The morning after: Where does America go from here?

November 7, 2012

No matter which presidential candidate you voted for, you should take a few minutes today to watch the classy speeches both men gave to their supporters in the wee hours of this morning.

There are some common themes in these speeches that conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, must embrace if America is to remain a great and prosperous nation.

Election campaigns necessarily focus on our differences and competing ideas. But governing an almost evenly divided nation requires building consensus around shared goals and values. If there is one lesson we can draw from the past four years, this is it: When governing becomes nothing more than a constant political campaign, the result is gridlock.

This is the question Americans face the morning after this election: Do we want to keep fighting, or work together to solve our problems?


Musings, ‘malarkey’ and other stuff from the Veep debate

October 14, 2012

The vice presidential candidates came to Kentucky for one of the most substantive debates in years — a clear, energetic argument over policy differences that left their bosses’ recent performance in the dust.

Here are some observations from Thursday night’s debate at Centre College in Danville between Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Memorable malarkey

Political pundits love memorable debate lines, and they figured these two Irish Catholic candidates would not disappoint. Only minutes into the debate, Biden delivered the first of many colorful rebuttals to Ryan’s sometimes inaccurate characterizations of the Obama administration’s record.

“With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey,” Biden said, using an old-fashioned Irish term for nonsense. “This is a bunch of stuff,” he continued, puzzling moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News, who asked what he meant.

“Well it means it’s simply inaccurate,” Biden explained.

“It’s Irish,” Ryan added.

“We Irish call it malarkey,” Biden continued.

Photo by Mark Cornelison

Biden seemed determined not to repeat Obama’s mistake of not aggressively challenging Romney’s characterizations of the nation’s problems, how they came about and how the administration has tried to address them.

When Ryan criticized the more than $800 billion in federal “stimulus” spending the Obama administration used early in its term to try to keep the Great Recession it inherited from becoming a depression, Biden made a spirited defense.

Republicans have claimed “stimulus” spending as a waste of money that created no jobs, although the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it created between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

Biden then tried to make Ryan look like a hypocrite by noting that he had twice sought “stimulus” money for Wisconsin companies.

No pushover

Ryan, who at age 42 is 27 years younger than Biden, was poised and articulate. He calmly held his own for most of the debate.

Ryan was a much more convincing advocate for conservative economic policies than Romney, who in his first debate suddenly morphed from an arch-conservative trying to shore up his base to a moderate trying to win over undecided voters.

Ryan and Biden’s point-counterpoint arguments about Social Security, Medicare, tax policy and approaches to deficit reduction underscored the sharp differences between Republicans and Democrats on economic issues. It was as good a discussion by party standard-bearers as voters are likely to hear this fall.

Ryan had done his homework and spoke knowledgeably about foreign policy. But while he sharply criticized the Obama administration’s actions regarding Libya, Iran and Syria, he was unable to say specifically what a Romney administration would do differently.

That gave Biden an opening to portray Ryan and Romney’s criticisms as “bluster” and “loose talk”. He implied that their attitudes could be as dangerous as the Bush administration swagger that got America mired in long, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The last thing we need now is another war,” Biden said.

No ‘civility’ pledge

For the record, both campaigns declined a request from Centre’s student government leaders to sign a new “civility pledge.” The pledge was a voluntary but popular student initiative last year intended to govern their own conduct.

The pledge says: “I promise to do my best, be my best, and respect the members and property of our Centre community.”

“They thought it was a good idea, but I think they were averse to setting a precedent,” said Patrick Cho, Centre’s student government president. “It was disappointing, but I understand why.”

Debate demeanor

Televised debates are as much about theatrical performance as substance. How a candidate presents himself is often more important than what he has to say. Most voters seem to want confident, empathetic leaders, not policy wonks.

Aggressiveness tends to be seen as a sign of strength, as long as it doesn’t go too far. Passivity is viewed a sign of weakness. But the line is thin and subjective.

Republicans complained after the debate that Biden was rude and condescending toward Ryan. But Democrats said the same thing about Romney’s demeanor toward Obama during their Oct. 3 debate in Denver. What do most undecided voters think? We will find out on election day.

 


Both VP candidates do well in debate, but the winner is Centre

October 12, 2012

DANVILLE — Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, both gave solid, aggressive performances when they met Thursday night at Centre College for their only debate of the campaign.

So who won? Your opinion probably depends on which one you liked better before the 90-minute debate began.

Biden learned a lesson from President Barack Obama’s passive first debate two weeks ago with his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Biden gave a forceful defense of the Obama administration’s record, while attacking Romney and Ryan’s “bluster and loose talk” on Middle East policy.

Photo by Mark Cornelison

While Obama didn’t bring up Romney’s controversial “47 percent” comment in his debate, Biden jumped on it repeatedly. He accused the Republican ticket of trying to marginalize people such as his parents, average people he grew up in Scranton, Pa., and even troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Ryan shot back, saying Romney’s words didn’t come out quite right — something Biden should know about, a reference to his reputation for verbal gaffes.

Biden avoided such gaffes in this debate, and he repeatedly pushed back against his serious, young opponent’s statements by laughing, shaking his head and constantly interrupting him.

Biden did what he needed to do in this debate: provide a forceful defense of the Obama administration’s record, policies and plans.

But Ryan also did what he needed to do: try to undermine that record and argue that he and Romney offer better solutions to the nation’s problems.

Moderator Martha Raddatz, a foreign policy specialist at ABC News, did an admirable job of trying to keep the debate on track. She tried to pin both candidates down when they evaded answers or hedged comments.

Biden’s strongest moments came when he accused Romney and Ryan of wanting to cut taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. And after Ryan criticized the Obama administration’s stimulus spending, Biden recalled how Ryan put in many requests to get some of that money for his Wisconsin district.

But Ryan made a strong case, too, arguing that Romney’s policies would promote more economic growth. Ryan’s closing statement was better than that of Biden, who grew more mellow and serious in the final minutes of the debate after Raddatz asked them to each discuss their Roman Catholic faith and how it influenced their views on abortion.

Whatever impact this debate has may not last beyond Tuesday, when Obama and Romney have their second debate in Hempstead, N.Y. They will take questions from “undecided” voters in a town-hall format. Their final debate is Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

The longest-lasting win may be for Centre College and Danville, which showed for the second time in a dozen years how to host a vice presidential debate in style.