1. Any outcome that wasn’t an unspinnable defeat was good for the Obama campaign. Ever since the first presidential debate, the Obama campaign has suffered from the media interpreting everything they do as a desperate and probably misguided attempt to deal with the consequences of Obama’s debate defeat. The VP debate has reset the story. I think nobody (or just about nobody) decided to vote for Obama yesterday, but the conversation is different from what it has been for the last week.
2. On Biden: I saw an emotionally unstable, windbag pol. We have to expect some of his type in a legislature, but the impression I got was of a guy who should not be allowed within a mile of government executive authority. Look back at the Biden who showed up yesterday. Would you want that guy as President? Would you want him as mayor or police commissioner? What would you think if your kid’s principal acted this way in front of you?
3. But Ryan came across as a well briefed guy applying for a job in which he had studied hard, but had no relevant experience. That isn’t entirely fair, but it was what I saw. He did come across as emotionally stable. Which is nice.
4. Republicans have a rhetorical and policy problem on foreign policy. There is a lot of policy continuity between the Obama administration and the last few years of the Bush administration. There would probably be a lot of continuity between the Obama administration and a Romney administration. The Republicans don’t have an obviously popular set of alternative policies to offer. Most people don’t want war with Iran (or more overt threats of the same) or extending the American military presence in Afghanistan. Romney-Ryan aren’t willing to invest the time and take the political risks it would take to make the case for such policies (possibly because they don’t support such policies.) So they are left with arguing for relatively small (but maybe important) policy changes. The problem is that the smallish changes are accompanied with fairly extravagant rhetoric. Ryan can talk about the “unraveling” of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but the actual policy alternatives on offer don’t match up with the indictment. Maybe tougher sanctions against Iran’s central bank would be a good and achievable idea. That’s fine. It would be better if they dialed back the intensity of the criticism and offered a trade up instead of a big change. The Republican ticket’s current rhetoric comes across as both hostile and opportunistic and produces the political drawback of both approaches without the political benefits of either.
5. Liberals have created this fantasy world version of the Obama/Romney debate. Romney won the debate by dominating the discussion and interrupting. Not true. Obama actually spoke a few minutes more than Romney. Romney did talk over Jim Lehrer when Lehrer tried to cut him off. But here is the thing: Lehrer was spending more time trying to cut Romney off even though Obama was doing more of the talking. The complaint that Romney “bullied” Lehrer amounted to complaining that Obama didn’t have an even bigger share of the time and/or that Lehrer should have actively intervened on Obama’s side – perhaps to keep the debate “focused.” There is a reason why the Romney “bullying” stuff came almost exclusively from partisans of the President. They think that the job of journalists is to help them win and any effective Republican argument is either mean, a lie, or a mean lie. For this group it will always be losing = “were were robbed” + “we need to be even bigger jerks next time.” By way of comparison, criticism of Biden came from across the spectrum exclusive of those who are committed partisans of Obama. That is because the behaviors of Biden and Romney were qualitatively different. If Romney gesticulates like Biden at the next debate, there will be calls to have Romney medicated.
6. But there is more to the story than that. I think most mainstream media journalists are trying to do a fair job most of the time. That the vast majority of them are left-of-center produces blind spots, and I sense that they sometimes informally give each other permission to favor one side of a while, but I also think most of them want to be able to look in the mirror and tell themselves a story that they gave both sides a fair shake. The story might not actually be true, but they want to believe it and that places some constraints on their behavior. The problem is that I suspect the social circles of these liberal journalists intersect substantially with those of more explicitly and unreflectively partisan members of the upper middle-class. I don’t mean primarily left-wing journalists and activists (though there is some of that.) I’m talking more friends from college and other members of their nonprofessional social networks. A lot of those kinds of liberals were complaining about how unfair (to Obama) and weak (on Romney) Lehrer was. I think that has an impact even on people who are making some (though hardly strenuous) effort to be fair. Maybe my very liberal friends have a point. Maybe we should be tougher. And unspoken (but very much present) is the conviction that we need to be tougher on the Republicans.