Now This Was an MSNBC Debate

Chris Matthews, in his epic post-debate meltdown after the Romney-Obama debate, had the most telling line: “this was not an MSNBC debate.” Matthews and other liberals were particularly upset that Mitt Romney had managed to actually speak uninterrupted, occasionally running over his time and requesting opportunities to respond to things Obama said (although the final tally showed Obama spoke for 4 more minutes than Romney, owing largely to his “umms.”).
Tonight was a different animal. Joe Biden came in with one game plan: don’t let voters hear a word Paul Ryan said. The post-debate count circulated by the RNC showed Biden interrupting Ryan 82 times. He was often loud enough that it was hard to hear Ryan speak, and Ryan was frequently cut off before he could finish his answers. On the rare occasions Ryan spoke without being interrupted, Biden laughed, snorted, grinned (even when discussing serious subjects like war and abortion), or at a minimum immediately declared that everything Ryan said was a lie. Biden even shouted at moderator Martha Raddatz and called her a liar too, telling her she wasn’t “being straight” with him.
It appears from the immediate post-debate reaction that this performance was what liberal supporters of the Administration wanted: use the heckler’s veto, don’t let the other guy finish his sentences. It made Al Gore’s famous eye-rolling and sighing performance look like an Oxford debate. Raddatz did – with one cringe-inducing exception at the end – put in a good set of questions, but she failed at what I regard as Job One of a moderator, which is to prevent interruptions from letting the candidates talk.
It’s hard to evaluate the substance of the debate beyond the constant interruptions (I did think Ryan did a good job of remaining civil, polite and mostly cheerful through the whole spectacle). Ryan got off to a rough start the first question or two, which should have been golden opportunities to fillet the Administration’s dishonesty on Libya; he got in some shots, but let Biden distract him by giving rambling answers that packed in everything from Iraq to Afghanistan to bin Laden. After that, Ryan settled in and was the same Ryan we’ve seen so many times, patiently jousting with hostile questioners on hostile turf.
Biden, of course, told a battery of bald-faced lies, as expected (he pretended not to have voted for the Afghan and Iraq wars and Medicare Part D, and gave an absurdly dishonest rendering of the HHS mandate). That may not hurt him, but he may be more hurt by his complete failure to (1) make any sort of positive case for the Administration’s economic record or (2) offer any solutions to anything besides tax hikes, tax hikes and even more tax hikes.
The debate was again short on social issues. Of note, however, was that even Joe Biden couldn’t and wouldn’t defend the nonsense idea that an unborn child is not a human being.
Biden’s main job tonight was to find a way to change the narrative the past week that followed the last debate. With the broader media and independent voters, I doubt he did. With the liberal base, though, at least his adamant refusal to let Ryan finish a sentence gave them something to cheer for. So, for Joe Biden, a modest win, but perhaps a Pyrrhic one.
Ryan’s job was to look and sound presidential, which of course is hard to do sitting down and also hard to do when you are in the equivalent of an argument with a loud drunk at a bar. And the heavy focus on foreign affairs meant he was mostly not playing on the turf he favors. But I think the average TV viewer at home saw a guy who had plans and answers, and kept his cool, and on one occasion – when he referred to Biden being “under duress” to make up for Obama’s bad debate performance – let the viewers in on what was going on.
The wild card, as always, is undecided voters. On the question of which side has actual solutions and can get things done on a bipartisan basis when needed, though, it should be clear. Romney and Ryan are defending plans and proposals – even those that are not 100% fleshed out – because they have plans and proposals. Ryan scored a particularly big hit with his account of having the CBO tell him they couldn’t score Obama’s plan because it was just a speech (a chronic issue during last year’s debt ceiling negotiations). Bill Clinton got re-elected in large part because he made deals that gave Republicans things of lasting value they actually wanted (welfare reform, DOMA, later a capital gains tax cut). Obama never offers anything of the sort, and that’s why Biden had nothing to sell in terms of a competing narrative on that score. I have to have faith that voters who are not with the GOP down the line noticed that difference.

6 thoughts on “Now This Was an MSNBC Debate”

  1. It is interesting to see Crank walk the line here. He can’t stand Romney so basically a no-comment on Rob-me’s rousing if fact-free debate performance. However, when shiny GOP bauble 4mooth-Talkin’ Lyin’ Paul Ryan gets introduced to the back of the woodshed by gaffe-prone Joe Biden Crank is on it like Blue Bonnet to declare victory and turn reality on its head. Nicely done. Fox would be proud of you.

  2. I had a lot of commentary scattered on Twitter and RS on the POTUS debate.
    I’m not offended by Biden’s responses to Ryan, many of which were just laughable, from his obvious lies on Benghazi and the HHS mandate (the Catholic Bishops basically called him a liar on that today) to his flat-out denial of the existence of things like the Medicare actuary report. What offended me was Biden just shouting over him repeatedly so the viewers couldn’t hear him. As I said of the POTUS debate, the morderator’s job is to step back and let both sides have their say, but Biden debated like a man terrified that the voters would actually get to hear Ryan. It was like every deposition I’ve ever been in where the witness’ lawyer interrupts with a speech in the middle of every question because he’s trying to run out the clock.

  3. “even those that are not 100% fleshed out” the key quote from your entire post or shall I paraphrase Ryan “Never mind those pesky details for the time being, we’ll work all that out after we’re elected.” that is the game plan and you are supporting think about that? Also, they have never said what they would have done differently to most policy decisions by this administration.

  4. Biden was a perfect representative for the attitudes of his party and the behavior of the Obama administration toward the GOP the last 4 years. He just provided a perfect explanation for the fiscal cliff. It’s impossible for reasonable, rational people to negotiate with dishonest, disrespectful, disgusting jerks like Biden.
    Clearly liberals loved the way Biden represented them. Says a lot.
    One thing about listening to Joe, you always learn new malarkey. Syria is 5 times larger than Libya, Obama didn’t know of security concerns (probably should have gone to his intelligence briefings), the hits just kept on coming.

  5. Speaking as an independent here (voted R in 1988, D in 1992 and 2004, and third party in other elections), I found that Biden’s obnoxious and bizarrely inappropriate behavior has nudged me slightly toward changing my vote from Gary Johnson to R/R. I’m not there yet, but the thought that we might have four more years of Biden being that close to the White House is cringeworthy.
    I don’t think Ryan’s numbers work out (much more severe spending cuts and/or tax revenue increases are needed), but the fact that Biden misstated/lied about how he voted HIMSELF on the military force authorizations against al Qaeda and Iraq is pretty stunning. I mean, at least with various policy proposals and the like, one can plausible assert that they may come true. Biden’s votes are a matter of historical record.
    Either he lied directly, or he can’t remember how he voted on such important matters as whether to invade foreign countries and set loose the dogs of war. I’m not sure which is worse.

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