The 2012 presidential election is one of the most momentous crossroads in U.S. history. As Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's vice-presidential nominee, stated in his Thursday debate against Vice President Joe Biden, the outcome on Election Day will determine "what kind of country we are going to give our kids." Under Obama-administration policies, out-of-control government spending has grown to such an extent that federal debt is now larger than the gross domestic product of the United States, the largest economy in the world. U.S. power and prestige in the world are in such dramatic decline that armed Islamists can overrun an American diplomatic compound, murder a U.S. ambassador and get away with it. On the economic and foreign-policy fronts, our nation is in chaos. The Obama-Biden ticket can't run on its record of failure so it has moved to a desperate scorched-earth strategy.
Make no mistake about it, Mr. Biden's obnoxious, smirking, rude behavior on the debate stage was the most disrespectful performance of any presidential or vice-presidential candidate in the history of televised election debates, which goes back to the 1960 contest between then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy. In the end, the arguments and messages of the two candidates this week didn't matter so much because Mr. Biden suffered an overwhelming loss on the likability scorecard. As Brit Hume of Fox News characterized the match, "It looked like a cranky old man debating a polite young man."
Out of the gates, it was clear Mr. Ryan had the edge with his solid, policy-based answers to the early questions, which forced Mr. Biden to drop the gloves and play dirty. A count by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus showed that Mr. Biden butted in and interrupted Mr. Ryan 82 times. The incessant smugness, jesting and sneering condescension might have looked like Mr. Biden was an unhinged lunatic coming apart at the seams, but it would be a mistake to conclude the inappropriateness was spontaneous on the vice president's part. The Biden sideshow was orchestrated by design because the liberal administration knows it has to avoid the issues, especially the sinking economy.
The pressure is on the incumbent Democrats because the election is less than a month away and their campaign is in freefall. After Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney destroyed President Obama in the Oct. 3 debate, momentum shifted dramatically in the challenger's favor, with Mr. Romney taking the lead in national polls and jumping ahead or closing the gap in vital swing states. For example, in a Battleground poll released on Monday, Mr. Romney has a massive 16-point lead among independents nationwide. Real Clear Politics has shifted five key states - Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire - to being a toss-up from leaning Obama a week ago. In must-win Florida, Mr. Romney has taken a commanding 7-point lead, beating out the president with 51 percent compared to 44 percent, according to a survey published Thursday by the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and the Miami Herald. A month ago, Mr. Obama was up by 1 point in the Sunshine State.
The heat is on for a good reason. When it comes to substance and the issues, the Democrats are in big trouble - which is probably why Mr. Biden felt forced to make statements that were categorically untrue while sitting across the table from Mr. Ryan at Centre College in Danville, Ky., on Thursday night. The biggest prevarication of all centered on White House bungling in Libya that caused the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans when Islamists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there," the vice president asserted. Both the U.S. State Department under Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and military officers who were part of the security team at the Benghazi outpost contradict that whopper.
Scrambling to find a scapegoat, Mr. Biden threw dedicated public servants under the bus and claimed the Obama administration's stupid line that the Benghazi attack was a response to a YouTube video was the fault of the intelligence community. Left unsaid was that intelligence reports informed the Oval Office within days that the attack was coordinated to mark the Sept. 11, 2001 anniversary and was linked to al Qaeda. He also attacked Republicans for George W. Bush-launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, blamed U.S. debt on these responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, and claimed he didn't support the deployments when in fact he voted for resolutions in the Senate to authorize use of force in both conflicts. Whether outright lies or sloppy slips of the lip, Mr. Biden must figure making stuff up has a better chance of winning people over than the truth. He might be right because the truth is, by every measure, America is worse off than four years ago.
Mr. Biden's total lack of courtesy and dignity didn't play well in Peoria or anywhere else. An NBC snapshot poll awarded the Republican congressman with a devastating 20-point victory, 56 percent to 36 percent, over the Democrat veep. Viewer reaction on liberal CNN gave the debate win to Mr. Ryan over Mr. Biden by a 4-point margin, 48 percent to 44. These numbers don't bode well for Barack. Four years ago, he ran promising to bring change and restore hope. As Mr. Ryan put it, Mr. Obama hasn't delivered so his 2012 campaign has mobilized to "attack, blame and defame." It won't work. Iran is getting closer to obtaining nuclear weapons, federal deficits are topping a trillion dollars every year, and millions of workers can't find a job. Too many voters are hurting and Joe Biden's response is to laugh. As Obama-Biden will find out in November, Americans don't think it's funny.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book "Bowing to Beijing" (Regnery, 2011).
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