- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2012

DANVILLE, Ky. — Looking to erase the memory of President Obama’s widely panned debate performance from a week ago, Vice President Joseph R. Biden took the fight to his rival Paul Ryan on Thursday, accusing him of obfuscating Republicans’ tax cut plans and calling GOP criticism of the administration’s handling of last month’s Libya terrorist attack “malarkey.”

Mr. Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, stood his ground and fought back by arguing the Obama administration was late in spotting terrorism in the Libya attack, has allowed Iran to get four years closer to a nuclear weapon, has left the economy in shambles and will have to raise taxes on the middle class.

“There aren’t enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for all their spending,” Mr. Ryan said. “Watch out middle class, the tax bill is coming to you.”

The two men faced off in their only debate of the presidential campaign, and the national audience saw repeated sharp exchanges, led chiefly by Mr. Biden, who said Republicans’ own tax plan doesn’t add up, and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would be forced to raise taxes on the middle class in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.

He also raised an issue that Mr. Obama shied away from in his debate last week with Mr. Romney, pointing to the Republican’s caught-on-tape comment that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on government and see themselves as victims.

“I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it’s about time they take some responsibility here,” Mr. Biden said.

“Instead of signing pledges to [Americans for Tax Reform President] Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we’re going to level the playing field. We’re going to give you a fair shot again,” Mr. Biden said.

“We are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the superwealthy,” he said.

The two men wasted little time in battling, with moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News asking Mr. Biden to explain why the administration at first blamed a video for the Libya consulate attacks, and only belatedly acknowledged terrorism.

Mr. Ryan echoed that message.

“It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack,” Mr. Ryan said. “This is becoming more troubling by the day.”

Mr. Biden chuckled through much of Mr. Ryan’s claims, then said Mr. Ryan was in error in most of his claims. He promised to “get to the bottom” of the security lapse that led to the attack, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed.

The vice president blamed the intelligence community for the false information that he, Mr. Obama and the rest of the administration gave in the immediate aftermath of the assault, when they dismissed terrorism and instead said it was an overheated protest of an anti-Islam video.

“That was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the administration had no knowledge of pleas from Libyan-based diplomats for more security at their outposts.

“We did not know they wanted more security,” he said.

He also said Mr. Ryan’s own budget that he wrote as chairman of the House Budget Committee would have spent $300 million less on embassy security than Mr. Obama wanted. However, at a hearing earlier this week, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb told a House panel that security decisions in Libya were not related to budget issues.

Ahead of the 90-minute debate, the Obama camp had tried to create a narrative that Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney are lying about their record.

“We now know that Mitt Romney will say anything to win, even if it’s not true,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters earlier in the day. “The question now is whether Congressman Ryan will adopt the same dishonest strategy, or if he’ll stand by the very extreme positions he’s taken as the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.”

After the debate, Mr. Obama said he was “going to make a special point of saying that I thought Joe Biden was terrific tonight. I could not be prouder of him.”

Mr. Romney’s team has countered that it’s Mr. Obama who is obfuscating things, accusing him of lying when he says the Republican has a $5 trillion tax-cut plan.

Last week’s presidential debate reversed the fortunes of both candidates, as the challenger drew rave reviews, and Mr. Obama has spent the week since explaining away his performance. Mr. Romney’s backers were re-energized, while many in Mr. Obama’s camp have been wringing their hands.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of national polls showed Mr. Romney with a razor-thin edge nationally. And the latest The Washington Times/Zogby Poll this week found voters now give Mr. Romney the upper hand when it comes to national security issues and restored Mr. Romney’s lead when it comes to which candidate they trust on the economy and jobs.

Mr. Obama has acknowledged he “had a bad night.” The blow, though, was softened by a better than expected jobs report released last week that said the national unemployment rate had dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent — returning it to the level that Mr. Obama inherited in 2009 when he took the presidential reins from George W. Bush.

When the conversation turned to jobs Thursday night, Mr. Ryan then got a little personal by bringing up the economic troubles facing Mr. Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa., to hammer the president’s record on unemployment.

“You know what the unemployment rate in Scranton is today? It’s about 10 percent,” Mr. Ryan said. “You know what it was the day you guys came in?”

“No,” Mr. Biden said.

“Eight-point-five percent,” Mr. Ryan replied. “That’s how it’s going all around America”

But Mr. Biden angrily dismissed the conclusion, arguing that Mr. Ryan doesn’t read statistics.

“That’s not how it’s going,” he said. “It’s going down.”

Thursday night was the biggest political stage of Mr. Ryan’s life, and it marked the generational faceoff the political world has been waiting for: pitting Mr. Biden, the old liberal bull with decades of experience in the Senate, against Mr. Ryan, the young conservative star.

Mr. Ryan’s youthful image was pumped up further on Thursday after Time magazine released a series of photographs that showed him posing while lifting weights in a red hat turned backwards.

Mr. Biden also reinforced the notion that he has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth when he touted last week that Mr. Obama wants a $1 trillion tax increase.

The two men lived up to their billing on Thursday — their styles couldn’t have been more different.

Mr. Ryan took notes, took sips from a cup of water and held a thin smile on his lips while Mr. Biden was talking.
But the vice president could not contain himself for much of the debate, rolling his eyes, repeatedly laughing at Mr. Ryan’s answers, talking over him and trying to correct him.

“That’s not what they said,” Mr. Biden interjected at one point when Mr. Ryan said actuaries had questioned some of the parts of the president’s health-care law.

“Mr. Vice President, I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for the last round,” Mr. Ryan retorted, referring to Mr. Obama’s bad debate last week. “I think we’d be better served if we don’t keep interrupting each other.”

The feistiness did not end there.

When Mr. Ryan noted that Democratic President John F. Kennedy “lowered tax rates …” Mr. Biden interrupted with a mocking “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?”

And when the issue of withdrawal dates from Afghanistan came up, while Mr. Ryan was giving his answer, Mr. Biden spoke over him: “We. Will. Leave. In. 2014.”

The back-and-forth left debate analysts wondering whether Mr. Biden’s performance would be viewed as the vice president being a happy warrior or surly old man.

Instant polls showed mixed reactions, with CNN polling saying that Mr. Ryan walked away the victor, and CBS News giving the nod to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan hunkered down in recent days preparing for the showdown at Centre College. Mr. Biden aimed to do what his boss could not: draw clear distinctions with Mr. Ryan, while energizing the Democratic base and taking some of the wind out of the sails of the Republican ticket.

Mr. Ryan, meanwhile, aimed to continue to chop down Mr. Obama and keep his ticket’s momentum cranking along with less than four weeks to go before Election Day.

By the time the debate ended, the two had wrestled over who would do a better job safeguarding Medicare and spelled out their views on their Catholic faith. They also touched on the the hot-button issue of abortion — an issue Mr. Romney stirred up on the campaign trail this week when he told the Des Moines Register he would keep current abortion laws on the books.

Defending the ticket against Mr. Biden description of Mr. Romney’s secretly recorded comments about dismissing 47 percent of Americans as “unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives,” Mr. Ryan praised Mr. Romney as a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity.

“More than the two of us combined. Mitt Romney’s a good man,” he said. “He cares about a 100 percent of Americans in this country.”

Then Mr. Ryan tried to deflect the issue by going after the vice president’s reputation for foot-in-mouth moments.

“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,” Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Biden quickly retorted: “But I always say what I mean.”