Discussion of who “wins” a debate leads to a false equivalence. I find it ridiculous that we declare someone to be the “winner” at all. It leads to sweeping generalizations and ignores the crucial aspects of the debates themselves: what the candidates actually said. That is why the vice presidential debate was such a refreshing change of pace. The fact that these men were the supporters of the two great opponents made the audience listen to their arguments in the hopes of figuring out what made each candidate worth backing.
The standout was Joe Biden’s demeanor. He appeared jovial, laughing as Paul Ryan spoke and interrupting him frequently. Ryan did not rise to these jabs. His expression remained impassive and he remained unfazed; he was a true gentleman. Biden’s performance undoubtedly incensed conservatives and enlivened liberals, who remained disappointed in President Obama’s lackluster performance during his first debate.
The discussion began with the situation in Libya, during which Mr. Biden claimed, “We weren’t told they wanted more security for diplomatic facilities in Libya.” This statement is too broad to be correct. U.S. officials did know of a request for more security in Libya, but the request did not come from the embassy in Benghazi that was later attacked; it was from the Tripoli embassy. The state department’s refusal to send more security to Tripoli had no impact on the event in Benghazi, but Biden suggested in the debate that the White House had no knowledge of any request at all. This does not sit well with those who believe that the executive branch has been mishandling the crisis poorly for the past month, including myself.
When discussing domestic affairs, Ryan claimed that the president promised that unemployment would never rise above 8 percent. In fact, this number was merely a prediction made by a report, whose projection of the effects of the stimulus package came with heavy disclaimers. The president never mentioned such a number himself.
One of the biggest points of contention among conservatives is the idea that the president’s image as a celebrity is more important to him than his job. Ryan noted that when the president was in New York, he taped an interview on The View rather than meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the two men were not in New York at the same time: President Obama was there on Monday and Tuesday, while Netanyahu was there on Thursday and Friday later that week.
In my opinion, the most important question of the evening centered around each candidate’s view on abortion in connection to their personal faith. Here the American people have been given a clear distinction. Ryan cited “reason and science” as factors in his position as a being pro-life but elaborated no further. Instead, he discussed seeing his unborn daughter on the sonogram as “the size of a bean,” and how the feeling that such a small thing bearing the potential for human life inspired him. Biden, on the other hand, declared that he believes that life begins at conception, but that making his personal beliefs a matter of secular legislation is wrong. He does not condone having others make decisions for women about their own bodies.
The conservative movement maintains that they want government out of the private lives of citizens. The republican vice presidential candidate advocating making abortion and women’s health a matter of governmental intervention, based on his own personal experiences and faith, is striking. It is perhaps the most exemplary and candid expression of what the election represents to me: a difference of opinion, not on whether government should intervene in affairs, but where it should do so.
Even as we compare notes on the presidential debate at Hofstra, we should keep in mind the opportunities we were given with the vice presidential candidates. We were given an insight into the party stances and the supporting figures behind both candidates, unclouded by the media’s idea of “winners.”