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VP Debate: Ryan vs. Biden

Vice-Presidential Debate: Paul Ryan versus Joe Biden

You are probably getting ready for the debate between the current Vice-President Joe Biden and Mitt Romney’s running mate Congressman Paul Ryan, aren’t you? Well, if you are not, you should. In a few short hours, it will kick off in earnest, and millions of Americans will be tuned in to see how this debate goes.

Let us rewind. It was just a week ago and Obama was getting ready for his first nationally televised debate against Mitt Romney. At that time, Obama was clearly leading most (if not all) of the head-to-head polls against Romney especially in the critical swing states. It seemed all hope was lost for the Romney campaign; even some of his campaign staffers and big money donors began to take to the hills. Something dramatic desperately needed to happen to infuse his campaign with energy and optimism—maybe an unfortunate gaffe from the president; or perhaps devastating foreign policy news—whatever that was going to be no one could have easily guessed that it was going to be the debates.

And who would have guessed anyway? It was not like Obama had, prior to last week’s debate, shown himself to be helpless at debates. Besides, the punditocracy reminded us that these debates seldom change hearts and minds therefore they may not have a huge visible effect on a hardened fiercely and firmly partisan viewing public.

Somehow the prognostications have turned out wrong. Not only did Romney win, but he won big and with it came a tremendous boon for his campaign. Owing to Obama’s dismal performance, the polls are now currently showing that Mitt Romney has closed the yawning gap, and is surprisingly leading Obama in some of the polls! What a difference one debate makes, eh? Yes, Obama’s disastrous outing cannot be exaggerated for even by the most conservative estimates, the Romney campaign experienced a 5-8 point swing. The figure may even be higher amongst women. It is essentially game on now.

I have read various post-mortems of the debate and one thing seems to be a common thread in all of them—Obama was far too detached and perhaps too meek to take Romney to task on what seemed at the time to be transparent volte-face with regards to Romney’s previous policy positions. It was indeed as though Obama forgot that it was a debate and not chit-chat. Perhaps, he was far too uncomfortable with the whole debate undertaking and lacked the fire in the belly to make the crucial point that Romney was nakedly pivoting on the issues. Perhaps, he was told to be simply presidential and to protect his lead by not coming across as disagreeable. Whatever the strategy was, it clearly did not work.—so I am going to guess that we shall see something remarkably different when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan step out to the stage tonight.

And there can be no overestimating the work that the vice-president has before him tonight. Essentially, he has to staunch the bleeding of the Obama campaign as well as re-ignite the belief and passion of the democratic base that their vision for the country is better than anything Romney and Paul can offer. Biden has to be on the defensive to answer and clarify essential differences between Obama and Romney—something that Obama seemingly avoided or hesitated to do in his first debate when it mattered—but he also has to play offense and be seen and understood to do so. In short, he has to win this debate or at least be perceived to tie it. Anything less will spell disaster for the Obama campaign as it will strongly cast doubts in the minds of people on the question of whether this current administration still has the right vision and persuasion to steer the ship of state.

Paul Ryan is still largely an unknown quantity to most people outside the beltway. He is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the House Ways and Means committee; he has been in Washington D.C for over 10 years. He is seen as a ‘numbers’ kind of guy and extremely wonkish on fiscal policy.  Can he be able to translate the technical aspects of the discussion or answer pointed debate questions in a language that is easy to understand—one that can fit in the allotted debate time constraints and moreover appeal to the millions that will be watching on TV? That might be his greatest challenge. Unquestionably, he has considerable chops and experience in fiscal, budget or economic matters but how versatile is he on foreign policy? This remains to be seen also. If he can capitalize on his experience and can match Biden toe-to-toe on foreign policy matters despite the possible perception that foreign policy is beyond his ken, he will prove a tougher opponent than Sarah Palin was for Biden 4 years ago.

Both men have a huge task for them in this debate. For Ryan, he has to show that he is not only knowledgeable on the issues but that he is also prepared on day 1 to be the president if it ever came to that. This was generally perceived to be Sarah Palin’s downfall in the 2008 election. He also has the unenviable task of guarding all the precious gains that Romney made last week—a lead that can rapidly evaporate if Biden is able to establish unpreparedness and inconsistency of message with respect to Paul Ryan in the minds of the public.

Biden on his part has to get the wind behind Obama’s campaign sails once more by demonstrating in an abundantly clear fashion that he has a thorough grasp of the facts and the figures. He also has to paint the opposition as not only wavering and unreliable in their overall message, but ultimately as ill-equipped to perform them. He basically has to paint a choice for the masses—a choice that leaves one in no doubt as to how the Romney-Ryan administration will hurt the economy locally and worsen the US foreign policy and actions internationally.

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Tired Of The Debates Yet?

The Republican Presidential Candidates

Am I the only one who is increasingly tired of these endless republican primary debates? I am convinced I cannot be the only one—the reasons seem fairly obvious to a great many. It just seems like every few days there is another debate on TV pitting these 8 or 9 presidential contenders in some unfortunate American auditorium, and the same boring and predictable talking points are rehashed ad nauseam. Why do they continue to bring us these televised borefests? Your guess is as good as mine, but I am dangerously close to tuning them all out.

The problem, as I have come to discover it, is that despite the shrill calls for Obama’s removal from power, coming from conservative quarters, the GOP has simply not found the perfect (or reasonably close to perfect) candidate that would energize their base and pose a great challenge to Obama. The candidate that would embody all the lofty ideals of the Republican Party (including the Tea Party of course) has just not materialized, even if we agree that the series of economically depressing news have so conspired to make the current incumbent look far weaker than he ordinarily should.

But why is it proving very difficult to find a candidate that would handily command the zeal and hope of the right wing? Why has Obama continued to enjoy a much higher nation-wide poll rating than any of the current contenders even in the midst of sobering economic news? Why is there still a significant degree of hesitation to join the ranks of those who are now thoroughly disillusioned by Obama? – Or by his spectacular incapacity to make good on all the promises and hopes that catapulted him to the White House?

The fact is that despite what we have seen in recent times on the economic front, there is a palpable dissatisfaction with the seeming inability of these GOP campaigns to enunciate a plan that is significantly better than what is currently obtainable under Obama. Obama may not be the ideal president, and he may have gotten a few things wrong with his policies, but the people seeking to replace him have not credibly laid out serious plans that would get the country out of the economic backwoods. It is not enough for these candidates to shout campaign trail slogans and afterwards direct interested persons to some obscure website where the full details of their plan might have been spelled out.

It is in this regard that I must commend Herman Cain for at least attempting to present something for people to mull over (albeit that upon close examination, his plan falls to pieces). Perhaps, rather than bring us the same boring debates where all we hear is “Obama is bad, Obama is worse than bad. Elect me and I’ll fix everything. You just trust me because I sincerely believe in Reagan and his policies”, these candidates should start speaking more robustly about the ways they really hope to be better than Obama at fixing this ailing economy. The time for the talking points are now gone. In case they haven’t noticed, anyone that has listened to a few of these boring presidential debates will unfailing point out that at this stage they all sound hopelessly the same.

But if the problem of the Republicans was merely the lack of a coherent central message, or the inability to present a credible alternative, I daresay that would have perhaps been more forgivable. Sadly, with each passing day, the current cast of contenders (by their own unique actions or inactions) continues to mesmerize the traumatized public with their unique self-combustion. From questions about Newt Gingrich’s injudicious and perhaps unscrupulous spending of campaign funds to Michele Bachmann’s ill-advised anti-vaccine rants and her unique campaign staffing troubles, the people are treated to severely embarrassing and unflattering gaffes that ought to give anyone pause.

What shall we say then of all these women that are now boldly accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment? What shall we say of his bumbling, unpersuasive, gaffe-ridden attempts at damage control? Little more need be said about his utter inability or unpreparedness to give some coherent answer on a foreign policy question concerning Libya. Or should one assume that he was so preoccupied with stopping the sexual allegation steam roller that he had devoted all his energies into presenting answers that were as plausible as they are non-contradictory—to the point that he forgot to prepare himself for questions of a different sort? Or what indeed can anyone say of Rick Perry’s unfortunate but complete memory meltdown in a debate? In fact, the more you looked at the speeches and debate performances of the Texas governor in recent times, the more you wondered why anyone thought he was capable of independently expressing a thoughtful answer to any pressing national questions. You got the impression, if I am not mistaken, that all he was good at is reciting the lines he had been coached by his staffers, hoping that he still had a bit of southern charm and charisma to command your vote.

These unfortunate campaign fiascos detract from the overall appeal of the GOP candidates. At once, it presents a tale of disorganization and indiscipline; it makes people hesitate and ponder on the wisdom of trading Obama for people who have so-far proven themselves incapable of managing a campaign. As a sidebar, you have to wonder loudly why Ron Paul continues to labor under the illusion that he’d ever be nominated the Party’s flag-bearer despite his glaring libertarian preachments. He may ideologically be more conservative than liberal, but his position on a number of issues are undoubtedly frightening to the GOP faithful. You have to imagine that the only way Ron Paul gets the nod is if the current cast of GOP contenders woke up tomorrow and all evolved positions and talking points that lie ideologically left of his position—a remote possibility indeed. Also, it doesn’t take much to see that Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum simply do not have the name recognition, gravitas or the campaign size and funds to effectively compete and as such can only hope to be selected for the VP spot.

In the end, it may be that the only candidate that realistically stands the chance of being nominated, barring any future spontaneous act of self-destruction, is Mitt Romney. Yes, he may have that healthcare issue to explain over and over; yes he may be a Mormon (i.e. not an evangelical Christian); yes he may sound somewhat unconvincing when touting his conservative credentials (precisely because he doesn’t come across as Tea Party material); –  but his discipline and consistency may be his greatest asset. In the end, it just may be that despite the fact that Romney doesn’t overwhelmingly excite the Republican field, he is the only one with the consistency, discipline, debating skills, foreign policy mastery, and the sufficient chops on the economy to mount a convincing challenge to Obama—thus necessitating that the GOP faithful hold their noses as it were to nominate him. This is of course based on the presumption that the GOP hopes to beat Obama next year by any means necessary.  However, the 2012 November presidential election is still a long way from now; indeed anything can happen before then to alter the present configurations. In any case, we are sure that Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are never going to be part of any future reconfigurations.

The Rise Of The Tea Party?

A Tea Party Rally

I have always wanted to make a little comment on the meteoric rise to prominence of the Tea Party movement. I just never got the chance to do so until now. If my memory serves me right, it was during the 2008 election that we began to notice a fundamental shift in Republican thinking and propaganda. The Republicans were traditionally opposed to the Democrats – that was a given, but in that dramatic and turbulent 2008 election period, the Democrats were mostly in control of the message of change and hope.

The Bush administration along with its many failures and compromises left many Republicans rueful about their prospects at the polls. There were a great number of Republicans who were frankly fed up with or displeased by the eccentricities and the sloppiness of the beltway republican establishment. And of course they were staunchly opposed to a Liberal or Progressive takeover of Washington. Thanks or no thanks to shrill republican media watchdogs, a lot of these dissatisfied Republicans and/or Independents began to fashion an identity of their own. Gradually, the Tea Party movement was born.

These scattered voices of rage and dissent against the Washington establishment found strength and support in right-wing radio and on some cable TV shows. They tried as much as they could, with their sometimes frighteningly exclusivist positions to win back broad-based support for McCain during the election period. But they failed to get McCain elected.  Ironically, the election of Obama was the best thing that happened to the Tea Party. In fact, it could be argued that the election of Obama as the 44th president of the United States kept conservative radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh gainfully employed. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and other new actors on the national stage, sensing an opportunity, decided to throw their weight and support behind this new faction of the Republican Party—the Tea Party began to grow exponentially despite being cajoled and maligned by the mainstream media.

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