Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joe Biden

The Rising Veep Futures Market

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.

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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.

It is true that Biden is something of a buffoon, as he so clearly demonstrated last night. But it is the sort of buffoonery that the liberal core of the Democratic Party adores. His bloviating is of the sort that engenders disgust among his opponents but liberals have always longed for a leader who doesn’t merely argue with the other side but bullies them into submission. Biden combines the glad-handing spirit of the traditional politicians with the conduct of a bare-knuckles brawler, exactly the combination that is most likely to charm some of the interest groups who are most likely to turn out in Democratic primaries. He will also benefit from his close association with the president, a not inconsiderable credential in a 2016 race that is unlikely to have a major African-American in the running (sorry, Corey Booker, you won’t be ready by then, if ever). Biden will also have no trouble raising the money needed for a presidential run.

That is not to say I’m predicting Biden will be the Democratic nominee four years from now. Though his party’s bench is terribly thin, someone else is bound to emerge and any fresh face will have an edge against what will by then be a terribly familiar and somewhat elderly Biden whom most rational Democrats will have to know would be a disastrous top of the ticket in a general election. But I do think Biden has a more than decent chance to be competitive in the primaries.

As for Ryan, as most of the TV talking heads said last night, he did himself no damage last night. He remains the intellectual leader of his party and should Romney win, Ryan will be his natural successor as well as the next in line during his presidency. Even if he loses, Ryan will assume the role of the de facto leader of Congressional Republicans and spend the next four years in the spotlight as speculation about the next round grows. Indeed, as the nation’s drift toward insolvency becomes even more apparent, entitlement reform will grow in importance as an issue. That means the Wisconsin congressman will be even more of a player in the next few years than he was in the past.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republican bench is deep and strong. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are just two of a formidable array of potential GOP candidates. As much as I admire Ryan’s intellect, integrity and good manners, unless Ryan is the sitting vice president, he will be hard pressed to beat either Rubio or Christie. But if he runs, he has as good a chance as anyone.

All of which means it is entirely conceivable, if not necessarily likely, that we haven’t seen the last debate between Biden and Ryan. If so, you can bet that Ryan will insist on rules about interruptions the next time around.

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Biden’s Reckless Rhetoric on Afghanistan

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.

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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.

But we did not invade Afghanistan in 2001 (a war that Biden supported, as he supported the one in Iraq) as a favor to the Afghans. We invaded because we had been attacked from its soil and wanted to punish the perpetrators and, more importantly, to prevent a recurrence in the future. Yet if we leave prematurely there is a very real danger that the Afghan security forces will fall apart and the Taliban will come back into power, bringing their buddies in al-Qaeda with them.

It is precisely to avert this danger that Biden’s boss, the president, signed a Strategic Partnership Accord with Hamid Karzai this past spring, pledging to support the Afghan government until at least 2014. Biden might have mentioned this accord, which could be seen as a foreign policy achievement of this administration. He did not. Nor did he mention the need to maintain a residual force of American trainers and Special Operations personnel in Afghanistan after 2014, even though all serious military experts agree that such a force will be absolutely essential to buttress the fledgling Afghan National Security Forces, which lack key “enablers,” such as airpower, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and route-clearance vehicles.

All that Biden said, over and over again, is that we are going to pull out completely in 2014. Obviously that message was intended for domestic consumption, to win votes among a war-weary electorate. But it will resonate on the battlefield and it will do much to buttress the morale of the enemies that 68,000 U.S. troops are still fighting.

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Why Dems Loved Biden’s Boorish Behavior

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.

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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.

Hard-core Democrats would have been happy had Obama treated Romney the same way Biden did Ryan (some even falsely claim that Romney behaved in a similar manner to Biden), and there were plenty of signs that he shares his number two’s contempt for the opposition. But while a vice president, especially one who has often been treated as something of a national joke during his four years in office, might be allowed to get away with playing the buffoon, a president cannot. That means next week the president will have to again behave like a grown up. Given the town hall meeting format at the Hofstra University debate, it will be even more important for him to be as civil as Biden was rude. If, as is very likely, Romney again gives a strong performance and doesn’t allow himself to be run roughshod over (as perhaps Ryan did at times), then the odds are Democrats will again be unhappy with their leader’s showing.

The problem here is not just that presidents and would-be commanders-in-chief must appear presidential. It is that the liberal base of the president’s party is so filled with anger and contempt for Republicans that they can’t abide even a show of civility from their champions.

Though President Obama may decide to show up and demonstrate a bit more involvement and passion in the upcoming debates, he is unlikely to satisfy his supporters’ need to bash the GOP. Though liberals are saying Biden has stopped the bleeding begun last week in Denver, the president’s failure to misbehave in the same manner is bound to raise the same complaints next week.

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Biden’s Self-Damage on Libya Narrative

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:

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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:

Vice President Joe Biden claimed that the administration wasn’t aware of requests for more security in Libya before the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi during Thursday night’s debate, contradicting two State Department officials and the former head of diplomatic security in Libya.

“We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there,” Biden said.

In fact, two security officials who worked for the State Department in Libya at the time testified Thursday that they repeatedly requested more security and two State Department officials admitted they had denied those requests.

This, along with Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter’s bombshell gaffe about politicizing Benghazi yesterday, means that last night’s debate probably won’t help shift the news cycle away from Libya, as the Obama campaign may have hoped. Instead, it raises even more questions for them, including: who’s telling the truth on security requests, the State Department and the security personnel on the ground or Vice President Biden?

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Biden’s Behavior Will Become the Story

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.

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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.

There were few sound-bite worthy comments from Paul Ryan tonight, save for perhaps his telling Biden, “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.” After a debate that many in the mainstream media and instant polls are calling a tie, the GOP has already settled on a message for how they think the vice presidential debate went down, and it’s Biden’s physical reactions during Ryan’s remarks on Libya, Iran and Afghanistan. They released a web video less than two hours after the conclusion of the debate highlighting Biden’s worst laughs, gestures, and smirks:

We’ll see how many Americans actually watched this debate, but it appears that enough people were thrown off by Biden’s behavior to make that, not his words, the story after last night’s debate. After the last debate, many in the news media commented on Obama’s much more subtle smirk (the GOP even made an ad out of that, too). One can only wonder why Biden wasn’t instructed by his debate coaches to tone down the condescension instead of ramping it up several notches.

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Biden Throws Intel Community Under Bus

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.

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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.

For Biden to put all of the blame for the lies about the video and the denial of terrorism on intelligence officials says a lot about the complete breakdown of administration counter-terror policy. His denial that anyone in Washington knew that the story put forward by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wasn’t true seems implausible. Even if true, it speaks to administration incompetence. The narrative here is still confused and Biden’s contribution only furthers muddies the waters.

It also demonstrates how absurd and hypocritical Democratic attacks are on Mitt Romney for his criticism of the initial reactions from Washington to both the Libya attack and the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Efforts such as those of Biden to deflect blame for a disaster that unfolded without any leadership from the top onto the Republicans are clearly not going to work.

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Did Biden’s Incivility Work For Him?

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.

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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.

Democratic spinners will say he is a “happy warrior,” that his nastiness and aggressiveness bloodied the Republicans and that it doesn’t matter that the way he did it was embarrassing. They may have a point. People probably won’t decide not to vote for Obama because they think the giggling, smirking and interrupting was beneath the dignity of the office he holds. If Biden’s job was simply to rally the base and attack his opponents, then his arrogant condescension will help the Democrats regain their momentum after a week in which they’ve lost a lot of ground.

But it is also possible that a lot of those Americans who saw the debate, even those who are Democrats but especially independents and undecided voters, will not think much of a vice president of the United States acting more like a schoolyard bully than a statesman.

Many Democrats will applaud Biden’s buffoonery and falsely claim that it was no different from Romney’s demeanor last week even though there is no possible comparison. Republicans can console themselves that while Ryan did seem a little nervous at times, he wasn’t intimidated. Nor did Biden succeed in painting Ryan as the monster that the Democrats claim him to be. Ryan also passed the plausibility threshold as a potential president because of his strong knowledge of foreign policy.

The bottom line here is that neither side won or lost. But it is also possible that Biden’s misbehavior will be remembered with distaste long after this election is decided.

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The Myth of Biden’s Likability

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:

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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:

Paul Ryan has had a higher favorability rating than Vice President Biden in every major nonpartisan national poll since the Wisconsin lawmaker was picked for the GOP vice presidential slot.

In these polls, Ryan averaged a likability factor of about 7.6 percentage points higher than Biden, and he even bested President Obama’s favorability rating four out of six times.

The most recent Pew Research poll this week found Biden underwater on likability (51 percent viewed him unfavorably, 39 percent favorably):

Vice President Biden heads into Thursday’s debate with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) with opinion stacked against him. According to a new Pew Research Center poll, more voters view the vice president unfavorably than favorably by a 51 percent to 39 percent margin.

Opinions on GOP vice presidential nominee Ryan are more evenly divided, with 44 percent of voters viewing him favorably and 40 percent viewing him unfavorably.

I’m not sure where the myth of Biden’s likability comes from, but it’s not backed up by the numbers.

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The Battle of the Debate Prep Surrogates

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:

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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:

Ryan “will either have to stand by the extreme positions he and (Republican nominee Mitt Romney) hold, like turning Medicare into a voucher program that ends the program’s guarantee to seniors, or he will have to flat out deny their existence, as Gov. Romney did in last week’s debate, when he denied the plan to cut taxes for the wealthiest few at the expense of the middle class, a plan they have touted for months,” Van Hollen said in the ad.

During Van Hollen’s speech at the DNC last month, fear-mongering on Ryan’s plan and Bush-blaming were the focal points. He stated,

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s obsession with tax breaks for the wealthy is part of a rigid ideology. Give people like Mitt Romney a break, and hope something will trickle down and lift others up. But this theory crashed in the real world. We all lived through the recession when jobs went down and the deficit went up. So when they say they’ll turn around the economy, beware. They mean a U-turn back to this failed theory that lifted the yachts while other boats ran aground.

What does Obama expect of Biden’s debate style? CBS News reported last night,

In an interview with radio host Tom Joyner today, President Obama described himself as “too polite” in his debate, but predicted a strong performance from the Vice President. “Biden, I think, will be terrific in the debate this week,” he said

In stark contrast to the partisan rhetoric of Van Hollen, Paul Ryan’s chosen debate opponent, former U.S. solicitor general Ted Olson is a calm, experienced and successful litigator who successfully argued the Bush v. Gore case before the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 2000 election.

If we can gain any insight from this Obama interview and Van Hollen’s aggressive attacks on Ryan’s budget plan over the past four weeks, we’re likely to see Biden coming out swinging hard against Ryan’s economic proposals tonight in Kentucky. We’ve yet to see many examples of Ryan’s debating style, but given his choice of Olson as a sparring and debate preparation partner, it’s likely we’ll see Ryan try to remain calm, cool and on message. We’ll see in a few hours how Americans respond to an aggressive sitting vice president as he spars with a well-informed and level-headed opponent, but if Biden attacks too forcefully, he could come off worse than President Obama’s meek performance last week.

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The Real Pressure is on Ryan Tonight

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.

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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.

Given his high profile in Washington for a member of the House of Representatives and his reputation as one of his party’s leading talking heads, it seems absurd to think of Ryan as an unknown factor in the veep debate. But the truth is, he has never been in this kind of situation before: head-to-head with a competitor, with the entire nation watching. His ability to deal with this sort of pressure and to deploy his considerable body of knowledge in such a way as to impress upon the public his seriousness and competence is the X factor.

Democrats may be counting on Biden to retrieve what the president lost last week, but the odds are that he is going into the debate feeling cocky rather than pressured. Biden’s high opinion of himself is legendary in Washington. It’s likely Biden will come out swinging at Ryan both because Democrats think Obama was too passive against Romney and also because he believes Ryan is vulnerable as the author of a controversial budget proposal that Romney has not completely embraced.

That means Ryan will have to keep his cool and respond like the wonk he is with logic, facts and figures, as well as a compelling defense of the philosophy of limited government and individual freedom that he has long championed.

That ought to be right in his wheelhouse, but Ryan has very little margin for error. A hostile press will jump on any hesitation, let alone a mistake on his part. If he falters, it will sink not only him but also Republican hopes, since you can take it for granted that any gaffe on his part will become the main story of the debate no matter what blunders Biden commits.

Despite efforts by liberals to treat him as a wise statesman, such as this fawning piece by James Traub in Foreign Policy, the country already knows Biden is a pompous fool. He will play the foreign policy expert even though he has been wrong about virtually every big question his whole career and has been defeated in every policy battle within the administration. But he is also an experienced and articulate political fighter who can hold his own on the stump and in debates.

Biden will hit Ryan hard about entitlement reform as well as foreign policy. He will attempt to portray him as the man in the Democrat ads pushing granny off the cliff. Ryan may be used to this, but most of the country has yet to see him in this sort of tussle. Debunking the liberal narrative is his specialty, but what we will find out is whether he can do so now when the pressure is greatest and the stakes are as high as they possibly can be. If Ryan weathers this storm with good humor and sharp replies, he will move his party one step closer to victory as well as to solidify his standing as the future of the GOP. But the pressure is on him to prove that he can do it. Stay tuned.

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Are Conservatives Overconfident About the Ryan-Biden Debate?

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.

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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.

Second, the lead-up to the first presidential debate was filled with reminders of the memorable moments of debates past. What did they generally have in common? They often had nothing to do with the substance of the arguments, but rather with nonverbal cues. Al Gore’s sigh; George H.W. Bush looking at his watch; George W. Bush’s brilliant but almost imperceptible nod at Gore when Gore tried to crowd him. And even when the moments were about the words spoken, what were they? “You’re no Jack Kennedy”; “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience”; and so on.

This is not to discount completely the role of substance. In fact, the first Romney-Obama debate was widely viewed as being more substantive than many previous debates, low on zingers and high on numbers, and this perception contributed to Romney’s margin of victory. Ryan will most certainly have substance on his side, and it will be of service. But the fact that one statement, let alone an audible exhalation, can rule the memory of these debates should be a warning to Ryan that debate performances are performances, sometimes above all else.

Third, Ryan may be taken aback by the extent to which Biden will invent alternate history and present it as fact. In 2008, Biden did exactly that, at one point offering a response on Lebanon that was quite possibly the most ridiculous statement ever made at a vice presidential debate. (If you need your memory jogged about it, please re-read Michael Totten’s post about it on this site.)

Biden gets a free pass—that’s the rule. In 2008, neither the moderator nor Sarah Palin called Biden on his repeated factually challenged ramblings. If Biden is not forced to work within observable reality, the debate will be conducted on his terms. Biden has been wrong on pretty much every major foreign-policy question in his time in the Senate, but foreign policy is not Ryan’s bread and butter. Will he be prepared enough to correct the record each time Biden wanders off?

On paper, the smart money would always be on a candidate like Ryan against someone like Biden. But the superior candidates have lost countless such debates over the years, for a variety of reasons. And overconfidence is often at the top of that list.

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Can Obama Play From Behind?

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.

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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.

It should be remembered that the president’s greatest strength doesn’t come from spinning weak economic statistics or from attacks on his opponents. His election in 2008 was the product of harnessing the positive feelings of Americans about an inspiring challenger whose victory would go some way toward righting the historic wrongs of the country’s legacy of racism. It is that historic status that is the foundation for President Obama’s positive personal image and a major deterrent to wavering independents and disillusioned Democrats crossing over to the GOP.

The remnants of the sentiment that drove that “hope and change” election dovetail nicely with the Democrats’ attempt to place the blame for a poor economy on George W. Bush rather than on the man who has been in office for four years. But it is far from clear if that rather flimsy argument will work as well for a candidate who is faltering as it does for one who seems in command.

Though the Democrats have been running a breathtakingly negative campaign against Mitt Romney all year, they’ve turned up the heat in the days since the debate. The barrage of ads calling Romney a “liar” because a liberal journalist quotes a liberal think tank that believes his tax plan will somehow require a middle class tax increase, even though there is no such provision in it, is one example. The one about Romney wanting to kill Big Bird is another.

The problem with these ads is not just that they are inaccurate but that they reek of desperation. This sort of heavy-handed sliming is intended to reduce the GOP candidate’s favorability ratings, but they may also have the unintended effect of making Obama look scared and nasty. That is exactly the sort of sentiment that is likely to kill any remnant of awe for the president’s historic status that is essential to his re-election.

Far from such tactics erasing Romney’s bounce, it is this sort of thing that may help transform it from a momentary surge to a fundamental change in the dynamic of this election.

In 2008, Obama showed the country that he knew how to play when ahead as he avoided mistakes and complacency and cruised to a most decisive victory. But by showing up unprepared in Denver while Romney demonstrated his command of the issues, the president put himself in a position where he may well have to spend the next month trying to catch Romney. That is a very different skill and requires drastically different tactics than the ones the Democrats have so far employed in this election.

While this situation may well be altered in the coming days and weeks, if both the candidate and his campaign are temperamentally unsuited to playing from behind, the debate loss may turn out to be a bigger problem than the president could ever have imagined.

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Biden: Middle Class ‘Buried’ Under Obama

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.”

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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.”

No surprise, Biden’s comment is barely registering with the mainstream press, except as evidence of how desperate the Romney campaign must be to make an issue out of it. After the media let Biden slide for his blatant racial pandering, what else would we expect? If Paul Ryan had made a similar allusion to slavery, the press would still be talking about it today (if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of the race, that is). Instead, Biden gets front-page investigations into whether he’s a “sex symbol.” Because, you know, it’s not like there’s any serious news to cover this week.

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Biden’s Strange Definition of Daylight

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.

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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.

The decision of the president to snub Netanyahu later this month when they will both be in New York was more than a symbolic snub. It was also a message that under no circumstances would Obama be pressured into behaving as if this wasn’t just a problem that could be jawboned while being postponed until after the election when, presumably, he will have the freedom to change his mind about his pledges on the issue. That he is arranging to meet with the President of Egypt while avoiding Netanyahu tells us all we need to know about whether he regards the friendship of the Muslim Brotherhood as being more valuable than that of Israel.

The president’s Telemundo interview — which received notice for his bizarre equivocation about Egypt’s status as an ally or an enemy — was also notable for his saying that the “red line” about Iran was merely their acquisition of a nuclear weapon. While that sounds plausible, it is far from satisfactory from Israel’s point of view since the priority is to ensure that they don’t have the materials from which they can quickly assemble a bomb. Waiting until they have one is simply too late to head off the problem or to deny them the leverage such a weapon would afford Tehran and its terrorist auxiliaries.

Netanyahu may have no choice but to accept this lamentable decision, but American Jews do have the ability to exercise their democratic privilege to speak truth to power and to inform the administration of their displeasure. That is why Biden is attempting to pretend that all is well between Israel and the United States, even if doing so this of all weeks strains even his considerable ability to fib with a straight face.

Biden’s statement was probably applauded by Democratic politicians at the event, such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has plenty of experience of her own lying about the U.S.-Israel relationship (and who wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on the wall if she and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who was also at the event, had a private word together?). But it is to be hoped that others present were not cynical. The leaders of the major American Jewish groups in attendance at the reception are used to such pretenses. The question is whether any of them had the chutzpah to point out just how disingenuous Biden’s comments were.

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Democratic Convention Winners and Losers

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:

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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:

Winners

Joe Biden: Who would have bet that the blundering, bloviating vice president would give a better-received speech than the president? Biden went on way too long, blew some big lines and shouted more than he needed to. But he also gave Democrats exactly what they wanted. While he remains a strange mixture of national joke/partisan attack dog, he still knows how to talk to Democrats and his party is grateful.

Bill Clinton: His speech was greatly anticipated and rapturously received. It didn’t deserve all the adulation but what mattered is that Bill Clinton showed he still had the power to delight his party and fascinate the nation. That the president was forced to give the husband of his one-time rival this kind of showcase demonstrated how much he needed Clinton’s endorsement and the 42nd president made the most of it.

John Kerry: His Thursday night speech was obviously an audition for the chance to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in a second Obama administration, and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee didn’t blow it. Kerry directed some powerful zingers at Mitt Romney and some of them landed. A lot of the speech was deeply unfair and classless (the opening line about neo-cons ought to have been beneath Kerry) but he did exactly what Obama and the Democrats wanted. No one is rooting harder for an Obama second term.

Andrew Cuomo: The governor of New York only stopped by Charlotte for a quick visit and didn’t speak. That didn’t help raise the national profile of a man who is clearly thinking about 2016. But Cuomo came out ahead simply because the convention illustrated the paucity of Democratic luminaries not named Obama or Clinton. None of the supposed young stars of the party impressed anyone this week leaving the silent Cuomo at the top of a very thin Democratic bench.

Sandra Fluke: Nobody had heard of Fluke until Rush Limbaugh turned her into a left-wing heroine by using a nasty word to characterize her, but Charlotte proved Fluke now outranks many senior Democratic officeholders in the liberal hierarchy these days. Her claims of victimhood and being silenced are laughable, but she is a full-blown media star and can pretty much write her own ticket once she decides what she wants to do with her celebrity. ObamaCare and the HHS Mandate haven’t done anything good for the country but they have been the making of the world’s most famous advocate of free contraceptives.

Losers

Barack Obama: The president is the victim of the heights to which his 2004 and 2008 convention speeches soared. But even though he is held to an impossibly high standard, his acceptance speech was nothing more than a well-delivered dud. In retrospect the awful jobs report numbers that his audience wouldn’t hear until the next morning, but which he already knew, may have influenced his performance. But whether that is true or not, as I wrote last night, there’s no doubt that the hope and change messiah of 2008 has left the building.

Hillary Clinton: The secretary of state remains a front-runner for 2016 if she wants to try again for the presidency but she was almost completely off the radar screen this week on an overseas trip. That might just be her job these days but she had no place in the Obama/Biden show and the fact that her husband overshadowed the ticket gives one the feeling that for all of her gifts, she may never get the chance to lead her party.

Julian Castro: The “Hispanic Obama” didn’t just fail to meet the impossible expectations that were placed on his keynote address. Castro wound up being eclipsed by the film clips of his toddler vogueing for the camera and tossing her hair during his speech. The mayor of San Antonio didn’t exactly flop, but he also showed that he’s nothing more than a middling political talent who isn’t likely to be following in the non-Hispanic Obama’s footsteps.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: This should have been a showcase event for the chair of the Democratic National Committee but instead the week turned into a nightmare for the Florida congresswoman. She was busted for telling a lie about Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren blasting the Republican Party as “dangerous for Israel.” She then compounded the trouble by claiming Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner misquoted her only to be confronted with the audio of her making the false statement. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then conducted a CNN interview in which she blatantly mischaracterized the voice vote about changing the Democratic platform and then denied that there had been any real change, prompting a panel of the network’s commentators to laugh at her for existing in an “alternative universe.” Getting caught in a lie is troublesome, but becoming a laughing-stock can be fatal for a politician.

National Jewish Democratic Council: The president’s Jewish cheering section has been laboring to present him as a friend of the Jewish state but the Democrat’s platform fiasco cut them off at the knees. The controversy over platform language is not a big deal by itself but it reminded Jewish voters about their doubts about the president. The NJDC will talk about the president’s intervention to change the platform (though the Democrats still left out much of the pro-Israel language of their 2008 document), but the spectacle of a clear majority of Democratic delegates voting “no” on the revision captured on video will linger in our memories more than the platform. It was a graphic illustration of the growing numbers, if not the power, of opponents of Israel within the party.

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Dems Show Progressive Means Status Quo

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.

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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.

Biden’s speech was a shameless partisan distortion of the plan put forward by Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, who seeks a transition that will not change Medicare for anyone current receiving it. This is in keeping with the “pants on fire” style of Democratic campaign rhetoric we’ve been hearing lately. But it is also indicative of a belief that nothing, not even the impending collapse of these entitlement programs ought to be allowed to justify new ideas about government.

This isn’t the only important theme of the week for Democrats. We will hear a great deal about the “war on women” that Democrats falsely claim Republicans are waging. But at the core of that is another defense of big government and entitlements such as the right to free contraceptives, for which poster child Sandra Fluke will advocate again this week.

To the extent that we will hear new ideas this week about support for the environment or fear of global warming, they will all revolve around greater government involvement in the economy via cap and trade or restrictions on development of resources. At their core they are all about defense of an ever-expanding federal bureaucracy that must be fed by more taxes to pay for more spending.

If the Democrats can get more of the electorate to fear Republican reforms like Paul Ryan’s plan or to buy into the myth of a war on women, they may win. But if they do, it will be accomplished by a campaign oriented solely toward keep things as they are. We’ve come a long way from the hope and change of 2008.

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Party of Distractions Gets Talking Point

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.

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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.

Yesterday’s comments by Rep. Todd Akin played right into Obama’s (and Claire McCaskill’s) hands. They gave the Obama camp talking points that they can focus on for days, if not weeks. They also ensured that Democrats would hold onto a Senate seat that was in very serious jeopardy just two days ago.

In no uncertain terms, it’s clear that Akin’s comments were insulting on several levels. They insinuate that women who become pregnant as a result of rape weren’t “legitimately” raped (i.e.: they’re lying about the rape). They also show just how ignorant of basic biology Akin is. According to his logic, if women’s bodies had the ability to “shut down” and prevent pregnancy, there would have never been an unplanned pregnancy in the history of humanity. He’s now claimed to have “misspoken” and as John wrote earlier, it’s time for him to step down so that Missouri Republicans have a prayer for winning the seat.

The liberal media orchestra will, no doubt, play whatever sheet music the left hands them, keeping the story alive for several news cycles. Vice President Biden’s comments about Republicans wanting to put a largely African American crowd “back in chains” will disappear, written off as a gaffe. A good deal more attention will be paid to the statements from Akin, a member of Congress running for a Senate seat in Missouri. His statements, unlike Biden’s, will not be deemed a gaffe, but will instead be described as a feeling shared by all Republicans in their ongoing War on Women. The media’s hypocrisy is on full display, as they are on one hand outraged over idiotic statements about rape, while they were silent about actual rapes and coverups that took place in Occupy Wall Street camps across the country during the movement’s heyday.

Many are worried that the comments will sink the stock of the whole Republican Party. If Republicans repudiate not just Akin’s comments and the misogyny behind them, Americans will realize that one House member does not speak for the entire GOP. As Alana reported this morning, the Romney camp has already and unequivocally rejected Akin’s comments flat out. If the liberal mainstream media continues to obsess about Akin’s remarks, ignoring the imminent bankruptcy of Europe, American persistent unemployment and mounting debt and a looming conflict with Iran, the American people will take notice of the distraction. They will realize that the media furor surrounding his remarks is crowding out an honest discussion on the real issues facing our country at a turning point in our history. While this may give Democrats a bump (outside of Missouri) in the short term, it will once again show them to be the party of distractions, not of ideas.

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What’s Up With All the Clinton VP Rumors?

We all know it’s not going to happen. The White House has directly denied it. And yet, the rumors that President Obama is considering replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton keep coming:

Pundits and talking heads have discussed in recent weeks the possibility of Vice President Joe Biden being replaced on the Democratic presidential ticket, particularly with news of his brief hiatus from the spotlight this weekend.

“Up until just a couple of weeks ago the White House was putting out feelers to see if Hillary would accept the vice-presidential nod and replace Joe Biden,” [author Ed] Klein said. “Bill Clinton was, I’m told, urging his wife to accept the number two slot. He saw this as a great launching pad for her for running in 2016.”

“But then Hillary had lunch in the White House a couple of weeks ago with Valerie Jarrett — Michelle [Obama]’s best friend, senior adviser to both the first lady and the president … and she told Valerie that she would not accept the vice president’s spot. The lunch was ostensibly about other matters, but it came up. … Hillary felt burned out after four years as Secretary of State. But I’m told there were more important reasons for her not accepting.”

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We all know it’s not going to happen. The White House has directly denied it. And yet, the rumors that President Obama is considering replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton keep coming:

Pundits and talking heads have discussed in recent weeks the possibility of Vice President Joe Biden being replaced on the Democratic presidential ticket, particularly with news of his brief hiatus from the spotlight this weekend.

“Up until just a couple of weeks ago the White House was putting out feelers to see if Hillary would accept the vice-presidential nod and replace Joe Biden,” [author Ed] Klein said. “Bill Clinton was, I’m told, urging his wife to accept the number two slot. He saw this as a great launching pad for her for running in 2016.”

“But then Hillary had lunch in the White House a couple of weeks ago with Valerie Jarrett — Michelle [Obama]’s best friend, senior adviser to both the first lady and the president … and she told Valerie that she would not accept the vice president’s spot. The lunch was ostensibly about other matters, but it came up. … Hillary felt burned out after four years as Secretary of State. But I’m told there were more important reasons for her not accepting.”

I find it hard to believe that Obama would even be able to replace Biden at this point. Clearly Biden has 2016 ambitions — as delusional as that may be — and he knows getting axed as VP would effectively destroy any chance of that happening. Convincing Biden to leave gracefully (and quietly) would be near impossible. Plus, shaking up the ticket would be an admission of defeat and a sign of severe desperation from Obama.

So what’s the deal with these rumors? Is the Clinton camp putting them out to boost her name for 2016? Or, is it part of some GOP effort to psych out Biden and sow divisions between him and Obama? Notice that a lot of this speculation is coming from the right. The Republican Party knows these mind games all too well, since it’s previously been on the receiving end of them.

On the other hand, maybe I’m completely wrong and Obama actually is thinking about cutting Biden loose. His VP has given him nothing but grief since the beginning. And after days of disastrous media coverage over Biden’s billionth racially-charged gaffe, who could blame Obama for wanting him out?

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Ryan’s Bounce May Come in October

Over at his New York Times blog, Nate Silver probes the question of whether the polls that have come out in the last few days indicate any bounce for the Republican ticket in the days since Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan will be his vice presidential nominee. Though, as Alana noted earlier, a series of swing state polls brought some good news for the Republicans, he’s right to say there’s nothing in the data to indicate any real surge in their direction. Pollsters and analysts have in recent election cycles become obsessed with the idea that vice presidential picks and conventions must produce some sort of bounce in the polls to be justified. But, as Silver concedes, Republicans were not claiming that picking Ryan would have an immediate impact on the polls.

While Ryan is a well known, and at least as far as the liberal media is concerned, a controversial figure, he doesn’t have the sort of celebrity that would create a quick change in public opinion about the race. What he does have — and what Republicans who cheered the choice are counting on — is the ability to have a long-term impact on the election. The GOP is counting on Ryan’s intellect, charm and powers of persuasion to impress voters as the race wears on this fall, not to mention, the possibility of a mismatch against Vice President Biden in their debate. Indeed, Romney’s choice of a serious and thoughtful man to run with him is looking even smarter if only because the more Biden roams the country committing gaffes and throwing out wild and irresponsible slurs against the Republicans, the better Ryan looks.

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Over at his New York Times blog, Nate Silver probes the question of whether the polls that have come out in the last few days indicate any bounce for the Republican ticket in the days since Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan will be his vice presidential nominee. Though, as Alana noted earlier, a series of swing state polls brought some good news for the Republicans, he’s right to say there’s nothing in the data to indicate any real surge in their direction. Pollsters and analysts have in recent election cycles become obsessed with the idea that vice presidential picks and conventions must produce some sort of bounce in the polls to be justified. But, as Silver concedes, Republicans were not claiming that picking Ryan would have an immediate impact on the polls.

While Ryan is a well known, and at least as far as the liberal media is concerned, a controversial figure, he doesn’t have the sort of celebrity that would create a quick change in public opinion about the race. What he does have — and what Republicans who cheered the choice are counting on — is the ability to have a long-term impact on the election. The GOP is counting on Ryan’s intellect, charm and powers of persuasion to impress voters as the race wears on this fall, not to mention, the possibility of a mismatch against Vice President Biden in their debate. Indeed, Romney’s choice of a serious and thoughtful man to run with him is looking even smarter if only because the more Biden roams the country committing gaffes and throwing out wild and irresponsible slurs against the Republicans, the better Ryan looks.

As much as conservatives love Ryan for his ideas and talent for taking on the opposition in a reasonable manner, no veep candidate is going to make that much of a difference in November. But Ryan’s presence on the ticket has altered the race somewhat in that the future of entitlements and government spending is now in the spotlight rather than being pushed to the side by concern over the economy. That is something that scares some Republicans and delights Democrats.

But the notion that Obama can be re-elected by running as the candidate of the status quo, who will, as Vice President Biden stated, oppose any changes in Social Security or Medicare may underestimate the intelligence of the American people. As I wrote after the pick was announced, Ryan’s presence on the ballot will provide a test of whether voters will prefer demagoguery to ideas. We won’t know the answer to that question until October at the earliest.

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The Party of Status Quo

The Washington Post editorial board argues that Joe Biden’s comments on Social Security the other day were far more disturbing than his “chains” gaffe:

On the same trip to southern Virginia, Mr. Biden wandered into the Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart. According to the White House pool report, when a diner there said, “I’m glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security,” Mr. Biden responded: “Hey, by the way, let’s talk about Social Security. Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.”

Why is this so depressing? Because, as Mr. Biden knows, Social Security is going broke. If “no changes” are made, then by 2033 the program will not be able to pay benefits as promised.

The Post pressed the White House on whether Biden’s comments reflected official policy, and were given the brush-off:

In response to our inquiry, White House officials said that Mr. Biden’s “flat guarantee” was not meant to convey a change in administration position, which they said is best understood from Mr. Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, which called for “a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.”

That speech was hardly a profile in courage: Mr. Obama opposed “slashing” benefits for future retirees. But that presumably (if tacitly) left room for trimming benefits. The president went further in failed negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner last summer, putting on the table changes in the way Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are calculated.

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The Washington Post editorial board argues that Joe Biden’s comments on Social Security the other day were far more disturbing than his “chains” gaffe:

On the same trip to southern Virginia, Mr. Biden wandered into the Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart. According to the White House pool report, when a diner there said, “I’m glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security,” Mr. Biden responded: “Hey, by the way, let’s talk about Social Security. Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.”

Why is this so depressing? Because, as Mr. Biden knows, Social Security is going broke. If “no changes” are made, then by 2033 the program will not be able to pay benefits as promised.

The Post pressed the White House on whether Biden’s comments reflected official policy, and were given the brush-off:

In response to our inquiry, White House officials said that Mr. Biden’s “flat guarantee” was not meant to convey a change in administration position, which they said is best understood from Mr. Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, which called for “a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.”

That speech was hardly a profile in courage: Mr. Obama opposed “slashing” benefits for future retirees. But that presumably (if tacitly) left room for trimming benefits. The president went further in failed negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner last summer, putting on the table changes in the way Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are calculated.

Why won’t the White House get into specifics? For the same reason Senate Democrats have declined to take up a budget plan, and President Obama has declined to offer a proposal to keep Medicare solvent and reduce the deficit. Because of the political risk involved. It’s much easier to attack the Republican plans than to offer new solutions. The Obama campaign prefers to propagate the myth that Republicans are callously trying to target the poor and the elderly with their plans, rather than acknowledge that reform is hard — and that any solution will require tradeoffs.

The Obama campaign also wants to have it both ways; attacking Romney and Ryan for their “radical” proposals, while simultaneously mocking the idea that Ryan’s reforms are bold or courageous.

Of course the Ryan plan took courage. If it didn’t, Obama would have proposed his own detailed response a long time ago. Instead, during the White House press briefing today, Jay Carney refused to specify when, if ever, the president would give more details on his plan to keep Medicare afloat.

When the media wonders why Romney’s VP choice hasn’t resulted in an elevated debate, the answer is clear. The country can’t begin the serious conversation that Obama claims he wants until he puts more details on the table.

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