What a difference a week or so makes! After the first presidential debate Fox News wrote:
Mitt Romney energized his campaign for president Wednesday night, charging out of his first debate having by most accounts from both sides of the political spectrum dominated President Obama in a stand-off for which he was evidently well-prepared.
The Republican nominee was quick on his feet, polished and feisty as he repeatedly cut off the moderator and challenged his opponent on the facts. His central argument -- that Obama's economic policies have consigned the middle class to an eroding "status quo."
Bolds are mine.
This morning last night's vice-presidential debate was called a "slugfest" in the New York Times:
Mr. Biden’s smirking, emotional and aggressively sharp approach toward his rival, Representative Paul D. Ryan, prompted cheers from Democrats who had been desperate for the kind of in-your-face political rumble that President Obama did not deliver during his debate with Mitt Romney a week ago.
But Mr. Biden repeatedly mocked and interrupted Mr. Ryan in ways that led Republicans to use words like “unhinged” and “buffoon” and “disrespectful” in the hours after the fast-paced, 90-minute exchange ended.
These bolds, too, are mine.
No, I'm not equating the performances of Mitt Romney and Joe Biden. But I wonder how the style points would have been awarded had Biden chosen the sort of lethargic approach Obama adopted. I think Ryan would have been declared the clear winner under that scenario.
And here comes the Times with a demand for a tightrope walk from the president:
Mr. Obama’s biggest challenge may now be the next debate with Mr. Romney on Tuesday in New York. The president must somehow thread the needle between the first two debates — demonstrate more energy than he did in the first one while avoiding the kind of sometimes sneering performance that Mr. Biden delivered.Mmm.
What about the contents of the debate? You know, the stuff that matters more than those style points.
I'm a biased critic in this case because Paul Ryan frightens me. A lot.
But my meta-criticism of Ryan's economic arguments is this: What he proposes is exactly what caused the current recession in the first place. What he proposes is what the Bush administration did, and that was the cause of things going wrong in the first place: Tax cuts which tilted towards the wealthier people and financial and housing markets which were allowed to go haywire because "markets know best."
Then there are the more detailed problems with the Romney/Ryan tax cut plan which supposedly remains revenue-neutral because some tax loopholes will be closed. What, exactly, those loopholes are and how they might be closed is something neither Romney nor Ryan wants to talk about. Given that silence, the proposal cannot be judged on any rational basis. I think it's just an attempt to offer people lower taxes with no bad consequences.
But note that tax burdens will shift and some people will pay more if some current deductions are disallowed, and it's pretty likely that those closed loopholes would have to include at least some of the popular deductions the middle class currently enjoys.*
The odd question in this debate had to do with the two men's personal religious beliefs about abortion:
“We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country…please talk personally about this, if you could.”
In a mostly exemplary performance, this was a lapse. Martha Raddatz could have asked about the voting gender gap, or maybe whether we have a “war on women” or a “war on religious liberty.” She could have asked about access to contraception to reduce unwanted pregnancies, or the rights of rape victims, or the stalled Violence Against Women Act, or equal pay for women.
Instead, she chose to frame the late-breaking, much-yearned for question about “social issues” in just the way Republicans prefer: in terms of religion. (Watch the clip below.) Everyone at Salon’s debate-watching party groaned, and with good reason. Please, let’s hear more from two religiously observant white men about their personal experiences with women’s reproductive freedom and access! It’s not that religion, or men, have no place in the debate over abortion rights; it’s that her question left women out of the equation from the start.
Paul Ryan would make an exception in his firm anti-abortion stance for a dying woman or in the case of a rape or incest which is noble of him, I guess, though the pregnant woman's health he would let suffer to any point short of death.
Of course he would never be held to such extremely rigorous parental standards of self-sacrifice, what with that absent uterus.
Nobody is proposing laws which require the father or the mother of a post-born child (sorry) to, say, donate a kidney to that child if she or he requires it to live. But in Paul Ryan's ideal world pregnant women would be required to sacrifice their own health on behalf of the embryo or fetus they carry.
Added later: This article tells us how unrealistic that plan is if it is supposed to keep tax revenues constant.