Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice-president Joe Biden met at Centre College in Danville, Ky., on Oct. 11, to debate issues of domestic and foreign policy.
Martha Raddatz, the senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News, moderated the debate, the only vice-presidential debate scheduled before the presidential election on Nov. 6.
Raddatz prefaced the debate with a description of the format, explaining that the 90-minute debate would be pided into nine ten-minute segments. Each segment would begin with a question, after which each candidate would have two minutes to address the question. The remaining time in each segment would be used for further discussion. Raddatz also explained that her questions would vary in focus from issues of domestic policy to issues of foreign policy.
Death of a U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, Libya
After introducing the two vice-presidential candidates and welcoming them to the debate, Raddatz jumped right into the debate with a poignant question concerning the death of U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Citing recent information from the State Department that the assault was premeditated and executed by heavily armed men, Raddatz first asked Biden if this was not a massive intelligence failure.
Biden addressed the ambassador’s death as an obvious tragedy, but seemed to shirk the question by first promising the American people that they would bring to justice those who were responsible. He then reverted to promoting Obama based on his record, saying that the president had accomplished his highest priority by killing Osama bin Laden. Biden also attacked Romney’s stance on bin Laden from several years ago.
“He didn’t understand it was more than about taking a murderer off the battlefield,” Biden said. “It was about restoring America’s heart and letting terrorists around the world know, if you do harm to America, we will track you to the gates of hell if need be.”
Paul Ryan’s response, which focused more on the question, pointed out the failure of the Obama administration to acknowledge it as a terrorist attack.
“It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack,” he said.
“Look,” he continued, “if we’re hit by terrorists we’re going to call it for what it is, a terrorist attack. Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him. Shouldn’t we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew that there was an Al Qaeda cell with arms?”
Other remarks by Ryan were referred to as “malarkey” by Biden, who denied that the Obama administration knew about the threat to the ambassador because the information community did not tell them there was a threat.
Threat of Iran
Ryan was the first to answer Raddatz’s question about Iran, which she called the biggest security threat this nation is facing.
“We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability,” he began. “Now, let’s take a look at where we’ve gone — come from. When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material — nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They’re racing toward a nuclear weapon. They’re four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability.”
Ryan also criticized the current administration for opposing tougher sanctions on Iran.
Biden responded with a smile and look of disbelief.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “Look, imagine had we let the Republican Congress work out the sanctions. You think there’s any possibility the entire world would have joined us, Russia and China, all of our allies? These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period. Period.”
Biden denied, too, that Iran is close to a nuclear missile because, according to him, it does not have anything in which to put its nuclear material.
State of the economy and the unemployment rate
Raddatz shifted the debate from foreign policy in the Middle East to the state of the nation’s economy with a question regarding the unemployment rate, which until recently was above eight percent.
“Can you get unemployment to under 6 percent, and how long will it take?” was her question.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” Biden responed. “We can and we will get it under 6 percent. Let’s look at — let’s take a look at the facts. Let’s look at where we were when we came to office. The economy was in free fall. We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class.”
Biden then attacked Romney, asking “What did (he) do? Romney said, ‘No, let Detroit go bankrupt.'” He also chided Romney for “writing off” 47 percent of America.
Ryan countered with an attack on the Obama administration, saying that “we’re going in the wrong direction. Look at where we are. The economy is barely limping along. It’s growing a 1.3 percent.”
Ryan promoted his and Romney’s five-point plan as the way to stimulate the economy, and he also talked about Romney’s character, painting him as a charitable man who cares about every American.
Medicare and Social Security
Keeping the discussion focused on economics, Raddatz directed a more specific discussion on Medicare and Social Security.
“Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Ryan quickly fired off. “Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt.”
He then explained how Social Security helped his family when he was younger. As a result, he and Romney want to improve the system by giving more people the liberty of deciding what coverage they will have.
“We would rather have 50 million future seniors determine how their Medicare is delivered to them instead of 15 bureaucrats deciding what, if, when, (and) where they get it,” Ryan said.
Biden defended his administration’s actions concerning Medicare and Social Security.
“What we did is, we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare,” he said. “We cut the cost of Medicare. We stopped overpaying insurance companies, doctors and hospitals. The AMA supported what we did. AARP endorsed what we did. And it extends the life of Medicare to 2024. They want to wipe this all out.”
Impact of tax reform under each candidate.
Following the debate on Medicare and Social Security, Raddatz asked the vice-presidential candidates what would be the impact of tax reform on each class under each presidential candidate.
Biden began, emphasizing his administration’s policy that, “The middle class will pay less and people making $1 million or more will begin to contribute slightly more.”
However, after explaining that the premise of Romney and his plan is to grow the economy and create jobs, Ryan gave a warning to the middle class.
“And so the next time you hear them say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll get a few wealthy people to pay their fair share,’ watch out, middle class, the tax bill’s coming to you.”
The debate shifted back to foreign policy, with Raddatz asking why the U.S. should not pull out now.
Seemingly defending continued efforts in Afghanistan, Ryan said, “We don’t want to lose the gains we’ve gotten. We want to make sure that the Taliban does not come back in and give Al Qaeda a safe haven.”
“We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition,” he added, although he said withdrawal would be conditional as that deadline drew closer.
The vice-president, however, emphatically stated that the U.S. will be out of Afghanistan by 2014.
“We are leaving in 2014,” Biden said. “Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800
billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed.”
The civil war in Syria
The debate remained focused on the Middle East with Raddatz’s introduction of the Syrian civil war.
“In March of last year, President Obama explained the military action taken in Libya by saying it was in the national interest to go in and prevent further massacres from occurring there,” Raddatz explained. “So why doesn’t the same logic apply in Syria?”
“It’s a different country,” was Biden’s argument. “It is five times as large geographically, it has one-fifth the population, that is Libya, one-fifth the population, five times as large geographically.”
Ryan, on the other hand, pointed out what Romney and his administration would do differently.
“We wouldn’t refer to Bashar Assad as a reformer when he’s killing his own civilians with his Russian-provided weapons. We wouldn’t be outsourcing our foreign policy to the United Nations giving Vladimir Putin veto power over our efforts to try and deal with this issue.”
The personal beliefs of each candidate as a Catholic concerning abortion
After a heated back-and-forth over the issue of U.S. involvement in Syria, the debate took on a more personal tone as the candidates were encouraged to speak openly about their religious beliefs and the influence of their faith on the issue of abortion.
On this issue, both candidates, who are practicing Catholics, talked about how the Catholic church influences every aspect of their lives. However, each candidate holds a different stance when it comes to implementing policy, especially when it pertains to abortion.
When it does come to policy, though, Ryan said, “The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”
“What troubles me more,” the congressman added, “is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.”
Biden agreed with Ryan and his church that life begins at conception, but said, “I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the — the congressman.”
Responding to a comment of a soldier regarding the negativity of campaign ads, both candidates admitted that the mudslinging was shameful, yet ironically continued the mudslinging.
So who won? According to a poll by CNN, this debate was much closer than the first presidential debate. Forty-eight percent thought Ryan won, but 44 percent thought that Biden won. The margin of error was also five percent.
When asked who she thought won, Jessica Amidan, a sophomore from Richland, Wash., studying elementary education, said, “I feel like they both were pretty even on their playing ground. Biden was more passionate, and Ryan was more practical. Ryan was trying to get his message across and trying to point out what it is not going right.”
“I was very impressed with Ryan,” she added. “I liked when they asked about religion, he didn’t go back on his beliefs.”
Elizabeth Derrick, a sophomore from Farmington majoring in English, was also asked who she thought won, but said, “I honestly couldn’t say who won.”
“When Romney chose his vice presidential candidate I was disappointed he didn’t choose a minority,” she said. “I was hoping he would branch out. But watching last night I was very impressed with Paul Ryan. I was impressed by how he held his own even when Biden was a little cynical.”
Derrick, who is looking forward to voting, also said, “I definitely liked how Ryan was logical because it helped me to figure out what was going on, because I didn’t know the context, and I really appreciated that.”