The Vice President Outshines the Commander-in-Chief

When Governor Romney offered his insight that “debates are not about winning” the day before the first presidential debate, he successfully managed to do what ultimately would assure his success: he lowered expectations. People assumed that someone who thought debates were not about winning wouldn’t actually manage to win one.

Image courtesy of White House, public domain

As expected, the two candidates went head to head and clashed on every domestic issue. The debate was split into five segments:  jobs, the federal deficit, economic entitlements, healthcare and the role of government.  Financial issues were at the centre of the debate and showed the big divide between the two candidates and their parties. Fact checkers have been busy over the last weeks comparing what was said in the debate to what was actually true on the ground.

In the immediate aftermath of the debate, people seemed to view Obama as soft and criticised him for not cracking down when he should have. But debates are as much about image as they are about substance and Romney came out victorious in that regard. The general public does not go through the trouble of double-checking all the facts and figures, but it will look for leadership qualities. While a lot of people may have seen Governor Romney’s forceful attitude as rude and sometimes off-putting, it also made him seem determined and strong-willed, a trait Obama lacked and which cost him the debate.

Discussion about the debate has been visceral since it aired, especially on the Internet. From people scripting a meeting between President Obama and The West Wing’s fictional president Josiah Bartlett to others creating slow-motion videos of a potential breach of regulation by Mitt Romney (in videos he can be seen bringing a prop on stage, an act firmly forbidden by debate regulations), criticism has been ripe.

The debate has profited Governor Romney’s campaign and polling numbers. The New York Times’ election blog shows that despite gains for Romney – some of them, like in Florida, significant – Obama is still likely to take the election. Other outlets like CNN however are showing the potential outcome as undecided. The latest polls updated on the weekend this article was written show that, unless things change dramatically, it’s going to be a very tight election indeed.

The President’s campaign strategy over the last week has mainly consisted of questioning the truth in Governor Romney’s arguments.  Romney has been criticised by the Obama camp in speeches, online posts and articles. Bill Clinton expressed his surprise that “moderate Mitt” had shown up during the debate, despite not having been around for most of the campaign season. President Obama now seems to be playing towards his own constituencies more than ever, going from town meeting to town meeting, and pointing out to Democratic voters where Mitt Romney strayed from the truth during the debate.

The fact of the matter is that both candidates stretched the truth during the debate. But Obama made the mistake of not correcting his opponent, while Governor Romney did not miss the opportunity to call the President out on his inaccuracies.

There is one person who has no trouble saying what he means and calling people out: Vice President Joe Biden.  Biden proved that once again on October 11th. While Bill Maher’s inflammatory tweet about “an old man beating a child on (his) TV” was exaggeration, it was obvious that the Vice President’s experience shone through in this debate with the much younger Congressman Paul Ryan.

Starting with the death of the US Ambassador in Benghazi last month, the vice presidential debate encompassed both foreign and domestic policy giving both candidates the opportunity to criticise the opposition’s stance.  Congressman Ryan painted a picture of the caring Mitt Romney he knows on a personal basis, a man who wants everyone to do well, wants all Americans to be successful. Biden was quick to contradict these issues, sometimes harshly, but mostly fairly.

Vice President Biden succeeded in what gave President Obama trouble: being tough on his opponent. He didn’t let the congressman get away with certain comments that Governor Romney was able to make during the presidential debate. The Republican response has been to call him condescending and rude, while the other side saw him as experienced and tough.  Unlike after the presidential debate, where polls showed a clear win for Governor Romney throughout, the polls on Friday after the vice-presidential debate were split. While CNN’s results showed a 48/44 win for Paul Ryan, CBS’ poll of undecided voters showed a Biden win at 50 to 31 percent.

A lot of people may have been worried about Biden “stepping in it” before the debate, but in the end the discussion between him and Congressman Ryan was entertaining and an enjoyable political debate, something that the presidential debate a week before was not.

However, President Obama’s strength has always been in speeches and interactions with the audience, so in the end, that’s where he’ll make his mark. Two debates were left by the time this article was written, two debates that can and will without a doubt shape the outcome of this election; a town meeting–style debate on October 16th and a formal debate on foreign policy on October 22nd. It remains to be seen if the President will take a leaf out of his Vice-President’s book and present himself differently in the remainder of the debate cycle.

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