Sunday, October 14, 2012

Civility Watchdog: October 11th Vice Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in Danville, KY

Following are excerpts from the vice presidential debate [Washington Post Transcript, CNN Transcript, RCP Video] between Vice President Joe Biden (running mate of President Barack Obama) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (running mate of former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)) in Danville, KY, on October 11, 2012, hosted and moderated by Martha Raddatz of ABC News:
RADDATZ: "I just want to you about right in the middle of the crisis. Governor Romney, and you’re talking about this again tonight, talked about the weakness; talked about apologies from the Obama administration. Was that really appropriate right in the middle of the crisis?"
RYAN: "On that same day, the Obama administration had the exact same position. Let’s recall that they disavowed their own statement that they had put out earlier in the day in Cairo. So we had the same position, but we will -- it’s never too early to speak out for our values. We should have spoken out right away when the green revolution was up and starting; when the mullahs in Iran were attacking their people. We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer when he was turning his Russian-provided guns on his own people. We should always stand up for peace, for democracy, for individual rights. 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. It projects weakness. And when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us. They’re more brazen in their attacks, and are allies are less willing to -- "
BIDEN: "With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey."
RADDATZ: "And why is that so?"
BIDEN: "Because not a single thing he said is accurate."
Comment: Not a single thing? Biden may legitimately disagree with much of what Ryan said, but it's false -- an exaggeration -- to say none of it is accurate. For instance, the Obama administration did disavow the statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, so Ryan is correct about that, at least.

BIDEN: "[T]his is a president who’s gone out and done everything he has said he was going to do."
Comment: Again, another false statement, an exaggeration. Even just limited to the topics of foreign policy and defense, there are lots of things Obama promised to do that he has not done. He hasn't closed the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, or ended the use of military commissions to try terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, or reached an agreement with Russia to take more nuclear weapons off of "hair-trigger" alert, or gotten the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratified, or doubled the budget of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), or formed an international working group to aid Iraqi refugees, or doubled the number of Peace Corps volunteers, or recognized the Armenian genocide, all of which he promised to do.

BIDEN: "Look, I -- I just -- I mean, these guys bet against America all the time."
Comment: This is derisive name-calling. The fact that Republicans like Ryan and Romney have been critical of the Obama administration's foreign policy doesn't mean they're "betting against America". Biden is demonizing Republicans, here, perhaps questioning their patriotism or suggesting that they're rooting for failure.

RYAN: "What we should not be doing is saying to the Egyptian people, while Mubarak is cracking down on them, that he’s a good guy and, in the next week, say he ought to go."
Comment: Did the Obama administration do this? Did they praise Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak one week and then call for his ouster the next? Or is this a false accusation of a flip-flop?

RADDATZ: "Last week, former Defense Secretary Bob Gates said a strike on Iran’s facilities would not work and, quote, “could prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations.” Can the two of you be absolutely clear and specific to the American people how effective would a military strike be? Congressman Ryan?"
Comment: Ryan did not answer this question, he instead criticized the Obama administration's record on sanctions against Iran (which, for the sake of brevity, I didn't quote here).

BIDEN: "These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period. Period."
Comment: I'm not sure how to clearly measure which set of sanctions is more crippling, but Biden's definitive statement here seems exaggerated. What about the sanctions on Cuba, or on North Korea? Haven't they been roughly as bad as the ones on Iran?

RYAN: "They [the leaders of Iran] see President Obama in New York City the same day Bibi Netanyahu is and he, instead of meeting with him, goes on a -- on a daily talk show."
Comment: This is false. Obama and Netanyahu were not in New York City on the same day.

BIDEN: "Let’s all calm down a little bit here. Iran is more isolated today than when we took office. It was on the ascendancy when we took office. It is totally isolated. … I don’t know what world this guy’s living in."
Comment: This is name-calling. Biden is suggesting that Ryan is mentally deficient, or divorced from reality. The issue of what to do in order to keep a country from developing nuclear weapons is very complicated, Ryan's worries may be incorrect -- Biden is free to make that argument -- but Ryan's concerns are surely not deranged.

BIDEN: "They’re -- they’re closer to being able to get enough fissile material to put in a weapon if they had a weapon."
RADDATZ: "You are acting a little bit like they don’t want one."
BIDEN: "Oh, I didn’t say -- no, I’m not saying that. But facts matter, Martha. You’re a foreign policy expert. Facts matter. All this loose talk about them, “All they have to do is get to enrich uranium in a certain amount and they have a weapon,” not true. Not true.They are more -- and if we ever have to take action, unlike when we took office, we will have the world behind us, and that matters. That matters."
Comment: Again, this is name-calling. Biden is suggesting that Ryan's concerns about Iran are based on the rejection of facts, but they're not. Rather, there's a legitimate disagreement here about what constitutes the "point of no return" in Iran's nuclear weapons program. At the risk of oversimplifying, Ryan is saying that once Iran has uranium enriched to 90%, their weapons program is impossible to turn back. Biden is saying that the point of no return is at a later stage, once the 90% enriched uranium has been crafted into an actual weapon. (Ryan, I assume, would object that weaponizing enriched uranium is technically much easier than producing enriched uranium.) This is a complicated technical argument, so it's a derisive caricature for Biden to portray the debate as one side (his own) believing that "facts matter" and the other side (Ryan's) saying that they don't.

BIDEN: "They’re pushing the continuation of a tax cut that will give an additional $500 billion in tax cuts to 120,000 families. And they’re holding hostage the middle class tax cut because they say we won’t pass -- we won’t continue the middle class tax cut unless you give the tax cut for the super wealthy. … They’re saying no. They’re holding hostage the middle class tax cut to the super wealthy."
Comment: This is "hostage-taking" rhetoric. People describe compromises in different ways according to whether it's a compromise they like, and one man's "hostage-taking" is another man's "comprehensive legislation". When the Obama administration has offered compromises or suggested giving Republicans something they want in exchange for getting something Democrats want, is it fair to say they've been "holding it hostage"?

RYAN: "You know what the unemployment rate in Scranton is today?"
BIDEN: "I sure do."
RYAN: "It’s 10 percent."
BIDEN: "Yeah."
RYAN: "You know what it was the day you guys came in -- 8.5 percent."
BIDEN: "Yeah."
RYAN: "That’s how it’s going all around America."
Comment: This is false (as Biden went on to point out). The unemployment rate is down in many parts of the country.

RYAN: "Mitt Romney’s a good man. He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country. And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way."
BIDEN: "But I always say what I mean. And so does Romney. … The idea -- if you heard that -- that little soliloquy on 47 percent and you think he just made a mistake, then I think you’re -- I -- I think -- I got a bridge to sell you."
Comment: Biden is saying that Mitt Romney's (paraphrasing) "47% of the people don't take personal responsibility" remark was not an accidental misstatement but an expression of what Romney really believes. If Romney "always says what he means" just like Biden does, then does that mean none of Biden's gaffes -- such as falsely claiming to have graduated with three degrees in the top half of his class -- are accidental misstatements? As is usually the case with gaffes in politics, you forgive the gaffes on your own side as just innocent tongue-twisting, while brandishing the gaffes of your opponents as evidence of their evil or stupidity.

BIDEN: "Look, I don’t doubt [Romney's] personal generosity. … I don’t doubt his personal commitment to individuals. But you know what? I know he had no commitment to the automobile industry. He just -- he said, let it go bankrupt, period. Let it drop out. … And I’ve never met two guys who’re more down on America across the board. We’re told everything’s going bad. … Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me a policy. Show me a policy where you take responsibility."
Comment: Biden is demonizing Romney and Ryan, saying that their failure to support the bailout of GM and Chrysler shows that they don't care about people, and that their criticism of Obama's handling of the economy is the result of not liking America (i.e., "rooting for failure"?). This is unfair. Obama and Biden chose not to bail out many companies and industries, does that prove that they don't care about the people who worked in them? Or is it just that they thought that the money would better serve people by being used for something else? Couldn't we characterize Romney and Ryan's opposition to the GM-Chrysler bailouts the same way? And criticizing Obama's economic record doesn't amount to "being down on America" any more than Biden was "down on America" when he was criticizing President George W. Bush's record on the economy or on Iraq. Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan don't differ because the former care about people while the latter don't (though Biden might like to caricature the disagreement that way); they differ because they disagree about what policies are more effective at doing what's best for people.

RYAN: "And then they put this new Obamacare board in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors. This board, by the way, it’s 15 people, the president’s supposed to appoint them next year. And not one of them even has to have medical training. And Social Security? If we don’t shore up Social Security, when we run out of the IOUs, when the program goes bankrupt, a 25 percent across-the-board benefit cut kicks in on current seniors in the middle of their retirement. We’re going to stop that from happening. They haven’t put a credible solution on the table. He’ll tell you about vouchers. He’ll say all these things to try and scare people."
Comment: Ryan is accusing Obama and Biden of appealing to fear, which is unfair because it's only false appeals to fear that are unacceptable. Of course politicians are going to try to posit things that voters should be afraid of. In fact, that's exactly what Ryan does when he mentions the Medicare board that makes decisions about medical care for seniors and says that Social Security is in fiscal trouble: he's saying that there are things voters should fear, and that people should therefore vote for him and Romney in order to avoid those fearful things. Now, if Ryan believes he's positing genuine fears while Obama and Biden are positing spurious ones, then he should defend that claim. But he can't fault Biden for "trying to scare people" when all politicians -- including Ryan himself -- do so legitimately.

BIDEN: "You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels."
Comment: First, Ryan didn't say anything about "death panels", he simply said that the Medicare board (that is, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, AKA IPAB) would "lead to denied care". So Biden is distorting Ryan's remarks. Second, Former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) engaged in a vice presidential debate with Biden on October 2, 2008, months before she made her "death panels" comment on August 7, 2009.

RYAN: "Mr. Vice President, I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don’t keep interrupting each other."
Comment: Ryan is correct that Biden interrupted him a lot, and laughed dismissively and derisively, as if what Ryan was saying were so unserious as to be worthy of nothing more than laughter. Though the "duress" part or Ryan's rebuke was unnecessary, he was right to chastise Biden.

RYAN: "This is a plan that’s bipartisan. It’s a plan I put together with a prominent Democrat senator from Oregon."
BIDEN: "There’s not one Democrat who endorses it."
Comment: Ryan is indulging in "bipartisan" rhetoric, here, which poses several problems. First, though Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) did collaborate with Ryan to craft a plan for Medicare, Wyden doesn't support the current plan proposed by the Romney-Ryan ticket. Second, even if Wyden did support it, that's only one Democrat. Is that really sufficient to call it "bipartisan"? Third, who cares if a plan is bipartisan? Being bipartisan is no guarantee that something is a good idea.

RADDATZ: "Vice President Biden, let me ask you, if it could help solve the problem, why not very slowly raise the Medicare eligibility age by two years, as Congressman Ryan suggests?"
BIDEN: "Look, I was there when we did that with Social Security in 1983. I was one of eight people sitting in the room that included Tip O’Neill negotiating with President Reagan. We all got together and everybody said, as long as everybody’s in the deal, everybody’s in the deal, and everybody is making some sacrifice, we can find a way. We made the system solvent to 2033. We will not, though, be part of any voucher plan eliminating -- the voucher says, “Mom, when you’re -- when you’re 65, go out there, shop for the best insurance you can get. You’re out of Medicare.” You can buy back in if you want with this voucher, which will not keep pace -- will not keep pace with health care costs. Because if it did keep pace with health care costs, there would be no savings. That’s why they go the voucher. They -- we will be no part of a voucher program or the privatization of Social Security."
Comment: Biden doesn't really answer the question about raising Medicare eligibility. He just says he's OK with some compromise, without saying whether he'd be OK with a compromise involving an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility.

BIDEN: "[W]e are arguing that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire. Of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, $800 million -- billion of that goes to people making a minimum of $1 million. We see no justification in these economic times for those, and they’re patriotic Americans. They’re not asking for this continued tax cut."
Comment: This is "Americans want" rhetoric. How does Biden know that absolutely no high income people want this tax cut continued? And Biden suggests that it would be unpatriotic if they did ask for the tax cut to be continued. Is it fair to question the patriotism of someone who wants a tax cut?

RADDATZ: "You have refused -- and, again -- to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut [proposed by Romney-Ryan]. Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?"
RYAN: "Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. … look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that. What we’re saying is, here’s our framework. Lower tax rates 20 percent. We raised about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forego about $1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is, deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation … so we can lower tax rates across the board. Now, here’s why I’m saying this. What we’re saying is, here’s the framework … We want to work with Congress -- we want to work with the Congress on how best to achieve this."
Comment: Ryan avoids answering the question. He indulges in "bipartisan" rhetoric, while laying out a framework for what his side wants done. But whether that framework can be accomplished depends on details -- for instance, which loopholes and deductions get eliminated. If he's not going to provide those details, he needs to give a good reason for not doing so.

RYAN: "Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, where 87 percent of the legislators he served, which were Democrats. He didn’t demonize them. He didn’t demagogue them. He met with those party leaders every week. He reached across the aisle. He didn’t compromise principles."
Comment: Ryan is making the point that -- contrary to Romney -- Obama and Democrats demonize and demagogue. But this is the "only my opponent does it" caricature. Romney has definitely demonized his opponents in this presidential campaign (as have Obama and Biden), and -- though I don't have any documented instances -- I would be surprised if he didn't do so as well during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007.

RADDATZ: "Mr. Vice President, what would you suggest -- what would you suggest beyond raising taxes on the wealthy, that would substantially reduce the long-term deficit?"
BIDEN: "Just let the taxes expire like they’re supposed to on those millionaires. We don’t -- we can’t afford $800 billion going to people making a minimum of $1 million. They do not need it, Martha. Those 120,000 families make $8 million a year."
Comment: Biden doesn't answer the question. He doesn't suggest anything "beyond raising taxes on the wealthy", he instead just reiterates that tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire.

RYAN: "The vice president himself went to China and said that he sympathized and wouldn’t second guess their one child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations. That to me is pretty extreme."
Comment: First, it's not clear that Biden sympathized with China's "one child" policy, though he certainly didn't take the opportunity to criticize it. That, arguably, is a failure to defy injustice. Second, this is "extremism" rhetoric. Rather than extreme, why can't Ryan just say Biden is wrong?

RADDATZ: "I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, quote, “the ads are so negative and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country.” What would you say to that American hero about this campaign? And at the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone? Vice President Biden?"
BIDEN: "I would say to him the same thing I say to my son who did serve a year in Iraq, that 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. That’s the only sacred obligation we have. Everything else falls behind that. … I would also tell him that there are things that have occurred in this campaign and occur in every campaign that I’m sure both of us regret anyone having said, particularly in these -- these special new groups that can go out there, raise all the money they want, not have to identify themselves, who say the most scurrilous things about the other candidate. It’s -- it’s an abomination. … But there are things that have been said in campaigns that I -- I find not very appealing."

RYAN: "First of all, I’d thank him to his service to our country. Second of all, I’d say we are not going to impose these devastating cuts on our military which compromises their mission and their safety. 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. You see, if you don’t have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It’s what he’s doing right now. … And what do we have from the president? He broke his big promise to bring people together to solve the country’s biggest problems. And what I would tell him is we don’t have to settle for this."
Comment: Neither candidate makes any mention of standing up to the name-calling coming from their own party. Biden laments some misbehavior, but won't identify any specific instances. Ryan only criticizes the misbehavior of his opponents. Neither candidate is willing to criticize their own side, leaving us with the impression that it's mostly their opponents who are guilty. Raddatz, too, said little or nothing during the debate to rebuke the name-calling or unproductive rhetoric coming from Biden and Ryan.

No comments: