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October 11, 2012

Debate Thoughts: Lower Expectations

Because I'm hearing a lot about how Ryan's going to "destroy" Joe Biden.

Let's look at reasons why that won't be so:

1. The Moderator Chooses The Questions and Will Presumably Attempt to Maintain "Control."

When liberals assailed Jim Lehrer for "losing control" -- that is, permitting two highly accomplished, adult men with no criminal history to talk to each other without much official supervision -- they weren't really criticizing Lehrer. They were making excuses for Obama, but more importantly, they were working the refs of the next game.

They were laying down a marker for the next moderators that If you fail to properly coddle Obama and/or Biden, you will be all but excommunicated from the Press Club.

I imagine this worked. I imagine, as many have said, that Paul Ryan will be debating two opponents, not one. I believe that all the tough, wedge-issue questions will be put to Ryan -- with the moderator interrupting his answers to contradict him and cavil -- whereas Biden will be offered open-ended questions asking him to rehabilitate Obama's image. And he will do so.

2. All Issues, Including Abortion, Birth Control, and #waronwomen, Will Be Included In This Debate.

Understand this about the Romeny/Obama debate -- that debate was on the economy, debt, and taxes. The issues the Romney/Ryan ticket are running on.

This debate will cover all issues, and bet your bottom dollar that #waronwomen will be three of them. (There are nine "pods" of questions; expect a full third, or more, to be devoted to Birth Control, Abortion, and #waronwomen.)

It's not that Ryan automatically loses on such questions; but he doesn't have any advantage. Further, when the moderator is dwelling on all the tough questions of Ryan's position (abortion in cases of rape) but serving up Biden Home Run Pitches and not asking him any tough questions ("abortions" conducted on actual live-birth babies), it stacks the field pretty badly.

Ryan will tread very carefully here, trying to appease both the harder-core of the social right while trying to not scare the shit out of moderates. He will come off scripted, controlled, and not quite candid during these interrogations.

And that's a third of the debate.

And when Ryan gets into the specifics of budgetary policy, and Biden seems to be flailing, the moderator will advise Ryan "let's get out of the weeds here."

Of course-- let's get away from Ryan's advantage. And ignore the fact that the game is in the weeds. That's precisely where you hunt it.

3. Biden Is Liberated From Responsibility And Can Say Literally Anything Without Fear of Fact-Check.

Biden's reputation for silly blarney means that nothing he says will be fact-checked by a media desperate for an Obama/Biden win, and furthermore, no matter what howlers he tells, none of that will be permitted to reflect poorly on Obama himself.

No idiocy of Biden's will wind up staining Obama. So he can indulge in the Tactically Idiotic at will.

A Liberation From Responsibility is quite an advantage.

4. Biden Has Long Been Regarded As Rather A Strong Debater.

No bullshit here -- this isn't just me hackishly propping him up. As Legal Insurrection recently noted, with video clips aplenty, Biden's strength -- one of his only strengths -- is being good at both giving an old-fashioned ward-heeler type political speech, and giving the same sort of Machine Politician Pro debate performance.

Remember, Sarah Palin gave a good performance in the 2008 VP debate -- so good I thought she won, and won clearly (on points, but unanimous decision by the judges).

But polls -- the same polls that now say Romney won Round One with Obama -- said Biden actually won.

Sarah Palin wasn't an idiot, and had charisma, and had done her homework in preparing for the debate. Biden still won.

And Biden was judged to have won many of the Democratic debates when he ran for president in 2008. No one noticed, because he was never considered a serious candidate, but his combination of joviality and po-mouth blarney was thought to be winning and charming.

5. For a Certain Segment of the Population, Intellect Is Threatening and "Other."

And this is Biden's secret strength -- he talks best to people who are, how do I say this, not particularly bright. That was Obama's cynical reason for picking him as VP.

Will he have his facts in order? Will he know his policy cold? No, he won't, but he "speaks from the heart," which is what people say when they want to compliment someone who's kind of dimwitted and out of it.

Biden's strength is this: "Often in error, seldom in doubt." He will make sweepingly stupid statements, and he will offer them with complete conviction, because he's stupid enough to believe what he's saying.

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan is an extremely smart guy, and is, how would we put this in terms Biden would understand?, burdened by knowledge and expertise.

Some of the people who voted for Obama last time might feel a bit of resentment at this obviously highly intelligent young whelp beating up on a confused old man who means well and "speaks from the heart."

6. No Matter Who Wins, The Media Will Claim Biden Won.

They need Biden to win; thus, it will be so. And because the ratings will be so much lower for this debate -- the VP debate tends not to be watched very much, the 2008 aberration aside -- most people will learn of the debate via the media, not the report of their own eyes.

And hence, "Biden wins" is the headline.

It's already the headline. It has already been written.

To actually "win" -- and be judged as winning -- Ryan will actually have to demolish Biden worse than Romney demolished Obama. An extremely high hurdle, which simply will not happen.

If Biden wins, then Biden wins.

If Biden ties, then Biden wins.

If Biden loses, then Biden wins.

Only if Biden commits the sort of embarrassing gaffe that becomes a viral sensation can Ryan possibly win-- and then in that case, he "edges" Biden, only because of this one little problem, which by the way is no big deal.

So, overall: Chillax. We're not going to "destroy" Biden. We're looking for a win, which then becomes a "tie with little impact on the race" in the media's telling.

And it will be an uphill battle to get that much.

Format: The basics:

Unlike last week, Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan will be seated, next to each other and at the same table as Raddatz....

Another difference will be format. Tonight’s debate will be roughly evenly split between foreign and domestic topics. Last week’s debate was domestic only; there will be a with a town-hall format and a foreign-policy debate to follow over the next two weeks.

And while Jim Lehrer moderated a debate broken into six 15-minute segments, Raddatz’s debate will be broken into nine 10-minute segments.


At the beginning of each segment, Raddatz will ask the same question to both Biden and Ryan. Each will have two minutes to respond, uninterrupted, with lights giving time signals to both men.

Raddatz will then use the balance of the time in each segment to facilitate a discussion between Biden and Ryan. There will be no opening statements, though both will be given on minute and 30 seconds for closing statements.

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posted by Ace at 05:03 PM

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