Editorial

Second fiddle showdown

In the debate between presidential running mates, Joe Biden took care of business.

October 12, 2012 

Did the worrisome thought ever cross Paul Ryan’s mind that Joe Biden, he of the constant grinning and baring of teeth, might just slide around the desk and bite him? Certainly the vice president was the aggressor in Thursday night’s debate. At times Biden’s obvious efforts to make up ground surrendered by a passive President Obama to Mitt Romney in their first debate seemed to get a little out of hand with all the interruptions and mockery.

It was Ryan’s first big-time campaign debate, and the Wisconsin congressman was up against a man nearly 30 years his senior with a boatload more experience. He still managed to hold his own, never becoming notably flustered. And he concluded the fast-paced hour and a half with a crisp, well-crafted closing statement delivered with aplomb.

Biden, like Obama last week, produced more of a closing pop-up into the stands. When the president faces Romney again, making solid contact at the finish has to be on his to-do list.

The debates are to a large extent performances, and the theatrics matter. For all that, Biden used the single turn he’s been allotted on this year’s debating stage to amplify some of the Democratic ticket’s overriding points. Amid combative exchanges over the big domestic issues, he reinforced the notion that Democratic policies are more likely to safeguard the interests of ordinary Americans squeezed by the recession and the tax collector.

The Republicans’ call for lower tax rates that would be offset through narrowed deductions without adding to the deficit drew Biden’s scorn as a giveaway to the wealthy because in reality, he said, taxes on the middle class would have to rise.

Ryan had plenty of chances to spell out how the math would work. But like Romney, he declined to say which tax loopholes would be closed. Their plan may be to negotiate that with Congress, but for the moment the Democratic criticism sticks.

Biden also was insistent and persuasive in tearing down the Republicans’ Medicare strategy as a move toward privatization that would end up penalizing many seniors with higher out-of-pocket costs.

The vice president gave no ground on foreign affairs even as Ryan ripped the administration for security lapses in Libya, for bungling the withdrawal from Afghanistan and for mishandling the U.S. response to the Arab Spring uprising against dictatorial regimes.

Romney and Ryan are full of complaints, but as Biden managed to show, the actual policies they say they’d follow are scarcely different from those of the Obama White House. Unless, perhaps, one counts an unseemly fascination for war with Iran to prevent that country from becoming a nuclear threat. The Obama formula – stringent economic sanctions coupled with a vow that Iran will not be allowed to gain such weapons – seems both adequate and prudent.

Obama himself must seal the deal with voters that he deserves another term. His running mate, given his time in the spotlight, put the president’s case in a good light – even if he grinned too much in the process.

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