The VP Debate: Joe Biden Fired Up The Base
Last night, Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan met in Kentucky for the only Vice Presidential debate. Coming off the heels of President Obama’s lackluster performance last week–widely credited with reviving the flailing Romney/Ryan campaign, we all knew that Joe Biden was going to be aggressive. He said he was going to be aggressive. And from the moment that Paul Ryan began speaking–on the topic of Libya–it was clear what form that aggression was going to take. He laughed. He made it very clear, early on, exactly what his laughter meant–that he was going to show exactly what he thought of what Ryan was saying.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey. In fact —
MS. RADDATZ: And why is that so?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because not a single thing he said is accurate. First of all —
MS. RADDATZ: Be specific.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I will be very specific.
One thing everyone agrees on? It was a brawling, fierce debate–a far cry from the President’s passivity in Denver. However, it wasn’t a clear win for either, and it wasn’t a clear loss for either. That was obvious immediately if you were paying any attention to any pundit, journalist, or politically-interested person with a Twitter account. If you’re a Democrat, you probably thought Joe Biden swept it away, if you’re a Republican, you thought Paul Ryan came out as a reasonable, well-spoken, well-behaved counterpart to the blustery, laughing Biden.
Some sample op-ed headlines this morning:
Ryan Drew Blood Early, Then Cruised To Victory Over Unsteady, Flustered Biden (Forbes)
Joltin’ Joe Biden Wins the Bout (Politico)
Confusing Strength with Aggression (WSJ)
Joe Biden Gets the Job Done (Salon)
In my last debate recap, I addressed the idea that the post-game narrative is more important than any of the ideas exchanged. I wonder if the average American can speak, with any confidence, about the specific details and differences in their policy ideas. The challenge has always been to link cause and effect–to show how Obamacare, or Mitt Romney’s tax plan, can help or hurt you, the average viewer. What matters is what remains when the hour and a half is up–the impression. Joe Biden made quite an impression.
Whether you think this is a good impression or a bad impression is shaped by your own beliefs. But here’s the thing; Biden wasn’t talking to the “undecided voters.” He wasn’t trying to win over Independents (that seemed to be Ryan’s aim.) Biden was firing up the base. Everyone seems to agree on this.
It worked. Democrats were delighted with Biden’s performance. He referenced the 47% percent video. He repeatedly alleged that Paul Ryan–and the Republican Party–were misleading the American people. (After the last debate, several major news sites–including Politico and NPR News–fact-checked live last night.) He directly called out Mitt Romney for his constantly changing politics. He represented some of the fighting spirit that many feel that cool, cerebral President Obama lacks.
Election Day is 25 days away, and the fact that the base is fired up means that last night was a win for Joe Biden and the Democratic party. Remember: they won in 08 not just because of undecided voters. They also won because of one of the highest turnouts in election history, especially among young voters, black voters, Hispanic voters, and Asian voters. They also won because of grassroots campaign funding–something that is even more important in this election. President Obama and Governor Romney might seem somewhat well-matched. (Officially, Obama has raised 690 million and spent 616 million, while Romney has raised 633 million and spent 597 million.) This does not take into account the Super PACs that do not have to file with the FEC, which have spent over 50 million on television ads–most of it in support of Mitt Romney. But the most telling fact, in relation to last night’s debate, is that 55% of Obama’s candidate donors gave under 200 dollars, and only 14% gave the max of 2,500 dollars. 48% of Mitt Romney’s gave the max, while only 21% gave under 200. In the money race–which will pay for crucial last minute campaigning–the Democrats need their base more than the Republicans do.
Never has an election turned on a Vice Presidential debate. When it boils down to it, we are not voting for these men, we are voting for one of the two guys who will next take the stage in New York. But elections can and do turn on the involvement in the base. When the base is fired up, the candidate does well. That was true in 2008. That was true in 2004. It’s true today.
Obama has had problems with his base. Many people feel that he did not keep the sweeping, grandiose promises he made–that he delivered no change. Many in the Democratic base feel that he didn’t do enough for gay rights. Many echo one of the Republicans’ strongest attack points–that he came in with a Democratic Congress and a clear mandate and lost it. Whether this is true or not is a different argument. What is true is that many in the base feel this way. They may not vote for Romney, but they may not vote at all, or they may vote for one of the third party candidates: Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party or Jill Stein of the Green Party. They certainly will not give the five dollars each that has been such a financial strength to Barack Obama.
So if laughing, aggressive Joe Biden came off as too rude, too unhinged to be a clear winner across the board, it doesn’t matter. He fired up the base. It’s up to Obama to do well in the next two debates. Certainly, the specter of his failure in Denver must haunt him. There’s been much talk of the new momentum of the Romney/Ryan ticket, and how this debate did nothing to stop it. Maybe, but could it ever have? What matters is that the Democrats have some momentum of their own now.
Abortion, and women’s issues, were finally mentioned in the last twenty minutes of the debate. Many people objected to the fact that this wasn’t addressed in Denver. I object too–and not just because I am a possessor of a vagina and a uterus that the GOP wants to control–but because it’s bad for Democrats to leave that alone. When it comes to women’s issues, the GOP has not had a good summer. Every time they screwed up and said something offensive, they tried to turn the discussion back solely to jobs and taxes, saying that talking about birth control, abortion and rape was a distraction from what really mattered. Excuse me–as a woman who uses birth control and who currently does not wish to rent out her uterus–they do matter. Reproductive rights are an economic issue, and they are heavily tied to the health care debate. There’s no reason why President Obama couldn’t have addressed it last week.
I am glad that Martha Raddatz addressed the abortion issue, but I do not like the way she did it. For anyone who missed it:
MS. RADDATZ: I want to move on, and I want to return home for these last few questions. This debate is indeed historic. 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. Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that.
I do appreciate Joe Biden making the very important point that his faith shapes him, personally and understanding that it doesn’t give him the right to impose that on other people. I did enjoy his answer, and he made an extremely important point about the role of religion in public life.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: My religion defines who I am. And I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help…but I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman. I — I do not believe that — that we have a right to tell other people that women, they — they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view. And the Supreme Court — I’m not going to interfere with that.
I do not appreciate that we were forced to discuss this in personal terms. Joe Biden will never need an abortion. Paul Ryan will never need an abortion. I want to talk about this in broad terms. I want to talk about how outlawing abortion does not actually stop abortion. I want to talk about how reproductive rights is an economic issue. I don’t want to talk about the so-called “war on religious freedom” that doesn’t actually exist. I don’t want to frame the abortion debate through a man’s eyes and a man’s voice and a man’s personal relationship to faith. I don’t want to accept lip service to this issue. For half the population, this is where we most vividly feel the effect of government: on–and in–our bodies. We should not have two hours and forty minutes of total debate before it comes up.
But, oh well. The next debate is a town hall format–maybe then we can hear some real discussion about the reality of the abortion issue–which is not the Catholic Church’s conundrum over providing insurance that covers birth control.
Written by Jess Mary Aloe
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May 21, 2013
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