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Video, full text, analysis, polls, and fact check links

By Miriam Raftery

October 14, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)—In a combative debate, Vice President Joe Biden and VP candidate Paul Ryan faced off at Kentucky Centre College last Thursday on both foreign and domestic policy issues.

Unlike President Barack Obama, who drew criticism  from supporters for being “too polite” in failing to counter attacks and even misleading statements by Mitt Romney in the presidential debate, a scrappy Biden defended the administration’s record with the aggressiveness of a prize fighter, calling out Ryan repeatedly on factual errors or exaggerations. Unflapped, Senator Ryan fired back some verbal barbs of his own as he made his case for a Romney-Ryan ticket and assailed the adminstration's record.

Biden portrayed the Romney/Ryan team as warmongers whose policies would harm the middle class and seniors. He drew both praise and criticsm for repeatedly disputing Ryan’s claims, interrupting his opponent and at times, laughing when Ryan made statements previously disproven by nonpartisan fact checkers.  

Ryan scored points for a polished performance in which he faulted the President’s administration for not doing enough to improve the economy and reduce debt, also scoring points by pointing up inconsistencies in the administration’s handling of the embassy attack in Libya. Though a less seasoned debater than the elder statesman Biden, Ryan held his ground at one of the most contentious debates in recent memory.

The Economist called the match “an impressive draw” but noted that “Mr. Biden was better than Mr. Ryan at casting key arguments in brutally simple terms.” Overall, the Economist called the match “a reassuringly grown-up policy scrap, setting out two clashing visions of the role of government.”

The Washington Examiner noted that Biden fired up Democrat partisans with attacks on Ryan and appeals to senior citizens, pledging to protect Medicare and Social Security Benefits. But the Examiner’s senior policy analyst noted, “Ryan was impressive on foreign policy, going toe to toe with a man who served 36 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”


The economy, taxes and the middle class

Biden took aim repeatedly at Romney for remarks made in a secretly recorded video at which Romney denigrated 47% of Americans who receive any form of public funds including veterans fighting overseas and senior citizens. He also painted Romney as “indifferent” to those suffering due to the recession. When Ryan suggested that Romney may not have said what he meant, Biden addressed the audience: “If you heard that little soliloquoy on 47% and you thnk he just made a  mistake, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.”

Biden insisted that deep tax cuts for the wealthy sought by Romney would make it “impossible” to not raise taxes on the middle class in order to protect key programs as claimed.

Ryan criticized the Obama plan to tax the wealthy by stating that even if everyone who paid taxes last year doubled their contribution (far more than the Obama administration has sought) “there would still be a $300 deficit.”  He defended the Romney plan to cut taxes for corporations and wealthier Americans as key to stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

Foreign policy, war and peace

Ryan hammered the Obama administration’s foreign policies as “making the world more chaotic and us less safe,” and suggested the U.S. should have done more to oust Syrian president Bashar Assad. 

Biden called that statement “malarkey” adding that “Not a single thing he said is accurate.” He suggested that Romney’s hawkish stances were risky, adding, “The last thing America needs is to get in another ground war in the Middle East, requiring tens of thousands, if not well over 100,000 American forces.”

Medicare and Social Security

Ryan stated that he would “absolutely” support changes in benefits for Americans because he asserted that “Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt.”  He wants to change the rules for younger and middle-aged people so that when they reach Medicare age they could choose their own medical plans.  He also attacked Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act.

Biden came out swinging, noting that both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) endorsed the Obama actions.  “Any senior out there, ask yourself, Do you have more benefits today? You do. If you’re near the doughnut hole, you have $600 more to help your prescription drug costs. You get wellness visits without copays.”  The Republican plan will “wipe all this out, and Medicare goes—becomes insolvent in 2016,” he warned. Biden faulted Romney’s Medicare plan as relying on “vouchers” that would cost seniors more money for healthcare—then noted that Ryan backed legislation that would raise costs for seniors, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

“Who would you believe, the AMA? Me, a guy who’s fought his whole life for this?” Biden asked. “Or somebody who had actually put in motion a plan that knowingly cut—added $6,400 a year more to the cost of Medicare?”

Pro-life vs. pro-choice

The candidates, both Catholic, each said they personally believe life begins at conception. Ryan wants to put his religious views into law and outlaw abortion nationwide, while Biden said he would refuse to impose his views on others and believes such choices should be between a woman and her doctor.

Candidates’ records and campaign tactics

Ryan faulted Obama for negative campaign ads critical of Romney.  “If you don’t have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from,” Ryan said, quoting Obama’s own words from the President’s 2008 campaign.

Ryan insisted that Romney can achieve bipartisan results, citing Romney’s experience as Governor of Massachusetts. Biden fired back, “If he did such a great job, why isn’t he even contesting Massachusetts?” and noted that Romney is far behind in polls in the state he formerly headed up.

Who won?

Poll results varied widely depending on which voters were polled.  A CBS poll of undecided voters gave a decisive victory to Biden, with only 31% believing Ryan won while 50% thought Biden run—with 19% still unsure. Nationally, about 15-20% of voters remain undecided, according to CBS News survey manager Jan De Pinto.  Among all voters polled by CNN, the margin was far closer, with a slight edge given to Ryan though results were within the margin of error for the poll.

Predictably, each political party believed their candidate won.  The California Democratic Party called the debate “a class between forthright facts and authentic conviction on one side and glib lines and empty promises on the other.  It exposed the extreme risk Romney-Ryan economics pose for American middle class and to our leadership in the world.”  Democrats called the Romney tax plan “mathematically impossible” and added that “Ryan couldn’t explain how their double-down on trickle-down would create jobs now, because it wouldn’t.”

The Republican National Committee attacked Biden’s style more than substance. The RNC accused Biden of “laughing at the facts” and posted a video on YouTube showing Biden laughing during the debate. Republicans have contended that Biden was rude and condescending. (The laughter was largely directed at statements made by Ryan that echoed disproven statements by Romney, who fact-checking groups found made 27 factual errors in 38 minutes.) 

How accurate were the candidates?

In both presidential and vice presidential debates, Republicans arguably won on style while Democrats prevailed on credibility. 

Independent fact-checks found far more major errors made by Ryan than Biden, and many more provable errors by Romney than Obama. 

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and the New York Times both went so far as to editorialize against a Republican strategy of  “lying during debates.” Both noted that the tactic began in 1984 when Peter Teeley, press secretary to Vice President Bush, stated, “You can say anything you want during a debate and 80 million people hear it. If reporters then document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, so what? Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000.”

The major misstatements and distortions

Biden’s biggest error came when asked about a deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. “We weren’t told that they wanted security there,” Biden said. That contradicts testimony and confidential cables provided to a Congressional committee, which indicated that the top regional security officer in Libya said requests for more security were made. Whether Biden was informed of the recent testimony prior to the debate is unclear, but the administration clearly had received warning of a potential threat.

Ryan was grilled on Romney’s tax plan, which Biden called mathematically impossible.  Ryan responded by repeating that “six studies have verified” that the plan adds up; in fact not one of those studies are independent and all were prepared by partisan sources. The President’s plan has had its fact verified by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. If Romney’s math makes sense, why can’t a single nonpartisan source be found to say so?

Ryan distorted impacts of Obama’s proposal to tax the wealthy, claiming it would “Tax about 53 percent of small business income.” concludes that assertion is wrong because “Ryan is counting giant hedge funds and thousands of other multimillion dollar enterprises as `small businesses.’

Biden portrayed Romney as weak on terror, touting Obama’s success in tracking down and killing bin Ladin. He cited Romney’s prior statement that  he “would not move heaven and earth” to get bin Ladin, but omitted that Romney did say he had a broader plan to combat terror.

Ryan repeated what Politifact called “the lie of the year” back in 2010 by calling Obama’s Affordable Care a “government takeover of health care.” Politifact notes that the phrase is “simply not true” since unlike Europe where the government owns hospitals and doctors are public employees, Obama’s plan relies largely on the free market and retains private ownership of hospitals and doctors in private practice.

Ryan claimed a Romney administration would seek to ban abortion but allow exceptions for rape, incest of life of a mother. Senator Ryan conveniently left out the fact that he has cosponsored legislation to take away abortion rights even for rape, incest or life of a mother. (That gaffe led the liberal Huffington Post to opine of the weight-lifting Ryan that “He’s not pro-choice, but he sure is buff.”)


Biden oversimplified the administration’s policy on Afghanistan. “We are leaving in 2014. Period.”  He omitted some 10,000 to 15,000 advisors who would be left on military bases in Afghanistan as an “enduring presence” after the vast majority of troops are withdrawn.

Ryan accused the Obama administration of spending “taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland.”  But the car company has stated that stimulus money was spent on design and engineering jobs in the U.S.—not manufacturing in Finland, and that its expenditures were verified by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.








Biden, Ryan clash in feisty vice presidential debate (Los Angeles Times),0,502588,full.story

An impressive draw (The Economist)

Do Vice Presidential debates matter? (American Conservative)

Joe Biden didn’t just win the debate. He invented a new way to debate liars. (Eclecta)

Thoughts on the Vice Presidential Debate (the Washington Examiner)

Vice presidential debate reactions 2012: Women sound off on Twitter (Huffington Post)




VEEP debate violations: Biden and Ryan rough it up in their one and only meeting (

Fact-checking the vice presidential debate (Washington Post)

Fact-checking the vice presidential debate (PolitFact)

Lying during debates is a Republican strategy (NY Times: editorial)

Debate deceptions are a time-tested GOP strategy (FAIR)



Vice presidential debate: Who won?

Why the polls were so different (CBS News)



RNC ad: Laughing at the issues:

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Biden clearly and decisively won”





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