Over on Twitter a few days ago, Kelsey Atherton suggested that we replace -gate with -ghazi when we talk about scandals from now on … so I’m jumping on that train right now.
Here’s what I have to say about the conservative firestorm surrounding Joe Biden’s European Vacation (which incidentally is a movie that Hollywood should immediately put into production, starring Chevy Chase as Joe Biden; I’ll take an EP credit):
Conservatives went absolutely ballistic that the administration didn’t spend nearly enough money on security for our consulate in Benghazi. Now the exact same people are losing their minds over the astronomical cost of providing security for the vice president while he travels.
Which is it, guys? Should we be willing to spend what it actually costs or shouldn’t we?
Just in case you were concerned that racists, wingnuts, and regular old run-of-the-mill morons were going to take the day off, the folks at Public Shaming let you know that inauguration day is also a day when lots and lots of people turn to Twitter to contemplate the assassination of the president:
It’s the day of Obama’s second Presidential Inauguration! As Obama took the oath of office for his second term, the country came together as one and…
Oh wait, lmao, silly me. That didn’t happen. Instead here’s a collection of people who either fantasized or outright threatened President Barack Obama’s assassination (and note: I only picked tweets that fell right before, during, or immediately after the Inauguration itself!) …
From my friends at the Short Form Blog:
Today, President Obama announced sweeping set of policies, including 23 executive orders, aimed at reducing gun violence. The unveiling was the result of the Joe Biden-led task force Obama formed last month in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, and proposed policies include an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and improved access to mental health care. The Washington Post calls it “the most expansive gun-control policies in a generation,” and the fact that the president issued no less than 23 executive orders suggests that he wants to avoid congress as much as possible with this (which, given his first term, is understandable). Here’s the flashy White House document outlining the proposals, here’s a list of the executive orders (one of which, somewhat amusingly, is “Nominate an ATF director”), and here’s audio of the event (courtesy of Matt Keys). Photo credit: AP source
I’m anxious to hear what all of my recreation-loving and personal-protection gun-owner friends have to say. I already know — and am not really interested to hear — what the wingnut anti-tyranny group thinks.
For my part, I’m pretty pleased that someone finally said, “Enough with this nonsense.”
During last night’s debate, Paul Ryan discussed his position on religion and abortion. He claimed that he came by his pro-life policy position because of “reason and science,” and that his religious faith instructs that “life begins at conception.”
Daniel Holter, who blogs at the excellent Apoplectic Skeptic, was … well … apoplectic:
The phrases “I’m pro-life because of reason and science” and “I believe life begins at conception” are totally incompatible, 100% diametrically opposed.
In this, Holter is incorrect. Human life does begin at conception. The zygote is a new, unique organism. And so it’s possible to be pro-life and believe in science, if life is all that matters.
But, really, this doesn’t tell us anything at all about abortion. And in framing the debate in this way, Ryan is able to wrap his opposition to abortion, which is religious, in the thinnest veneer of science … which I suspect is what Holter was getting at and where he and I ultimately agree.
The follow-up question for Paul Ryan ought to have been why human life, at this incredibly early stage of development, is so desperately important … by which I mean that he is willing to limit the choices of a rights-bearing person, the woman carrying the zygote, in order to protect that life. His answer, I presume, is either that the zygote is a person (which means that it possesses a right to life) or that it is on its way to becoming one.
This requires, of course, a definition of personhood; my own revolves around the fairly scientific (and measurable) concept of organized cortical brain activity, which means that zygotes are not rights-bearing agents. I think I’m on pretty solid ground in arguing that, whatever definition you choose, it’s pretty obvious that the zygote is not a person. Unless you choose the religious argument, which might make a claim about ensoulment. But Ryan, now an avowed man of science, can’t choose that one.
That means he’ll likely go with an argument about prospective personhood. The zygote isn’t a person at the moment of conception, but it is clearly a human life … and it will become a rights-bearing person at some later moment during fetal development so it must be cared for and not destroyed.
The trouble for Ryan, then, comes from at least three directions:
- Ryan must explain why an organism that isn’t currently a rights-bearing person has a claim that the government should recognize. Further, he must explain why the organism’s future rights should be weighed more heavily than those of a person, the woman carrying the zygote, whose rights are not at all in doubt.
- Ryan must give some indication of the point during fetal development when personhood — and thus rights — are attained. And he must then explain why abortions cannot permitted up to this moment. In other words, he must be clear about why prospective personhood matters enough to warrant the infringement on the rights of a person, the woman carrying the zygote.
- The policy position of the Romney/Ryan campaign now allows for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother. But if the zygote is on its way to becoming a rights-bearing person, then Ryan encounters a serious difficulty for his explanation of (2), insofar as it now seems that some prospective persons can be destroyed while others must be protected. Ryan’s prior policy of opposing abortion without exception seems terribly callous, but it’s consistent (especially with his religious belief but also more generally).
The easy way to solve these problems is to be honest. He could say, I’m a religious man and, as such, I believe that each human being has a soul from the moment of conception. Or he could say, I’m a religious man but I don’t believe that the government ought to foist my religious beliefs on others. The trouble with the former is that it can’t be demonstrated and it doesn’t win public policy debates; the trouble with the latter is that it’s what Joe Biden said.
The first and only vice-presidential debate is in our rearview mirror now and, despite the fact that it doesn’t really matter since no one votes for vice-president, it was a doozy.
There were times when Vice President Biden seemed to come unglued, as if listening to one more minute of Paul Ryan’s “malarkey” might make his head explode. He laughed, he shook his head, he threw up his hands … and, of course, he interrupted. And all of it was in the service of a fairly relentless attack on the Romney/Ryan ticket — their lack of specifics on the economy, their specifics on Medicare, Social Security, and women’s rights, and their general contempt for anyone who hasn’t built a business from the ground up without any assistance from anyone ever.
Anyone who began the evening a fan of Biden is certain this morning that he won the debate going away.
That said, Ryan didn’t appear to lose focus or to wither under the barrage from Biden. He generally stuck to the points he was sent there to make and maintained a sort of cool, almost detached demeanor throughout. I suspect it will be this attitude that fans of Romney/Ryan will play up, though they pilloried President Obama for it just last week, and they’ll contrast it with Biden’s aggressive, borderline insulting tone.
But there are three things that will be difficult for Republicans to argue against and they are the central reason I score the debate for Biden:
- Martha Raddatz repeatedly asked Ryan for specifics about the Romney/Ryan tax plan and Ryan repeatedly refused to provide any. At one point in their exchange, Raddatz actually said, “So, no specifics, then?” Biden pushed the point, arguing that even the few specifics they’ve provided aren’t mathematically possible. Ryan’s only response was, “Yes, they are.”
- Biden spoke directly to the camera when he addressed the issues of Medicare and Social Security, making the case that a Romney/Ryan administration will make life much harder for seniors living on fixed incomes. He brought up the specter of rising prescription drug expenses and, of course, the dreaded vouchers. “Their ideas are old and their ideas are bad,” he said.
- Finally, Ryan trotted out one of those examples that politicians love to use, of real people whose tragic or heartwarming stories give us insight into the politicians themselves. But he chose about as poorly as one could imagine. Attempting to demonstrate that Mitt Romney is both “a car guy” — despite opposing the auto bailout — and incredibly charitable, he brought up a Massachusetts family whose children were injured in a terrible car accident; Romney met with them and very generously offered to pay for their college tuition. This is, of course, a great story about Romney and the implicit argument about private charity rather than taxation are sure to warm the hearts of Randian objectivists. But it was a stunning error to bring up a tragic auto accident in the middle of a debate with Joe Biden. A nice summation can be found over at the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog:
When you debate competitively there are some issues you know not to address. There are others you know to better than to pursue. Then there are those that must be avoided at all costs — that must not even be mentioned lest your loss become an object lesson in unwitting self-immolation. Whether Ryan’s handlers wanted to watch him burn or Ryan was simply too stupid to recognize the brutal inefficacy of his anecdote matters less than the fact that he said it with his “honest face” to Joe Biden’s actual one ….
The attempt to elicit sympathy for Romney by anecdotal proxy is a poor enough of a play. The decision to do so via an anecdote about a tragic car accident in a debate with Joe Biden means you’re either a sociopath or possessed of an idiocy of immeasurable power.
The two policy-related failures — on economic specifics and on seniors — are probably going to be forgotten. After all, it’s in the best interest of the challenger to avoid specifics — though it’s more difficult to do so when the moderator directly challenges you — and to offer platitudes that are designed to sound great to wide swathes of the population. But the failure of the auto accident anecdote is an absolutely stunning mistake that explains why Biden’s demeanor suggested that he was both incredibly exasperated by and fairly dismissive of Paul Ryan.
My live-blog of the debate — in all of its Burrian glory — is here, for those who missed it.
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.
Drudge front page on the morning of the VP debate.
If this isn’t the most singularly perfect image of how unimportant tonight’s debate really is, I’m not sure what would be.
Maybe Paul Ryan bench-pressing Big Bird? Or that picture that eveyone loved of a female biker sitting on Joe Biden lap?
In short, of all the debates that don’t matter, this debate matters the least of all. If you don’t believe me, go watch a few minutes of Dan Quayle debating Lloyd Bentsen and remember that Bush/Quayle won.