A lot of the big name punditry is trying to portray last night as “a substantive tie, a stylistic disaster. “ I have a very different view. Who could hear what was being said substantively? I could not get past Biden’s smirking rudeness – particularly since he was dismissive of Ryan even before Ryan said anything really. Biden’s performance reminded me, BTW, of one of the reasons Romney looked so good last week. Romney could have been completely dismissive of the ill-prepared and inept Obama last week, but he instead treated the president with respect and human dignity. Biden treated Ryan like something to be wiped off his shoe – you do not need to do that if you are winning.
Generally debates are a blank page onto which the punditry and commentariat can spin their spin and the tale of “who won” is determined not in the debate itself, but in the aftermarket. That’s part of what made last week’s Romney/Obama affair so stunning – it was not debatable who “won.” This one is more subject to debate – but Biden’s manner tells the tale – Ryan won. But more importantly, the American people lost last night – it was just hard to watch. Biden was so clearly rude, and the moderator had so little control, that it was the kind of thing that the undecided voter was going to turn off and go elsewhere for information.
Ryan comported himself extraordinarily well, particularly considering what he was faced with. However, I think few of the independent, undecided voters would have hung around long enough, or those that did fought hard enough to get through the noise, to notice that. It was just ugly thanks to Joe Biden and his antics.
Moderator Martha Radditz was clearly in the tank for Obama/Biden, but even that was overshadowed by what a poor job she did moderating. She clearly does not know the difference between moderating a debate and conducting an interview. At times it seemed as if she wanted to debate the candidates more than they wanted to debate each other – and usually it was Ryan when Biden was being particularly ineffective.
But most extraordinary to me was her blatant attempt to draft her personal agenda onto the debate. Nowhere was that more clear than in her religion/abortion question:
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. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country…
Would it not have been sufficient to simply discuss abortion? Was it really necessary to craft the question in terms of the Catholicism of the candidates? Does not the fact that both men are Catholic mean that their religious affiliation was entirely irrelevant to the question at hand? In putting the question this way it appears to me that Radditz was trying to do two things.
Firstly, she was trying to paint the church as the bad actor int he abortion debate. In this effort she was ably assisted by Biden who said, “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 — the congressman. I — I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body” Now this comes right after Biden has declared that he personally holds with the Catholic teaching that life begin at conception. I find Biden’s answer baffling becasue if you personally hold the Catholic teaching, then you must believe abortion is a form of murder and we clearly restrict murder in this nation. We impose our views of murder on all sorts of people that believe otherwise everyday. This stance is nonsensical. All it does is paint the Roman Catholic church as some sort of social bully.
But the other thing that Radditz was doing with this question was setting the table for a discussion of the religious affiliation of the presidential candidates. Given this precedent, moderators of the next two debates can try and pursue similar questions with Romney and Obama. Radditz may not have rung the Mormon bell, but she sure made sure the remaining moderators had the bell rope firmly in hand. (Fortunately Jeremiah Wright makes it dangerous to go ahead and ring the bell – but future moderators may find it irresistible.)
The only good thing that came out of this exchange was that Ryan was able to bring up the HHS ruling and Biden’s utter failure to address the charge and simply dismiss it rang particularly hollow. All Biden did was parse semantics and he did so in a way that wasparticularly more annoying than he was for the entire rest of the debate. Big fail for Biden on this one.
Meanwhile, on the religious identity front in the election generally some bad thongs are happening. For whatever reason, the left continues to find the Mormon sacred garments fascinating. Now they are selling replicas. I would very much like to get snide about this – it’s just ridiculous. However, I respect my Mormon friends too much. Adding my snide would only demean their faith and I do not wish to do that.
But there are also some very good things happening:
The Rev. Billy Graham prayed with Romney and offered support during a visit Thursday while Romney stumped in North Carolina. Graham lives in western North Carolina.
In a statement released Thursday night, Graham said that he knew Romney’s father, whom he considered a friend. He also said he’s followed Romney’s career, but has been most impressed by his “values and strong moral convictions.
“I appreciate his faithful commitment to his impressive family, particularly his wife Ann of 43 years and his five married sons.
“It was a privilege to pray with Governor Romney—for his family and our country.
Billy Graham, despite his current age and lack of public availabilities, DEFINES Evangelicalism. After such a statement, any Evangelical that would oppose Mitt Romney on religious grounds has left the Evangelical fold. It does not get any simpler than that. Rev. Graham has held his fire for a long time. We know here as we have been trying to talk to him for about six years. This statement is definitive, and it is as close to a candidate endorsement as Billy Graham has put out since he was burned by Richard Nixon.
Furthermore, any member of the press, punditry, or left wing bizarre-o-sphere that tries to paint a problem between Evangelicals and Romney because of Romney’s Mormonism can safely be completely ignored. They simply don’t get it. With this statement, the issue on the right has gone off-the-table.
The issue on the left; however, is still in the bullpen and I do think Martha Radditz has it warming up.