During Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, there were plenty of allegations, lies and Joe Biden smiles. If anything defined the debate, however, it was Paul Ryan’s truly impressive ability to avoid answering questions specifically.
Whether he was changing the subject, filibustering or completely avoiding the stated question, Ryan found a way to not answer when an answer was demanded. Like dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan, Ryan truly knew the “five D’s” of dodging — and whether he was dodging, ducking, dipping, diving or dodging Paul Ryan performed masterfully on Thursday. Here are Ryan’s top five dodges of the night.
1. The Blame Game
BIDEN: And I love my friend here. I — I’m not allowed to show letters but go on our website, he sent me two letters saying, “By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?” We sent millions of dollars. You know…
RADDATZ: You did ask for stimulus money, correct?
BIDEN: Sure he did. By the way…
RYAN: On two occasions we — we — we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. That’s what we do. We do that for all constituents who are…
(CROSSTALK) BIDEN: I love that. I love that. This was such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying — writes the Department of Energy a letter saying, “The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.” His words. And now he’s sitting here looking at me.
Paul Ryan has been resolute in declaring the 2009 stimulus a miserable failure, which makes it rather inconvenient that Ryan asked the Obama administration to send stimulus money to his district in order to create jobs.
When this came to light back in August, Ryan lied, then blamed his staff. Of course, lying again might work, but Vice President Joe Biden was in a feisty mood, and probably would have called him out, so instead he went for a new approach. It was just constituent service, you see — Paul Ryan will ask for government money for anyone in his district who asks. So if you’re out of work, you might want to give Ryan’s office a call.
All right, Paul Ryan probably won’t secure you any stimulus money, but at least he managed to come up with an artful dodge. If he hadn’t, he might have been forced to admit that not all government spending is bad. Some — like stimulus spending during a near-depression — is downright good.
2. The Boogeyman Move
BIDEN: Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this — a man who introduced a bill that would raise it 40 — $6,400 a year; knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he’d sign it, or me and the president?
RYAN: That statistic was completely misleading. But more importantly…
BIDEN: That’s — there are the facts right…
RYAN: This is what politicians do when they don’t have a record to run on: try to scare people from voting for you.
This was a favorite tactic of Ryan’s. Whenever the heat got a bit too much for the lad from Janesville, he would accuse Biden and President Barack Obama of trying to scare people.
This is, of course, fertile territory for Ryan. The Obama-Biden campaign has been highlighting a number of Romney-Ryan plans, simply because they are incredibly scary. Voucherizing Medicare? War in Iran? Raising taxes on the middle class so the wealthy get a tax cut? That’s legitimately terrifying!
Ryan therefore is at a huge advantage. Any time Biden talked about what Ryan wanted to do, Ryan could turn around and proclaim that Biden was just trying to scare people. Of course, Ryan neglected to mention that Biden was scaring people by saying things that were true.
3. The Denial
RADDATZ: Well, let’s talk about this 20 percent [tax cut]. You have refused — and, again — to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?
RYAN: Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. You see, I understand the…
RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the…
(CROSSTALK) BIDEN: That would — that would be a first for the Republican Congress.
RADDATZ: Do you know exactly what you’re doing?
RYAN: Look — look at what Mitt Romney — look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that.
What we’re saying is, here’s our framework. Lower tax rates 20 percent. We raised about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forego about $1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is, deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation…
This was a truly exceptional dodge, worthy of its own column. When the history of dodging debate questions is written, this moment will figure prominently in it.
Ryan is in a very bad spot. Mitt Romney has proposed a tax cut for everyone that is paid for by the elimination of deductions, which leaves everyone with the same taxes in the end, which is kind of impossible and begs the question of why Mitt’s bothering in the first place. (The answer is simple: he’s lying about the rich paying the same amount of taxes.)
If you start talking about the deductions, you realize quickly that in order to stay revenue-neutral, you have to eliminate a lot of deductions people like, such as mortgage deductions and student loan deductions and charitable giving deductions. This is, to say the least, politically untenable. So the Romney campaign has hit upon a strategy — never admit to anything.
Ryan took this up to eleven here. Pressed for specifics, Ryan flatly refused to give them, talking about a “framework” instead. I mean, sure, that makes sense — President Romney can just wander over to Congress, say, “Hey, cut taxes — but keep it revenue-neutral.” I’m sure Mitt won’t have any ideas beyond that.
4. The Pivot
RYAN: That’s why — those are the reasons why I’m pro-life. Now I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don’t agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. What troubles me more is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.
Remember before when Paul Ryan said that politicians try to scare people when they don’t have a record to run on? Well, Paul Ryan has a long and detailed record on abortion…and he doesn’t particularly want to run on it. So he did what he had to do — he quickly pivoted off abortion and onto the birth control debate, because every American knows how much women hate getting birth control covered by insurance.
Ryan had an extra reason to dodge here. Not only is the GOP’s hardline anti-abortion and anti-contraception position anathema to women the Romney-Ryan campaign must win, but Mitt Romney’s willingness not to imprison women who seek an abortion after they’re raped is anathema to Paul Ryan, who has sought to ban abortion in all cases, and undoubtedly would if he became president. Ryan, you may recall, sponsored a bill that would have limited federal funding of abortion to cases of “forcible rape,” because evidently, if there’s no force involved, it’s not really rape.
Given the unpopular nature of Ryan’s abortion position, I guess it isn’t a surprise that he’d do anything to avoid answering the question completely.
RADDATZ: I’m — I’m going to move on to this closing question because we are running out of time.
Certainly (inaudible) and you’ve said it here tonight, that the two of you respect our troops enormously. Your son has served and perhaps someday your children will serve as well.
I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, quote, “the ads are so negative and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country.”
What would you say to that American hero about this campaign? And at the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone?
RYAN: First of all, I’d thank him to his service to our country.
Second of all, I’d say we are not going to impose these devastating cuts on our military which compromises their mission and their safety.
And then I would say, you have a president who ran for president four years ago promising hope and change, who has now turned his campaign into attack, blame and defame.
You see, if you don’t have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It’s what he’s doing right now.
Look at all the string of broken promises….
This was perhaps Ryan’s most brilliant dodge of the night. He took a question — “Don’t you think negative campaigning is bad?” — and managed to answer by making a series of attacks on President Barack Obama.
It was masterful. Ryan regurgitated every talking point he could think of about how awful Barack Obama is, and how we have to get rid of him in November. He never stopped for a second even to acknowledge that sure, he could understand why negative campaigning rankles people.
But why would he? For all Ryan’s assertion that the Obama-Biden campaign is running a campaign of fear, Ryan himself is hamstrung. If the Romney-Ryan campaign actually had to be specific about what they wanted to do, they’d lose. Badly. Given the choices on the table, Ryan could not possibly even acknowledge that negative campaigning is off-putting. The Romney campaign can’t make a positive case for itself. Going negative is all they have — and it was all Ryan could do to avoid having to admit it.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall