Conventional wisdom on vice presidential debates is that they rarely move the needle in presidential elections. Vice President Joe Biden's performance Thursday may be the exception to that rule. He pointedly shifted the campaign focus back to core points: the giveaways in the Romney tax plan to the privileged rich while adding taxes on America's vast middle class and simultaneously stripping them of fair health care, guaranteed Medicare and Social Security, and women's rights to reproductive choice and fair treatment. Biden did so, as well, with the conviction that Democrats and swing voters had expected last week of President Obama.
Congressman Paul Ryan was stuck with defending those flawed plans. He couldn't do it, because the facts of Romney's tax plans, safety net rollbacks and disdain for women's rights and the plight of students work against the common interest of American families. Their pay and opportunities have stagnated while big corporations and the rich elite have hogged the gains of workers' increasing productivity.
Ryan at loss for facts
Ryan made a decent impression in his first major debate, and decidedly partisan Republicans surely found what they wanted to hear in his misleading talking points. Problem is, he admittedly could not cite the details of Romney's budget plan -- because Romney won't reveal them -- to justify Romney's claim that cutting taxes by 20 percent on the already heavily favored top 1 percent, and on big corporations, would not cost $5 trillion in new national debt over the next decade.
Leaving in place the high end Bush dividend, capital gains and "carried interest" tax cuts that chiefly benefit the ultra rich would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, and Romney's plan would increase that by a new 20 percent more.
Neither could Ryan credibly say Romney would not add another $2 trillion in new debt by singling out the Pentagon, alone, for more money if Congress hits the mandated cuts in January, which will occur if Republicans continue to resist a balanced deficit reduction plan.
Ryan did regurgitate Romney's documentably false claim that Obama would cut $716 billion from projected Medicare spending to fund Obamacare. But he couldn't refute Biden's fact-check: Obama would claw back the gratuitous subsidies Republicans shoveled to for-profit insurers and pharmaceutical industries in their so-called Medicare Modernization Act in 2003. But he would shift that money to strengthening benefits and to extend the Medicare trust fund eight years beyond the Romney-Ryan plan..
Ryan's attempts to sell the idea that Obama's foreign policies are "unraveling" were similarly untenable. Though Romney has recklessly indulged in saber-rattling and hinted at the prospect of war -- in Iran and Syria -- to make himself look tough, Ryan essentially admitted that Obama's disciplined policies have unified European support for the toughest sanctions ever against Iran, crippling its economy.
He also was forced to agree that Obama's policies have squeezed Syria as far as possible without putting American boots on the ground, which no one wants.
Defending the 47 percent
While Congressman Ryan promoted an agenda skewed to benefit the most privileged among us, Biden spoke on behalf of ordinary Americans. He notably defended the 47 percent of Americans who Romney, in taped remarks to rich Florida campaign donors, grossly disparaged as greedy, lazy, irresponsible moochers who don't pay income taxes but expect government to give them everything.
Biden cited neighbors, friends and even his own parents as people who worked hard at lower-paying jobs, raised good families and paid a lot in payroll and local taxes, if not federal income taxes.
That left Ryan fatuously backtracking on Romney's own lengthy summary of his disdain for working Americans whose jobs do not pay so well.
Biden also discredited the claim of religious infringement fueled by conservative Catholic bishops (Biden and Ryan are both practicing Catholics) over contraception under Obamacare. Contrary to Ryan's claims, churches are not required to do anything under Obamacare to help employees of any faith who work in their affiliated public hospitals and universities to access or pay for contraception.
Same old, same old
Ryan sought often, of course, to portray the Obama administration as having failed to make progress toward jobs and an improved economy the past four years. Any American who watched the Great Recession unfold, however, could easily recall, as Biden did, that Obama walked into the worst recession in more than 80 years; it wrecked banks and businesses and destroyed nearly 9 million jobs from 2007 to 2009.
He reminded Ryan that after quelling the national panic of 2008 and stabilizing the wrecked economy, the banking system and state governments (Tennessee, for example, got $5 billion in stimulus funds over three years to shore up state services and jobs), Obama's administration -- without any support from Republicans on job bills -- has delivered 32 straight months of job growth and more than 5 million new private sector jobs.
Joe Biden dominated the debate on every important question asked by moderator Martha Raddatz. As for the unasked question -- which man would be most qualified to become president if need be -- he won hands down.