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Vice Presidential Debate: Biden's And Ryan's Five Bests And Worsts

Francesca Bessey, Miguel Arreola |
October 11, 2012 | 11:09 p.m. PDT


(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
Tonight, Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan had the chance to follow in their running-mates' footsteps, spewing rhetorical miracles and rhetorical disasters alike. Here's what we thought were the five best and worst statements made by each VP candidate:

Vice President Biden


1. “And, by the way, they talk about this Great Recession as if it fell out of the sky, like, 'Oh, my goodness, where did it come from?'"

The audience got the message: it came from the previous Republican administration. Biden’s snarky remark responded to Ryan’s relentless attacks on the Obama Administration’s alleged economic inefficiency by suggesting who was initially responsible for the crisis.

2. “I love that. This was such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying - writes the Department of Energy a letter saying, 'The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.'"

Just as Rep. Ryan started getting personal, stating, “The vice president was in charge of overseeing [the $90 billion in stimulus],” Vice President Biden rejoined by reminding the Representative that his “bad program” provided money for jobs and economic growth in Ryan's own Wisconsin - when Ryan himself asked for it. As expected, Ryan was none too pleased.

3. “I accept my church's position on abortion… But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others...I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that - women they can't control their body."

It was an historical moment, with two Catholic candidates running to be elected to the second-highest office in the land. While Ryan took the “Romney Administration’s” stance on the topic – which condemns abortion with exception of “rape, incest and life of the mother” – Biden capitalized on the same position Romney capitalized on last week – religious freedoms and basic rights.

4. “Romney said, ‘No, let Detroit go bankrupt.’ We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, "No, let foreclosures hit the bottom.’ But it shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives."

Democrats everywhere felt the same excitement upon the utterance of “47 percent.” Vice President Biden addressed the controversial statement made by Governor Romney – something President Obama surprisingly did not attack last week – and painted a picture of a Romney seemingly disinterested in the middle class (and General Motors).

5. “Look, the Taliban...unless you set a timeline, Baghdad, in the case of Iraq, and...Kabul, in the case of Afghanistan will not step up. They're happy to let us continue to do the job; international security forces to do the job.”

Biden made a very valid argument on bringing our troops home from overseas: these countries would be happy to have us do the job, but why should we waste money and men when the countries themselves now have the capability to handle it? Biden concentrated on the fact that the United States’ final years overseas is to ensure that these countries will be able to handle life after 2014, and, as Biden proclaimed repeatedly, we WILL be out in 2014.



1. “We've decimated Al Qaida central. We have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose.”

This statement is all kinds of awkward. First of all, it basically admits the bin Laden mission was a targeted killing operation, when official policy remains that the intent was to capture the infamous terrorist leader. Second of all, there is no such thing as “Al Qaida central.” Al Qaida, like most terrorist organizations, has a cell structure, meaning it consists of multiple cells, each of which has its own leadership. No American counter-terrorist policy can be successful without taking this into account.

2. “But there are things that have been said in campaigns that I—I find not very appealing.”

This segment questioned both campaigns for bashing on each other rather than bolstering the image of the country, and Biden finally responded with this comment—after a two-minute-long irrelevant tangent that focused on Romney’s 47 percent comment and Obama’s stance on the economy. He concluded his remarks with the only sentence that attempted an answer to the question at all.

3. “We only have one truly sacred obligation as a government. That's to equip those we send into harm's way and care for those who come home...Everything else falls behind that."

Isn’t it the American government’s sacred obligation to preserve democracy? Stand up for individual freedoms? Protect the national interests at home and abroad? We do owe a lot to our military, but taking care of the military is not the only responsibility of our government—not by a long shot. Additionally, this statement was completely irrelevant to the question he was asked, which was about the questionable state of the campaign.

4. “Well, he gets 40, I get 15, that's OK”

The most distinguishing factor of Biden’s debating style is his inability to conceal his feelings. Initially, Biden’s side-comments, interjections and laughter were all welcomed (and in some cases, humorous) in the spirit of debate, but as the debate progressed, Biden’s comportment shifted from humorous to annoyingly arrogant and rude. Ryan did an outstanding job of “keeping calm and carrying on.” Kudos, Ryan.

5. “This is a guy who's repaired our alliances so the rest of the world follows us again.”

Biden can’t look America in the eyes and pretend that everything is honky-dory between us and the rest of the world. In this debate alone, tensions with five different countries were mentioned, three of which we have been involved in major wars with. There are scores of other countries who aren’t too happy with us, either.


Rep. Ryan


1. “If you taxed every person and successful business making over $250,000 at 100 percent, it would only run the government for 98 days.”

A nice reality check for anyone who believes that there is one simple solution to fixing our nation’s precarious economic situation. The bottom line: high taxes for the rich isn’t enough to pull us out of this rut. We, as a country, need to foster economic growth and curb massive government spending as part of the solution.

2. “We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer when he was turning his Russian-provided guns on his own people.”

America seems to have an unfortunate history of supporting authoritarian rulers, and then having it come back to haunt us five or ten years down the road. It happened in the Philippines, it happened in El Salvador, it happened in Iran and it now it appears to have happened in Syria. Props to Ryan for actually acknowledging this giant foreign policy problem.

3. “Here's the problem. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, turning Medicare into a piggybank for Obamacare.”

Most Americans have thrown in the towel for trying to understand healthcare policy. But Ryan diluted one aspect down into a metaphor that everyone can understand: Obamacare, regardless of whether Biden admits it or not, did divert $716 billion in Medicare funds to its own programs. Whether or not this is a good thing, of course, is up for debate.

4. “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way.”

Ryan far excelled Biden at keeping his manners in check during this debate. There were plenty of times he could have lost his cool, but instead he chose to direct his frustration into a more appropriate (and accurate, given Biden’s history of gaffes) witticism. And he got a laugh out of the crowd, which is usually a good sign.

5. “Mitt Romney and I want to earn your support.”

Too often, politics seem to get away from the idea that the president—like any elected or appointed official—is a servant of the people. The president’s power is not given; it's earned. It’s refreshing to know that Ryan hasn’t completely forgotten this paradigm.



1. “And we should not be imposing these devastating defense cuts, because what that does when we equivocate on our values, when we show that we're cutting down on defense, it makes us more weak.”

To suggest that cutting military spending automatically implies weakness is both an ignorant and dangerous statement to make. Ignorant, because it implies Ryan is unaware of historically successful examples of disarmament and cuts in defense spending. Dangerous, because it is exactly the kind of attitude that leads to security dilemmas and an arms race—which is essentially what led to the Cold War and why we’re so terrified of Iran.

2. “Mitt Romney's a car guy.”

Mitt Romney may be a lot of things, but he is definitely not a car guy. Romney didn’t experience the devastating economic and real-estate fall-out in Southeastern Michagn after the auto-industry collapse, he’s never demonstrated any particular passion for cars in his public life, and—as Biden and Obama both have pointed out about fifty thousand times—he even opposed the auto-industry bail-out. Ryan never provided anything relevant to back up this statement, either.

3. “And where I come from, overseas, which is Lake Superior, the Canadians, they dropped their tax rates to 15 percent. The average tax rate on businesses in the industrialized world is 25 percent, and the president wants the top effective tax rate on successful small businesses to go above 40 percent.”

Ryan makes an impassioned defense of military spending and then complains that we have a higher tax rate than Canada. Reality check: America’s military budget is roughly thirty times that of Canada’s. Nice try, Ryan.

4. “I was talking to a family in Northborough, Massachusetts the other day, Sheryl and Mark Nixon. Their kids were hit in a car crash, four of them. Mitt asked if he could come over on Christmas. He brought his boys, his wife, and gifts. Later on, he said, 'I know you're struggling, Mark. Don't worry about their college. I'll pay for it.’”

Romney may have enhanced his own debate performance by using personal stories, but Ryan chose the wrong story to tell. Depicting Romney throwing money at a crisis does nothing to ameliorate criticism of the candidate for being ultra-rich and out-of-touch. Furthermore, Ryan should not have spoken about a topic - car accidents - so sensitive to his opponent. It made him appear callous and indiscreet.

5. “And then I would say, you have a president who ran for president four years ago promising hope and change, who has now turned his campaign into attack, blame and defame.”

Not unlike his opponent, Ryan chose to answer a question about excessive trashing of opposing candidates in this year’s presidential campaign by trashing his opponent in this presidential campaign. In other words, the above statement, translated, reads: Obama sucks because he said that we suck.


Read our picks for Obama's and Romney's five bests and worsts from the first presidential debate here.

Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the Vice Presidential debate here.

Reach Columnist Francesca Bessey here.

Reach Contributor Miguel Arreola here; follow him here.



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