bookmark_borderJoe versus the Wonkcano

That was some show, right?

Joe Biden always delivers, and Paul Ryan held his own. Regardless of the pre-debate spin, it was clear that these men are seasoned debaters. If nothing else, they demonstrated an ability to deftly pivot from the question asked to a talking point they wanted to deliver.

I’d privately observed that both candidates had their own challenges, more personal than political, in this debate.

  • Ryan needed to avoid condescending to the female moderator.
  • Biden needed to keep his cool.

In other words, “Biden needs to keep his shirt on. Ryan needs to avoid telling Martha Raddatz to make him a sandwich.”

I think both candidates easily cleared that low bar.

To be sure, Biden was assertive and interrupted Ryan frequently, but no more so than Romney did last week. In a political debate at this level, this sort of thing is de rigueur. Anyone feinting shock that Joe Biden was mean either has never seen Joe Biden debate before or has such thin skin that they should consider a career in something other than politics.

The most telling part of last night’s debate was Paul Ryan’s abject refusal to provide specifics on the Romney-Ryan tax plan. This was it, the big night. Here he was, before the biggest audience he’s had since the GOP convention, and this is what he gave us:

RYAN: Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. You see, I understand the…

RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the… Do you know exactly what you’re doing?

RYAN: Look—look at what Mitt Romney—look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that.

What we’re saying is, here’s our framework. Lower tax rates 20 percent. We raised about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forego about $1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is, deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation so we can lower tax rates across the board. Now, here’s why I’m saying this. What we’re saying is, here’s the framework…

We want to work with Congress—we want to work with the Congress on how best to achieve this. That means successful. Look…

RADDATZ: No specifics, again.

RYAN: Mitt—what we’re saying is, lower tax rates 20 percent, start with the wealthy, work with Congress to do it…

RADDATZ: And you guarantee this math will add up?

RYAN: Absolutely.

Raddatz was asking for some nitty-gritty, wonky stuff. But the nitty-gritty matters, especially when it involves federal tax exemptions and deductions. And Paul Ryan is the “details” guy in the GOP. He’s supposed to be the wonky one, the one who gets turned on by a spreadsheet. To say “congress can decide” is an abject abandonment of the President’s role in recommending and suggesting policy by setting the political agenda. (US CONST Art. II, Sec. 3, cl. 2.) While it is true that all such legislation must originate in the House of Representatives, and it is refreshing to see someone defer to the Constitution, as a practical matter it doesn’t work that way. “The President proposes and Congress disposes” goes the political chestnut. A President Romney would have the responsibility to propose certain cuts to the Congress. He has a responsibility to tell the American people what those would be before they elect him President, not after. Paul Ryan missed his opportunity to do that last night.

Onward to the Town Hall! A roomfull of “undecided” voters… what could possibly go wrong?

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