Debating ‘a bunch of malarkey’

I don’t know about you, but my twitter feed was on fire during tonight’s veep debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

A sampling:

@RLSoo: I’ll have the sperm-egg combo–hold the education, medical care, affordable housing, food, childcare. #Debate #FuckTeamRomney

And this gem:

‏@keithcampbell48: As Ryan kept getting water, fully expected Biden to tell him, “Stay thirsty, my friend.”

Which naturally means that @RyansCup — a dig on how often the GOP vice presidential candidate nervously gulped during the debate — is a thing with tweets like this:

Too bad it was water in me and not a magic potion? It could have helped @PaulRyanVP debate better! #VPdebate

But there was more to debate night than the manic tweets of political junkies and cultural jokers. A half hour after the debate was over the Washington Post called it in favor of Biden, “not by knockout but on points.” But a CNN poll conducted right after the debate ended showed nearly a dead heat between the two contenders and half of responders said the debate didn’t make them more likely to vote for either ticket.

This debate certainly was more interesting — with both candidates showing more passion — than the first presidential debate last week. If last week’s debate went to Romney, it seemed pretty clear that tonight’s went to Biden (aka Team Obama). For all the talk about Ryan’s youth  being a potential handicap for Biden, it seemed more like a huge liability. At one point, I was waiting for Biden to switch from calling Ryan “my friend” to “now listen, son.” Ryan’s answers weren’t horrible. (Besides stemming from a personal and political philosophy that is at times horrible.) But Biden’s answers showed a much deeper knowledge of the issues as well as a real talent for blending authentic-sounding personal experience with political rhetoric.

Indeed, the more Biden spoke, the more Ryan’s coaching seemed obvious. His approach to any question being a strategy that could be diagrammed thusly: WIDE EYES -> OUTRAGE and/or VAGUELY PERSONAL ANECDOTE (PREFERENCE TO ROMNEY ANECDOTES) -> PIVOT FROM QUESTION TO CAMPAIGN TALKING POINT.

I was disappointed that the debate focused so much on issues around war and foreign involvements. To me, they went into enough of their political points in the very first question on Libya but debate moderator Martha Raddatz circled back to the war in Afghanistan later on and then framed one of the last questions — about negative campaign ads — through the lens of a disappointed war veteran she spoke with. These issues are important. But I wanted to hear more about reproductive rights (more on that in a minute), fair pay, education, equal rights for LGBT individuals, and more of the social issues that impact people here at home on a daily basis. Kudos that they did discuss Medicare and social security. But that wasn’t enough for me.

Now, in the last 15 minutes of the debate — which mostly focused on military spending/wars/foreign policy, taxes, Medicare and social security, and healthcare reform/Obamacare — Raddatz asked one question about reproductive rights. She asked the candidates, who are both Catholic, what their stance is on abortion and why. There were a lot of people in my twitter feed complaining the religious beliefs of any candidate was not relevant. I tend to agree. But we don’t get to decide how the questions are framed.

Predictably, Ryan defended his prolife stance by way of his religious beliefs. He talked about hearing the fetal heartbeat early in his wife’s pregnancy with their first child and how the fetus was no bigger than a bean and thereafter they called the fetus “Bean.” (No doubt, we will be hearing that again.) Then he launched into his standard rhetoric about how a Romney administration will look to stop access to abortions, with the usual exceptions caveat. I find this form of anti-choice dogma particularly infuriating. Why is there a hierarchy of credibility or need when it comes to abortions? Why are rape and incest survivors worthy of special treatment and all other reasons are voided? I’m asking because from where I sit, the reason why a woman seeks an abortion is none of your damn business. I’m a Christian, married mother and a sexual abuse survivor, so does that mean if I had an abortion my value is higher than an atheist, single woman whose birth control failed? And how do you prove that you are telling the truth? Ryan resurrected the ghost of “death panels” in tonight’s debate. But I wonder if there would be abortion panels to suss out whether or not your reason was valid and could be proven — like forcible rapes over regular rapes. Fun stuff like that. It’s healthcare and it is legal. That’s all that should matter.

As for Biden, his answer was adequate, if not as satisfying as I would have liked. He affirmed that he is a practicing Catholic and follows the tenants of his faith. He said that since the Catholic church has decreed that life begins at conception, he follows that, too. I admit, I was feeling a bit worried at this point, even though as the author of the Violence Against Women Act he has a pretty solid record on women’s issues. But then Biden said that it was not his place to force others to follow the same religious beliefs that he had. (He missed a good opportunity to include non-religious people here, in my opinion.) He said that no one has the right to tell women what to do with their bodies. And that’s the line that will be trumpeted by supporters.

The good news for Dems is that Biden went gaffe-free for the evening. And even when Ryan tried to bait him with a crack about sometimes saying the wrong thing, Biden was ready with a line he repeated a couple of times: I say what I mean. Speaking of good lines from the debate, Politico has a round-up of some choice lines.

And here’s a round-up of my favorite Biden lines in chronological order (full transcript here):

  • With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey.
  • What are you — you’re going to war? Is that what you want to do?
  • The idea – if you heard that – that little soliloquy on 47 percent and you think he just made a mistake, then I think you’re – I – I think – I got a bridge to sell you.
  • You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels.
  • Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?
  • I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the – the congressman. I – I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that – women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.
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