dismissive attitude toward Biden. Both of those are well founded, since Ryan is a solid debater and in strong command of the facts, while Biden is … Biden. Furthermore, they seem to be making a kind of Talmudic a fortiori argument about the general momentum of the campaigns: if Mitt Romney could so thoroughly defeat Barack Obama, kal v’chomer Paul Ryan could dismantle Joe Biden.
But there are three things conservatives should keep in mind. First, at the Democratic National Convention, Biden was better than Obama was—and it wasn’t even close. Biden had the energy and the populist appeal—two staples of his political persona—while Obama was saddled with presidential exhaustion and a marked lack of ideas or inspirational rhetoric. Biden is the one candidate among the four who is capable of projecting warmth on command. If the Joe Biden from the DNC shows up tomorrow night, Ryan will have his work cut out for him.
Democrats are now thinking about the vice presidential debate a bit differently than they might have expected just a week ago. Rather than Vice President Biden being given the task of merely not losing ground to Paul Ryan, he is now being asked to win it so as to offset the impact of last week’s disastrous showing by the head of his ticket in the first presidential debate. It remains to be seen whether that is likely or even possible, and we’ll have more about the veep matchup later today and tomorrow. But whatever winds up happening tomorrow night, placing this much emphasis on a Biden win puts the Obama campaign in a tight spot. It also raises the question of how they will react if, as is most likely, that debate, as well as the two presidential confrontations that will follow, doesn’t produce a clear-cut victory for the incumbents.
Both in 2008 and throughout all of 2012 up until this point, the president has had the luxury of running ahead of the competition. If the current trend, in which the national polls are now showing Romney with a slight lead in the race, continues, we will find out how he does when he is trailing. Based on the evidence of the past week as the Romney surge began, that is not an encouraging prospect for the Democrats.
The Romney campaign is calling Joe Biden’s comment about the middle class being “buried for the past four years” a gaffe, and it does fit the criteria of “accidental-honesty.” There’s no doubt the middle class has been hit hard under the current administration, which is why the Obama campaign is having such a difficult time cleaning up after Biden’s comment. They can’t claim Biden is wrong (or they’ll seem out of touch), but they obviously can’t acknowledge he’s right.
The solution? Agree with Biden’s assessment that the middle class has been buried for the past four years, but blame it all on Bush:
“As the Vice President has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy – and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies,” an Obama campaign official said. “With more than five million private-sector jobs created since 2010, the Vice President and President Obama will continue to help the middle class recover and move the nation forward.”
Unlike Senator Barbara Boxer, who understood that a clear breach has developed between Israel and the United States, Vice President Joe Biden is in denial. As Seth wrote earlier today, Boxer demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu retract his statements about the administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. She asked him to reaffirm his comments from earlier in the year in which he said the two countries stand together. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, with the Americans still implausibly insisting that failed diplomacy and inadequate sanctions will make the Iranians give up their nuclear ambitions. Boxer seems to think it’s the Israeli duty to subordinate their own ideas of security to those of an administration that has demonstrated no interest in translating their rhetoric into action on Iran. But while Boxer’s statement was as impertinent as it was wrongheaded, Biden’s comments are either obtuse or totally disingenuous.
Biden made the comment at a pre-Rosh Hashanah event at the vice presidential mansion. JTA reports that:
According to tweets posted by Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, Biden said that “Both our nations are intently focused on the threat of Iran” and “there is no daylight” between the United States and Israel.
Diament also quoted Biden as saying that “We will use all the elements of our national security, including military” to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The problem with these statements is that they are at variance with the comments made over the weekend by Secretary of State Clinton in which she pointedly refused to set any deadlines for the Iranians. The recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that the Iranians are making good use of the time President Obama has wasted during his four years in office pursuing feckless diplomacy to make substantial progress toward a nuclear weapon. The Israeli government has complained loudly that it is obvious, as the IAEA report made clear, that Tehran is fast approaching the point where it would be too late to use force to forestall Iran’s bomb. The contrast between Israel’s sense of urgency about this existential threat and the laconic manner of the administration could not be starker. If that doesn’t constitute daylight, then the term has no meaning.
After two weeks of speeches, non-stop abuse of Mitt Romney, platform fiascos and a steady diet of support for abortion, gay rights, illegal immigrants and mentions of the auto bailout and Osama bin Laden, the Democratic National Convention is finally over.
The completion of both party conclaves means that the fall campaign is officially launched. But before we move on to the home stretch of the presidential race, here’s a roundup of some winners and losers from Charlotte:
Heading into this week’s Democratic National Convention, the party knows the country isn’t really better off than it was four years ago. They also know that President Obama can’t count on a repeat of the wave of messianic expectations that swept him into office in 2008. But they seem united on one proposition: the Republicans and their ideas for changing Washington must be stopped. Though most of those who gather in Charlotte dub themselves “progressives,” that word, which once evoked the liberal call to transform America into a more egalitarian society, now means something very different. In 2012, to be a progressive means above all to be steadfast in favor of maintaining the status quo on a wide range of issues. It is a credo of not of progress but merely in defense of the power of the state that generations of Democratic politicians have built.
The best of example of this came over the weekend as Vice President Biden, whose value as the administration’s rabid attack dog has never been more apparent, denounced Republican plans for reforming Medicare so as to enable it to survive despite the overwhelming demographic and budget disaster that looms over it. Biden’s battle cry claiming: “We are for Medicare; they are for Vouchercare,” contained no nuances about dealing with problems. Indeed, Biden, citing his own mother’s experience, gave a straightforward pitch for paternalistic government in which he said older Americans were too befuddled to make their own choices and needed to be told what to do by Washington.
For some reason, liberals want to make this an election about social issues. In their minds, it showcases a broad array of imagined Republican bigotry. What they don’t realize, as residents of the coasts, is that the American people aren’t with them. Most Americans know that being pro-life isn’t tantamount to waging a war on women — the majority of Americans are pro-life themselves. Every single time the issue of gay marriage has been put to public referendum, even in the deep blue state of California, it’s been voted down.
Liberals are happy to blame the failures of these ballot initiatives on almost anyone: Mormons, the owners and customers of Chick-fil-A, etc. What they won’t admit is the fact that Prop 8 was upheld in California because traditional, Church-going black voters, who already came out to the polls in droves to vote for Barack Obama, voted for it. The added benefit of making this an election about social issues for liberals is that the president has nothing else to run on. No record, no plans to save Medicare, Social Security, or the economy in general. It was determined at Obama HQ a long time ago that this would be an election of distractions, not ideas, not hope, and certainly not change.