Opinion: Vice Presidential Debate 2012, “Malarkey” Took Center Stage While Voters Took a Backseat

Thursday was the first and last vice presidential debate of the 2012 election season. Both Vice President Joe Biden and VP hopeful, House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), were animated and verbose. Moderator Martha Raddatz was an impressive change from Jim Lehrer’s uninspiring performance at the presidential debate last week.

The one and only vice presidential debate left me confused, bewildered, puzzled and a mite overwhelmed. And, since I follow these things religiously, I can only imagine that the typical voter felt similarly if not worse. Some commentators have claimed that this debate was, by far, the best they’ve seen in years. But, I found myself mentally checking out whenever the two candidates brought up Syria or Iran. Why so? Well, because the average voter has no idea what any of that means. Though I am not the average voter, I do my best to watch these things like I am.

Here’s a two minute summary of the high points.

What the Dems say:

One of the most interesting comments from a prominent Democrat came from the Reverend Al Sharpton. The civil rights leader turned MSNBC commentator and TV show host, said of Ryan, “he’s a fibber growing to be a liar. Romney’s an accomplished liar.” The panel of critics on MSNBC called the debate in Biden’s favor and many online journalists have said the same. Democrats have resoundingly backed up Vice President Biden’s over-the-top approach. Did VP Biden win on content? Yes, hands down. He pinned Ryan on the “47%” comments made by Romney, the Romney plan to repeal healthcare, the Romney/Ryan stance on ending the war in Afghanistan, and even Ryan’s desire to privatize Social Security. The biggest moment in the Biden instant fact checker debate was when he noted that Rep. Ryan sent letters requesting stimulus money. To date, the Romney/Ryan ticket claims the stimulus was a failure. But even all that wasn’t enough to win the debate.

What the Reps say:

The overwhelming reaction from conservatives and Reps has focused mainly on Vice President Biden’s demeanor throughout the debate. Admittedly, VP Biden tends to be very outspoken. And, his presence in politics has been marred with gaffes, laugh lines, and extreme candor. But, in the debate, he seemed especially “fired up” and a bit condescending. Last week when Romney behaved this way, President Obama was criticized for seeming disinterested, disengaged, and sleepy.  Romney, on the other hand, received a nice bump in the polls after his debate performance proving that his struggle with the facts had little impact on public opinion. And when this admiration didn’t materialize for Biden, Ryan capitalized on the VP’s difficulty to maintain his composure. But, even Ryan’s calm cool nature wasn’t enough to call the debate in his favor.

What Really Happened?

Neither candidate realized the complexity of their audience. Rep. Paul Ryan was almost all style and very little content. He knew when to slow the conversation down and when to insert a cute story about his daughter Liza or, as we came to know her last night, “Bean.” This definitely worked for his base and maybe for a few undecided’s but not for most independent (swing) voters looking for substance. Vice President Biden steamrolled everyone on stage trying to belabor every point he possibly could. And while he was more consistently factual, his delivery style was off-putting for many watching. Though Dems wanted VP Biden to come out against the Romney/Ryan factual issues, many voters, on both sides, resented the delivery.

Who Lost?

Women lost. Why? Because the candidates spent more time arguing over nebulous policy than discussing women’s rights which have been center stage for months.

Senior citizens lost. Why? Because at the mere mention of Social Security, Rep. Ryan balked. We have yet to hear, from him, any detailed plan to salvage the terminal program.

Young people lost. Why? Because the price tag for the War in Afghanistan, the expansion of the current defense budget, the ongoing hot potato game of healthcare, and the impact of current domestic policy issues will fall on their shoulders. This debate did little to elucidate what either ticket would offer young people.

Undecided voters lost. Why? Because they are, most likely, still undecided.

So, what does this mean? I call it a draw. The only people who won or enjoyed the debate were people who had already decided their vote. Pollsters were confused. And though Biden asserted that Ryan held onto “malarkey” for most of the debate, Ryan did his best to hold his ground. The candidates thoroughly set the stage for Obama and Romney to face-off on Tuesday. Let’s hope both presidential candidates remember that both style and content count in a modern election.

For the full video, see here.

For the full transcript, see here.

See here for a schedule of future debates.

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