Thursday, October 11, 2012

Biden-Ryan debate tonight

After last week's Obama-Romney debate, we all got to be theater critics for a few days. This week I've been seeing a lot of analysis and criticism of the theater criticism. This is how we news junkies entertain ourselves.

I'll give my own pre-theater criticism of tonight's debate and say that I would expect Joe Biden to come across better than Paul Ryan to most people, unless he has a stroke or something just beforehand and walks out on the stage buck nekkid and babbling incoherently. Biden's old-fashioned political glad-handing style is kind of enduring, though it does produce the occasional hyperbole that our star pundits gleefully treat as one of the "gaffes" they love to chatter about. But he also conveys a seriousness about public service and a sense that he actually enjoys the process of democratic politics.

Paul Ryan, on the other hand, is a pompous stiff. Charlie Pierce's epithet for him, "zombie-eyed granny-starver", catches his general style pretty well.

As I was writing this, I went to the Esquire Politics Blog to pick up the link to a clip of Ryan that Pierce recently used, and I see he already did the same pre-theater criticism I did in the above paragraphs in just the headline alone, The Zombie-Eyed Granny-Starver Takes on the One Man Who Relishes This Mess: Your 2012 VP Debate Preview 10/11/2012. But I'll go ahead and post mine anyway, though any thin claim to originality is clearly shot already. As Exhibit 1 from his post shows:

Joe Biden is not riven with self-doubt. Joe Biden is not exhausted by the hurly-burly of politics. Joe Biden is not burdened by the weight of events and laid low by the constant battle against know-nothing obstructionism. Joe Biden is not going to take the stage tonight and find himself wishing he were anywhere else. I mean, god be good to him, as my gran' used to say, but Joe Biden actually likes all these silly performance pieces in which we insist he be engaged in order to stay vice-president. He revels in them. He would do ten of them a day, if he could. When I consider Joe Biden, and I look at the enthusiasm with which he throws himself into the various cataracts and torrents of hogwash that constitute our politics these days, I find myself looking at him the way I look at people who sky-dive or drive in demolition derbies. I have no idea why they do what they do, and I have absolutely no intention of doing it myself, ever, but, goddamn, do those people look like they're having fun.
I'll go ahead and add to Pierce's observation that Ryan "is as ambitious as Satan," that Ryan is likely to look better to a lot of people after this because it will be the first major exposure a lot of people have to him. At least partisan Republicans are likely to be jazzed by his presentation. Shoot, partisan Republicans were jazzed by Sarah Palin's performance against Biden in 2008. Some audience segements are easy to please.

Here's the BuzzFeed video of Ryan being a prickly jerk, Paul Ryan Gets Testy And Ends Interview 10/08/2012:

Aside from his testiness, it also seems to me in that clip Ryan is struggling to string together several favorite conservative cliches into a coherent whole. He probably wished he hadn't said that not even Obama was proposing new gun laws, because his base believes that Obama is part of a massive UN conspiracy to take away everyone's guns so the federal gubment can force us all into homosexual marriages and unisex bathrooms. Or something like that.

And he also seemed to slip when he blurted out that the answer to crime was to create opportunity in the inner cities, which sounded in the context like he was suggesting that social conditions and economic situations might actually have some meaningful effect on causing crime! It was as if Ramsey Clark had taken over his mouth for a few seconds. But then he proceeded to the Christian-Right-ly Correct position that all those black people in the ghetto inner-city dwellers need to learn Discipline. Culture-of-poverty and all that, you know.

While I'm on the topic of debates, the discussion about whether debates matter in Presidential elections has taken on metaphysical overtones, or at least the after-work-drinks version of metaphysics at the local pub. Political scientists and sociologists and (gulp!) economists can come up with analyses and even models showing that debates have no effect on Presidential elections at all. Because their models need data that can be quantified and correlated, and it's hard if not impossible to isolate quantifiable measures that would isolate perceived debate performance to its effect on the final vote.

Of course the debates matter, because they are in this and the last several Presidential elections, major focuses of the Presidential campaign and voters ultimately make a choice based on a variety of factors. Voting matters, so turnout matters, so get-out-the-vote operations are important. TV is the single most important communication channel for the elections, so ads and ad buys matter.

And what candidates say matters. Even if we have to read their lips very carefully. William Saletan offered a good analysis of Willard Romney's weasel-words on abortion in Romney’s Abortion “Agenda” Slate 10/10/2012. It's worth paying attention to what major Presidential candidates say and how they say it.

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