Close call to Biden
In the only vice-presidential debate of 2012, Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden came out swinging, pleasing both their bases. The narrow edge goes to Biden, who returned momentum to Democrats.
Ryan scored by not looking overpowered by the sitting vice president, who is 27 years his senior. The moderator, Martha Raddatz, covered a lot of ground and offered good questions. Despite interruptions by both candidates it was a lively performance.
For us, the most troubling part of the debate was the lack of time on the economy and the lack of specifics in the Republican budget plans. After two debates, the Republicans have professed great hope in their ability to add millions of jobs, improve personal incomes and do it all by lowering tax rates and maintaining a strong defense. What they haven't done is offer a plausible way to do so, and Ryan skirted several opportunities to present those ideas to the American people. For the next presidential debate, this is the topic we'd like to hear much more about.
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One of the more revealing contrasts between the candidates was on abortion. Paul Ryan was unapologetic: "I believe life begins at conception," he said, and under President Mitt Romney, the policy would be to oppose abortions with the exceptions of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. It was an admirably honest answer. Biden said he, too, accepted his church's belief about when life begins, "but I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews."
To say that Biden got the better of the argument is not to diminish the achievement of illuminating an authentic difference of opinion and approach on a matter of public import. It's hardly breaking news that the parties disagree on this issue. But there's something to be said for forcing their candidates to articulate their differences.
As Biden and Ryan showed, however, it is possible to have a debate between two ideologically antagonistic candidates that is informative, spirited, civil and even entertaining. We hope their running mates -- especially the president -- were taking notes for their next meeting on Oct. 16.
The conversation was disappointing and infuriatingly dodgy. Education, immigration and climate change never came up. Rep Paul Ryan, like his running mate, declined to identify any of the tax breaks that would be curtailed to pay for the proposed 20 percent reduction in tax rates. "Six studies have guaranteed this math will add up," he said. But the studies offer no such assurance; indeed, the most reputable of them underscore the impossibility of simultaneously cutting rates, avoiding greater debt, shielding the middle class and maintaining the progressivity of the tax code. The unwillingness of the Republican ticket to offer specifics is irresponsible. Biden, too, dodged and obfuscated on entitlement spending and the debt. "They haven't put a credible solution on the table," Ryan said and he was correct. At times Biden struck us as unduly condescending; Ryan, a touch unsure of his footing. But their performances both were fine; their weaknesses were less in presentation than in the failure of their tickets, in different ways, to offer an honest road map of their intentions for governing.
THE WASHINGTON POST