The definition of a draw in a vice presidential debate has three elements: (1) each side can say with a reasonably straight face that its guy did well and prevailed; (2) each side can say with similar face that the other side’s guy was, well, faced; and (3) both sides can make these claims publicly without coming off as delusional or hallucinatory. All three conditions were met at Thursday’s debate, and a pair of instant polls right after piled on with a mixed verdict: a CBS survey of uncommitted voters gave Joe Biden the win by 19 points (50-31), while a CNN survey had Paul Ryan up by 4 points (48-44). Taken as a whole it adds up to a night where everyone finds a reason to come away happy and nobody goes to bed grumpy, as huge swaths of blue America did last week.
There was good and bad in each candidate’s performance. Biden was frequently assertive and substantive — when he wasn’t being snide and dismissive. On the down side, he had trouble at times stopping himself from being overly snide and dismissive. Yes, several of Ryan’s vapid little prepared speechlet-answers invited dismissiveness in spades, but the act of being dismissive eats valuable time that could have been used to cry bullshit in far more substantive ways.
Much will be said about Biden’s occasional high-amp grinning and eye-rolling while listening to Ryan speak. OK, we get it — the debate coaches wanted upbeat and engaged, not dour like Obama last week — but this was overcompensating. It seriously overstates the case to call it, as Fox News’s Brit Hume did, “derisive sneering,” but it did grow off-putting. Fortunately, as the debate wore on Biden managed to dial back the split-screen mugging. Early on Biden seemed to have difficulty finding his way into the right give-and-take rhythm with opponent and moderator, but he found his footing in the second half, spending more time orchestrating the conversation rather than just reacting to it. He also knew how to look straight into the camera at times and address the folks at home directly — this worked well. It wasn’t clear that Ryan had any idea where the camera was.
Spinning as hard as he could after the debate ended, Obama senior advisor David Plouffe told a visibly perplexed gaggle of MSNBC talking heads that “Our strategy was not zingers.” No shit. Nor was it engagement, apparently. The prevailing reaction among the commentariat that it had been a good night for Mitt Romney and a weak one for Barack Obama took hold quickly and reasonably. Romney did pretty well, but the collective verdict was clearly propelled more by Obama’s weakness than Romney’s strength. As James Carville summed it up, “The president didn’t bring his A game.”
To be sure, some were willing to heap praise on Romney for strategic and rhetorical brilliance (“head and shoulders above anything we’ve seen him do before,” pronounced CNN’s David Gergen). But the Romney on display wasn’t really markedly different from the Romney we’ve seen all along: a prepared, lucid and congenial politician right out of central casting who will look into a camera and say whatever he thinks he needs to say to get past a question, facts and prior positions be damned. Romney owns that role, and it showed.
Critiques of Obama in the debate’s aftermath focused on the things he didn’t talk about: job creation numbers, Bain, foreign bank accounts, obstructionism in Congress, women, and the 47 percent thing, to name a few. All true, but some of the biggest missed opportunities weren’t things not said, but rather things that were said — by Romney. Two in particular stand out as big openings for Obama to draw a broad and compelling contrast not between wonky policy preferences, but between their big-picture governing philosophies.
With just hours to go before Mitt Romney and Barack Obama face off in Denver for Evasionfest 2012, the first chapter, have a look at this video spot seeking something a little more serious than we are likely to get. It comes from Stephen Barton, who survived the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in July.
Remarkably, Demand a Plan's interactive map has Tennessee not in the worst performing category of states in terms of making it easy for dangerous individuals to buy guns. But fear not, firearm worshippers, we are in the second-to-worst category.
Near the bottom of that survey, pollsters assess the all-important likability factor, but not in a direct way, like asking respondents how much they like each candidate. Instead, they pose a set of comparative hypotheticals of the "who would you rather do ___ with" sort. Here's the full set of them and the overall results for registered voters in the sample of people who responded to each question:
On a ship in a storm, who would you rather have as the captain? (Obama +12%)
Who would you rather invite to dinner at your home? (Obama +22%)
Who would you rather go on an overnight camping trip with? (Obama +14%)
Who would you rather have babysit your children? (Obama 41%, Romney 41%)
Whose music playlist would you rather listen to? (Obama +16%)
Who would you rather see as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars? (Obama +25%)
On almost all of these questions, demographic breakdowns markedly favor Obama regardless of age, gender, income or education. Even those over 50 would rather listen to Obama's playlist by 10 percentage points. Only those who self-identify as Republicans or conservatives are more apt to invite Romney to dinner, go on a camping trip with him, or groove on his tunes.
Were you watching former President Bill Clinton's nomination speech just minutes ago for incumbent President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention? More to the point, what were you doing while you were watching it? Judging from the humid torrent of tweets — and a peculiar similarity in the language and tone — we suspect nine months from now we'll be greeting the first generation of Clinton Boomers.
If you missed it, via the wonder of Storify, we present below: The Stages of Arousal During Bill Clinton's Speech. Dim the lights, put on a little Marvin Gaye, and let's get it on.
At the City Paper, Ken Whitehouse has a wild tale of hackers who claim to have accessed GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's phantom tax returns through a Franklin accounting office, and say they plan to release the documents at the end of the month:
An anonymous individual or group is alleging that they have gained "all available 1040 tax forms" of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by accessing computers in the Franklin office of the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
An anonymous posting on a file sharing website states that PwC has been hacked. This same website has been used by hackers who have claimed to have infiltrated computers from companies like Apple in the past.
An excerpt from one message states:
"Romney's 1040 tax returns were taken from the PWC office 8/25/2012 by gaining access to the third floor via a gentleman working on the 3rd floor of the building. Once on the 3rd floor, the team moved down the stairs to the 2nd floor and setup shop in an empty office room. During the night, suite 260 was entered, and all available 1040 tax forms for Romney were copied. A package was sent to the PWC on suite 260 with a flash drive containing a copy of the 1040 files, plus copies were sent to the Democratic office in the county and copies were sent to the GOP office in the county at the beginning of the week also containing flash drives with copies of Romney's tax returns before 2010. A scanned signature image for Mitt Romney from the 1040 forms were scanned and included with the packages, taken from earlier 1040 tax forms gathered and stored on the flash drives.
The group will release all available files to the public on the 28 of September, 2012."
You've gotta read the rest — which includes an extortionary threat to release the tax records of major media outlets, pitting those who want the data released quicker than the deadline against those who don't want it released at all. (At stake: lots of highly secure Bitcoins.)
You saw it, and maybe you still don't believe it. Above is Clint Eastwood's soon-to-be-legendary performance at the Republican National Convention. If you missed it, Billy Crystal will give you a half-dozen recaps during next year's Oscar monologue. Or you can just check out this Storify account, taken from reactions on Twitter in the moment.
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