Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan squabbled over the Middle East, the economy and Medicare during Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, in a free-wheeling discussion where both candidates were unafraid to bare their fangs.
It was a discussion full of eye-rolling, mocking laughter and almost constant interruptions (although both candidates seem to take pains to show deference to moderator Martha Raddatz) at Kentucky’s Centre College. But Biden, who seemed to be specifically addressing his message to the so-called “47 percent,” ultimately came off as having a better handle on actual facts than Ryan, who gave a strong performance but appeared to be unsure of how to address one of the most anticipated questions of the night: How the Romney-Ryan ticket would pay for their tax plan without raising taxes on the middle class.
Despite the fact that every pundit under the sun predicted Ryan would be pressed about the details of the Mitt Romney tax plan – which aims to cut taxes for all Americans by 20 percent while simultaneously lowering the federal deficit – Ryan was unable to name one loophole or deduction the plan would close for the highest-earning taxpayers. In fact, the House Budget Committee chairman ultimately turned to one of Romney’s common deflections: That he would work with Congress to determine just what those cuts would be once he is elected.
Democrats were eager, if not desperate, for Biden to show the spark the president lacked in his first debate against Romney. And he delivered.
Unprompted, the vice president almost immediately brought up the hidden-camera video of Romney where he is seen saying that the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes view themselves as victims and do not take responsibility for their own lives. Biden noted that Romney did not support the auto industry bailout, which saved an enormous number of jobs in Michigan and elsewhere, but told viewers they should not be surprised about Romney’s economic policies after hearing his views on the 47 percent.
"It shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility of their own lives," said Biden. "My friend [Ryan] recently said in a speech in Washington, said 30 percent of the American people are takers. These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Gov. Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans [and soldiers] who are fighting in Afghanistan right now who are not quote, not paying taxes."
Ryan, who seemed extremely confident and sure of his words when discussing foreign policy, ultimately reverted to debunked conservative talking points on domestic issues, criticizing the Affordable Care Act for creating death panels and alleging the Obama administration would cut Medicare funding to pay for the health care law.
Ryan only appeared to back Biden into a corner when discussing the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Responding to a question about how the administration would address security concerns to ensure that kind of attack would not occur again, Biden simply said “whatever mistakes were made will not be made again,” before moving on to criticize Romney’s support for the war in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Ryan said he mourned the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the Libya attack, and condemned Obama’s response to the event.
“It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack, “ Ryan said, adding that a Romney administration would provide Marines to protect foreign outposts like the one in Benghazi. However, it stands to note that aside from ensuring that a Romney-Ryan presidency would strengthen the U.S. military presence so the nation's “enemies” do not believe the country is weak, Ryan did not specifically say what strategy could be used to prevent future attacks.
But while Biden was widely complimented by debate observers for his grasp of the issues and his aggressive performance, some suggested he appeared to blatantly disrespect his opponent. The vice president seemed exasperated at times during Ryan’s arguments, unable to keep himself from sighing, grimacing, chuckling or interrupting Ryan mid-sentence when the Republican was making arguments that Biden did not believe were factual.
Ryan, eventually, seemed to be overwhelmed and frustrated by Biden’s relentlessness.
“Mr. Vice President, I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground,” Ryan said. “But I think people would be better served if we didn’t keep interrupting each other.”