Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden vs. Ryan - the grades

Welcome back to our political communications professor Allan Louden of Wake Forest University, along with his students, who are here to break down last night's vice presidential debate. 

Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, graded speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. His analysis was one of our most popular features at the O during the 2008 election, and this year, he's added a student perspective.

So how did Joe Biden and Paul Ryan do? Louden goes first, followed by his students, followed by their final grades. 


The 90 minutes of  “political enlightenment” emanating from Kentucky was a distinctly unpleasant experience; having that uncomfortable feeling of witnessing friends bicker, showing disregard. Vice Presidential debates have the power to overshadow the main events, as when Cheney and Lieberman met on the same stage in 2000, or Benson evoked Kennedy in Omaha. This debate felt like the warm-up act, uplifting Obama and Romney as heads of the ticket.

So what happened? Who won?

The debate likely will be remembered as largely a draw, each candidate resonating with their base, each confirming voter’s shared sense of persona, each having moments, but also disappointment; all within a very short media cycle

It could be credibly observed that debate winner and the debate loser was the same person, Joe Biden. Biden animated enough to perhaps stem the campaign drift, but he embarrassed with paltriness seemingly unfit to his office. He was more aggressive, often interrupting, animated to the point of crossing from impolite to insolent. He split his time between sounding knowledgeable and disgorging political claptrap. He flexed from calm reason to scolding father.

Ryan did not lose, holding the line, raising doubts, all without gaffes; crossing some threshold. But neither did he win, sounding too often the exponent of partisan frames, competent but not fresh. It is possible to get bored midstream in an answer, even as it demonstrates the source’s knowledge. Ryan remained wonkish even when wrapped in personal stories. He stood his ground, but seldom surged to a memorable tenor.

In most debates there are flashes when we’re rivited, when we forget our self-awareness that we are watching the debate. In this debate I was ever mindful of being an observer.

The students:

Lillis Hendrickson on the candidate’s response to the opening question on Libya:

The beginning of the vice presidential debate opened with a discussion on the death of ambassador Chris Stephen in Benghazi, Libya and the “massive intelligence failure” that it represented on the part of the United States. Biden began by asserting that the government is currently working to figure out who planned this attack and why, which he said is much more than Governor Romney’s action of “holding press conferences.” 

Ryan came back with an attack on defense cuts, drawing incredulous smiles and headshakes from Biden,  who dubbed Ryan’s assertions “a bunch of malarkey,” citing evidence of the end of the War on Iraq during Obama’s administration and the upcoming withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014.

Ryan tried to downplay his support of defense by reducing his position to that of “peace, democracy, and individual rights.” That sounds like something I’d be on board with, but it was undercut by his qualification that under Romney, troops in Afghanistan would be beginning their exodus in 2014. 

Overall, the candidates stuck to the question at hand, and answered each other on a fairly point-to-point basis.

Brandon Ng on the discussion of Iran and Foreign Policy:

As soon as moderator Martha Raddatz introduced the topic of Iran into the debate, both Ryan and Biden came out swinging. On the issue of preventing Iran from amassing and constructing weapons of mass destruction, Ryan immediately questioned Obama’s “watered down sanctions” on Iran and claimed they were closer to possessing nuclear weapons because of Obama’s policies. He worked very hard to discredit Obama’s foreign policy by hammering the point that Obama has not protected Americans who are overseas, and allowed Iran to gain grounds on producing nuclear weapons.

However, Biden literally laughed off Ryan’s claims and aggressively and decisively maintained that the Obama government has not, and will not, allow Iran to posses nuclear weapons. While both candidates have been aggressive all evening, Biden’s passion was bursting from the seams, and his voice overpowered Ryan’s. He was comical and seems to be more at ease than his counterpart, Paul Ryan. While both represented their sides well, I give Joe Biden the unanimous decision over Paul Ryan.

And bringing it back to domestic policy, April Walsh responds to the candidates handling of Medicare and Social Security: 

The Medicare/ Social Security issue remains a hot topic. Paul Ryan attempted to show how the Obama Care board will not only be a waste of time and money, but also energy and human lives. Ryan claimed that the qualifications for the board don’t even include past medical training. To further persuade the audience, Ryan claimed that money for Obama Care is taken from Medicare and will continue to do so each year. The fact checkers must be going crazy. 

Joe Biden retaliated by stating that Republicans don’t even like Medicare. Biden continually tried to turn the discussion to a matter of trust. Who do we trust to take care of our health: Romney’s voucher or Obama’s board?

Undoubtedly, the strongest responses from the room were after Vice President Biden’s use of the word, “malarkey,” and his statement to Mr. Ryan, “Oh, so you’re Jack Kennedy now?” The tone reflected a curious mix of disbelief and humor in the tone Biden used toward his opponent. The constant smiles and chuckling created a rather peculiar mix of policy and heckling at times, but at the end of the 90 minutes, both candidates crafted strong points and held their ground. 

Perhaps the strongest moments of the debate were at the end, when Martha Raddatz questioned the candidates about their religious beliefs, and finally, after one 90 minute presidential debate, and another 83 minutes of the vice presidential debate, women’s issues were finally approached. The stage has been set for the second and third debates now, with Biden creating momentum for the president after his dismally quiet performance last week, and new issues have been introduced that will undoubtedly be addressed in the next two weeks.


Vice President Biden: A-
Congressman Ryan: B+

Contributors: April Walsh, Brandon Ng, Lillis Hendrickson, Jessica Pic, Dr. Allan Louden.


panther14 said...

Wow...sure wish we could get an unbiased opinion from a non liberal writer.Everyone knows professors are very liberal,so this "grade" was like asking a cowboys fan what they think about the redskins.All my republican friends say biden was a clown and was very unprofessional,while ryan won in a "slam dunk." I am anxious to hear from others.The polls definately swung in favor of romney after last weeks debate,so i go more with facts than what the left wing observer writes,but we are pretty much forced to read it!

Garth Vader said...

Have these students been informed that the debates have been rigged by the Dems and Reps?

John said...

Might've been nice to grade the so-called moderator too. Long-time friend of Joe Biden, who attended her wedding. I found her to be very ineffective and biased, declining to stop Biden from interupting but quick to cut Ryan on with a "let's move on...".

If this posts twice it's the stupid interface with Google!

faithplusnothing said...

I have no idea why I'm surprised when I read more liberal spin on these "opinion" pages. It's almost laughable that Biden would get an A. He was a buffoon last night!

Anonymous said...

No question Ryan won on solutions and substance for 1) ways to turn around the economy, 2) preserving Social Security & Medicare, and 3) confronting Irans nuclear ambitions but I really really really enjoyed Biden. I thought he was great fun and fairly harmless with his peripheral antics and facial expressions.

Ryan for VP & Biden for a beer

Ettolrahc said...

Hey turn down the sound and watch it again. It looks like Biden is selling a used car.

Ettolrahc said...

Panthers14, you know that this group knew they would not get in the paper unless they fell in line.

Matt said...

Please DON'T turn down the sound and watch it! Listen more to what they say, not the pageantry with which they said it, and you'll get much closer to the truth. As conservative Charles Krauthammer said on Fox freakin' News: on substance it was a tie (he said both had points to make and both made them effectively), if you listened on the radio Biden won easily, if you watched it on TV he lost. That's not necessarily my own opinion of how it went down, but deciding someone lost because you didn't like they way they smiled is a pretty childlike way to approach something as important as a national election.

rb said...

radio won, tv lost - see Kennedy/Nixon and let me know how that turned out. Biden is a huge joke, a tool, a laughingstock. Anyone that says or thinks otherwise is fully uninformed or in the tank. Ryan resoundingly kicked ol Joe's ass last night.

Ettolrahc said...

Biden was a hour and a half attack commercial.

Ryan presented facts.

Karl said...

I don't even read the Observer's editorial opinions anymore. For over 16 years I've seen their Leftist/Progressive bias.

This article is no different.

A. Cook said...

If you want to know the outcome of the debate, look at the Observer. If it was a Biden win, it would have been plastered across the website, instead we get an opinion piece tucked into a corner. Biden showed us who he really was, and instead of arguing the issues, he elected to argue,and interrupt Ryan throughout the debate. I wish we could have a round two between them.

Garth Vader said...


I'm curious as to how you thought Ryan confronted Iran's nuclear ambitions, considering these statements:

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, head of the Israeli military (IDF):

"[Iran] is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't decided to go the extra mile."

"I don't think [Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei] will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people."

4/25/12, The Guardian

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

"[Iran has] not yet decided to manufacture atomic weapons."

04/25/12, The Raw Story

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:

"Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us."

2/8/12, Face the Nation

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:

"We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.[…] We continue to judge Iran's nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran."

01/31/12, Unclassified Statement for the Record on the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Responding to question from Senator Lindsey Graham: "You have doubt about the Iranian's intention when it comes to making a nuclear weapon?"


I do […] I think they're keeping themselves in a position to make that decision but there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time. [...]"

02/16/12, Senate Armed Services Committee

What do you and Congressman Ryan know that top Israeli and American officials do not?

And, if Congressman Ryan intends to "confront" Iran, how does he intend to do so? Is he going to put on a uniform and fly over there? Or is he going to order your sons and mine to do his bidding? Especially since Iran's so-called "nuclear program" is so far as real as Saddam's WMDs.

Adolf said...

As long as Obama wins the election, I am happy with whatever the pundits say. Oh yea!!