Friday, October 12, 2012

The VP debate

Last night I watched the VP debate with a group of university students in Mexico in Spanish - CNN en Español translated the whole thing.   It was an interesting experience.  The polling in the US was not as one sided as it had been for the first Presidential debate.   For example - CNBC had Ryan winning it with 56-36%, CBS said Biden won with 50-31%, CNN said it was 48-44% Ryan.   Even the discussions of which candidate appealed to the undecided voters had mixed responses, some said Biden won them over others thought Ryan did.

The students thought Ryan was serious and determined and a bit nervous.  They were impressed with his command of the numbers. They thought Biden was rude and a bit disingenuous.    From my perspective I thought the split screen undercut Biden, because he was constantly on camera and so when he smirked it was always visible.  One other interesting item from the debate - several students could not understand what the VP does.   I quoted John Nance Garner (the job is not worth a bucket of warm spit) but that one was very hard to translate.

In preparation for the debate we discussed both the debate process and the way that the US elects presidents both in terms of the electoral college and timeline of running from caucuses and primaries to conventions to the actual business of campaigning.   The process is bewildering to many outside the US.

From my perspective both candidates may have done what they needed to do but neither scored a knockout.   Ryan was able to introduce himself as a thoughtful, well prepared candidate.   Biden did not make any major gaffes and was combative.   I think he may have helped to fire up his base.  The one thing unclear to me is whether Biden's theatrics will hurt him with the undecideds.  The visual to me of Biden - constantly on screen and all of his grimacing and gestures was off putting - but then I am not an undecided voter.   David Gergen commented after the debate that Ryan was more "presidential"; while Gloria Borger said Biden was "condescending."   Rachel Maddow called it an "insanely kinetic night."


Madeleine said...

A review usually should include at least some focus on the content of a debate, not just HOW someone performed. I am not sure what the purpose of this commentary is...

Jonathan Brown said...

I agree about covering the content. Most commentaries I read thought Biden was flawed in his responses on Libya. From my perspective, the complexity of the economic issues - where Biden tried to score points had Ryan winning on substance but Biden certainly won some points on firing up his base.

The real purpose of this post was to register impressions that a group of students outside the US saw when they watched the debate.

Perhaps the best conclusion - which I did not state clearly - was that the students seemed to watch the exchange with interest and that many of them commented that debates by Mexican politicians are not at all like what they saw on Thursday.