Of all the debates that don’t matter, tonight’s vice-presidential contest matters the least.
I’m going to be live-blogging tonight’s vice-presidential debate in the spirit of Aaron Burr, America’s 3rd VP and the most vilified of the Founders. I don’t mean that I’ll be commenting on neckerchiefs or the merits of dueling; Instead, I’ll be filtering the vice-presidential candidates’ answers through the lens of Burr’s political philosophy.
The live-blog begins below; I anticipate updating several times over the course of the debate so check back or leave this post open in a browser tab and refresh every so often.
8:00pm - The debate begins.
The rule of my life is to make business a pleasure, and pleasure my business.
8:03pm - Was last month’s Libya tragedy a massive failure?
Joe Biden comes out swinging on warfare and Obama’s record, and also argues that Romney’s foreign policy would be a catastrophe. Paul Ryan responds by criticizing Obama on suggesting that a YouTube video had anything to do with the attack. The moderator pushes Ryan on whether it was appropriate for Romney to criticize the administration as the crisis was unfolding. He argues that it’s never too early to speak up for our values. He implies that we ought to be doing something in Iran and Syria. Biden interrupts and calls it “malarkey.” He argues that Ryan was responsible in Congress for cutting funding for embassy security. Ryan continues to insist that we ought to have had a Marine detachment in Benghazi; he does not respond to the question of cutting funding for exactly that.
Aaron Burr helpfully notes:
What a lot of rascals they must be, to make war on one whom they do not know; or one who never did harm or wished harm to a human being! Yet they, perhaps, are not to be blamed, for they are influenced by what they hear.
8:13pm - A military strike on Iran
Ryan says that delaying and watering down sanctions has meant that the administration has no credibility on the issue of a nuclear Iran. Biden emphasizes that these are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions. He says there’s nothing more that the Romney/Ryan campaign want to do beyond these sanctions. Unless they’re talking about going to war, what else do they want to do?
Ryan thinks that the Iranian government isn’t changing its mind. Apparently the crippling sanctions aren’t doing the trick; he breaks out his knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons by explaining that the centrifuges are spinning faster.
Biden breaks out “malarkey” again to explain what he means when he says, “This is a bunch of stuff.”
As Burr reminds us, “Every man likes his own opinion best.”
8:23pm - Unemployment under 6%
The economy was in free fall when the Obama administration came in and the administration shored things up. Biden goes on the attack about “makers” and “takers,” and the 47%.
Ryan says that things are getting worse all over America, using Scranton as his example (where unemployment is 10%). Biden asks if he’s ever looked at the statistics. Ryan argues that Mitt Romney is charitable and “good” because he met a family whose kids were in a terrible accident and he offered to pay for their kids college tuition.
The car accident angle isn’t a great one for Ryan, given Biden’s personal history. Biden takes the opportunity and then he uses it to press the point that Romney isn’t the “car guy” that Ryan says he is … since he explicitly didn’t want to bail out the American auto industry.
Biden argues that the Republicans won’t get out of the way to help the middle class; they keep talking about how much they want to help people but he’d like to see them actually do something instead of just talking about it.
Biden then turns Ryan’s own words on him about the stimulus and green energy, since Ryan advocated for constituents who wanted some of the stimulus money. Ryan’s response is that everyone in Congress does that, which doesn’t seem like a particularly compelling answer.
When it comes to the economy, Burr has some measured words:
I would as soon have thought of taking possession of the moon, and informing my friends that I intended to divide it among them!
8:35pm - Medicare
Biden is speaking directly to the camera and is telling seniors that the Romney/Ryan campaign is going to cost them more money with regard to health care and that they’re going to privatize Social Security.
He says: “Their ideas are old and their ideas are bad.”
Both Biden and Ryan want seniors to know what Aaron Burr once wrote:
"You know that you and your concerns are the highest, the dearest interest I have in this world, one in comparison with which all others are insignificant."
8:45pm - Taxes
Biden responds simply that the middle class will pay less and millionaires will start to pay more. He goes straight after the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and argues that the GOP is holding the extension of the middle class tax cut hostage.
The moderator asks for specifics about the Romney/Ryan tax plan. Ryan doesn’t offer any. Then he says deny loopholes and deductions to higher income people. The moderator interrupts and argues that he seems not to be offering any specifics.
"Not mathematically possible," says Biden. "Yes, it is!," says Ryan. "No it isn’t," replies Biden. Quite the debate!
Aaron Burr’s suggestion for what Paul Ryan might have said about the Romney/Ryan tax plan:
"On that subject I am coy."
9:07pm - A turn from Afghanistan to Syria
Not surprisingly, Aaron Burr has very little to say about Afghanistan. He did, however, agree with Paul Ryan on the importance of never cutting funding for the navy:
"I am, therefore, firmly persuaded that, situated as our country now is, a young man of activity and talents has the best chance for health, fortune, and honour by entering the navy."
In response to the moderator’s question about why the logic of the Libya intervention doesn’t apply to Syria, Biden explains that Syria and Libya are different countries.
Aaron Burr would surely agree.
Ryan agrees that there shouldn’t be any American troops on the ground in Syria. He also seems to oppose the UN.
"What would my friend do differently?," asks Biden. "We wouldn’t go through the UN," Ryan replies. When Ryan is pressed, he agrees with the administration. He just thinks America should have worked with the opposition and shouldn’t have called Assad a reformer. So Ryan wishes things were different in the past. My sense is that this is not a policy.
9:15pm - Abortion
Ryan is pro-life because of reason and science. The Romney/Ryan campaign would oppose abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother. This is pretty radically at odds with what he’s said before.
Biden points out that Ryan is changing his tune on abortion. He fundamentally disagrees with the government making decisions for women. He argues that the Romney administration would outlaw abortion by putting judges on the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade … even though Ryan asserts that “unelected judges” shouldn’t make this decision.
Burr sums up nicely:
"Law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained."
In his closing statement, Biden focuses on explaining the exasperation that was on display all evening, namely that Romney and Ryan are insulting his family and friends when they talk about “makers” and “takers” or the 47%. Ryan argues that the Romney campaign is offering real reforms, which he largely failed to outline, and that they won’t replace our founding principles, which likely means something about apologizing or Islam or socialism.
And so, a final note from Aaron Burr to end our evening:
"We cannot control necessity, though we often persuade ourselves that certain things are our choice, when in truth we have been unavoidably impelled to them."
Thus ends the least important of the not-very-important debates, brought to you by the first vice-president not elected president.