Biden vs. Ryan

So I really haven’t blogged at all since I’ve been in France, but I wanted to say a couple quick things about the VP debate last night:

1. Like many folks, I was quite happy with Martha Raddatz’s performance as the mediator.  Except for one thing: whenever Joe Biden would mention that the Obama administration’s policy was in accordance with recommendations of the Joint Chiefs, Raddatz would interject with something like, “But they’re answerable to civilian authorities,” as though to suggest that political considerations would bend their suggestions away from purely military considerations.  I’m not sure this is true (but can’t really say without looking into the matter more empirically), but more fundamentally, isn’t it a good thing that the US military is answerable to a civilian authority?  Isn’t that what we want?  Raddatz kept bringing it up as though that were a flaw in the decision-making process, but it seems to me that’s just the sort of thing you want in a democratic society that operates according to the rule of law.

2. David Brooks took issue with Biden’s tone in this debate.  He thought the VP was too aggressive, that he “exude[d] more drama than a decade of Latin American soap operas.”  And he chalks this up to a generational difference, i.e., that the political climate when Biden came on the scene in the 70s was much more conducive to this sort of theatricality and aggression, whereas politicians like Ryan are of a generation that favors cool, calm behavior.  And he thinks that Biden’s style is the sort of thing that makes efficient politics and effective policy-making more difficult.  I’ve got a number of problems with this.  I don’t think Biden was quite so bad as Brooks thinks, though certainly he was a bit obnoxious at times.    More importantly, I don’t think this was a generational issue at all.  I think you can see Biden’s performance last night partially as stemming from his personality but mostly as a political calculation.  This is what the Obama campaign thought needed to happen to make up for Obama’s comparatively lackluster performance in the first debate, and Biden pulled it off with style.  Talking about generational differences doesn’t really make sense (to me, anyway) and obscures the real dynamics here.

All that aside, though, I’d like to join the ranks of those who fetishize decency and cordiality in discourse.  Yes, people need a certain level of civility  to have a functional political conversation, but honesty and candor are much more important.  I’ll take an angry Biden who calls out Ryan on his obfuscation and untruths over a more polite one who refuses to do so any day.  And while the debate was unquestionably heated at times, it wasn’t out of control.  I was quite happy with Biden’s approach; it might be just what our politics needs in order to function better.

Image by azipaybarah

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