Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin participate in the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. (AP Photo/Pool-Rick Wilking)
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:34AM
DANVILLE, Ky. — Joe Biden deftly defended President Barack Obama’s record at Thursday’s vice presidential debate, swatting down Paul Ryan, who didn’t score playing dodge ball.
I’m a bit torn over whether Ryan’s biggest mistake was offering little about Mitt Romney’s vision for the nation or his refusal to answer some major questions about abortion, jobs and when U.S. troops should be sent to war.
Ryan, 42, looked very junior to Biden, who turns 70 next month — that he could not help. When Ryan invoked former President Ronald Reagan’s name when the debate turned to bipartisanship, Biden remind him how he was in the room with Reagan in 1983 when “we all got together” to save Social Security.
After Obama’s Denver debate debacle last week — where Obama stood passively while Mitt Romney beat him up — Biden arrived at Centre College for the one and only showdown with Ryan having to stop Romney’s new surge of momenteum.
Ryan was an unartful dodger. Here are two examples that jumped out at me:
Near the end of the debate, when moderator ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked about abortion — if a backer of abortion rights should be worried about a Romney presidency — Ryan avoided an answer. The point was not about who supports abortion rights — Biden does, Ryan does not — but rather if a Romney administration would be proactive in trying to reverse Roe vs. Wade.
And with unemployment a defining issue in the presidential contest, Ryan totally sidestepped a question about if it was possible to get unemployment to 6 percent —and if so, how long would it take.
This was an important question because so far in this campaign, Romney has never, ever said what the jobless rate would be if he were president. The most Romney has ever said was that he would create 12 million new jobs.
Last Friday, the jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent — the lowest since Obama took office. Romney has been beating Obama up constantly for not getting the jobless rate below the 8 percent he promised he would.
Biden did answer. “We can and we will” get to 6 percent and “I don’t know how long it will take.”
The first 23 minutes of the 90-minute debate were spent on Libya, and I’ll get to that. Within a minute of the turn to the economy, Biden jumped in where Obama would not tread last week — on Romney’s secretly recorded comment about how 47 percent of voters did not pay taxes.
Recounting the Obama record for helping the middle class, Biden said Romney was not offering much, “but it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. . . . I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it’s about time they take some responsibility here.”
Ryan came back with a good line: “And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
The Ryan and Biden clash over the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya — where the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats were killed — comes as Romney has been escalating his criticism of Obama’s Middle East policy.
With an assist from Republicans in Congress, Obama has been on the defensive over the attacks — especially since United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice initially said they were the result of a mob incited by a video produced in the U.S. that disparaged Muslims.
There was a heated hearing about security at the consulate Thursday conducted by the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In Romney’s Monday foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney scolded Obama’s White House for taking its time in conceding that “the attacks against us in Libya were not an isolated incident” and were part of a post-Arab Spring anti-Americanism.
Biden said “we will find and bring to justice the men who did this. . . . Wherever the facts lead us, wherever they lead us, we will make clear to the American public, because whatever mistakes were made will not be made again.”
Since Biden had already acknowledged mistakes may have been made, Ryan didn’t add much when he said, “It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack?’
Biden started to fix the problem. Next Tuesday, at the second presidential debate, Obama will have to live up to the Biden standard, or Romney will wipe him out again.