I think the best question in last night's Vice President debate came not from the moderator, but from Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate.
Martha Raddatz asked about religion - and the answers included the issue of abortion and contraception.
From the transcript:
RADDATZ: ...We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.
Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country…
Ryan went first in his answer:
RYAN: I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life.
RYAN: Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course. But it’s also because of reason and science.
Ryan had some more to say, then V.P. Joe Biden answered (my emphasis added):
BIDEN: My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the — the congressman. I — I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that. With regard to the assault on the Catholic church, let me make it absolutely clear, no religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.
Biden added some more comments and the moderator turned to Ryan to reply. Here is the exchange, which resulted in the best question of the night (my emphasis added):
RYAN: All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
Now, I’ve got to take issue with the Catholic church and religious liberty.
BIDEN: You have on the issue…
RYAN: … why would they keep — why would they keep suing you? It’s a distinction without a difference.
Sadly, the moderator, whose objectivity was questioned prior to the debate, did not turn to Bide for a response, but instead moved to the subject of abortion, court cases and a litmus test for judges.
Now, some will disagree with me as to my definition of 'best' but debates are supposed to draw out the positions of the candidates, allow them further explanations as well as provide a chance for direct (but polite) confrontation when they disagree.
This was the perfect question for Ryan to ask - and for Biden to answer - since it presents an opportunity for a statement (religious organizations are not required to "be a vehicle" for contraception) to be challenged and defended, especially in light of what many people understand regarding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the regulatory mandates imposed under it by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Unfortunately, this perfect opportunity for discussion and explanation was missed - and voters were left without additional insight on the candidates and issue as a result.
Overall, Ryan was not as strong as Mitt Romney was in his first debate with Pres. Barack Obama, but he didn't hurt the ticket in any way in his performance. Biden was better than many expected, but his smirking, laughing and interrupting hurt his performance and the impression he left with the viewers.
My impression: Ryan was calm, articulate, respectful and presented a demeanor that I'd like to see in the person who is a heartbeat away from being the leader of the country. Biden was arrogant, condescending and disrespectful - an attitude that reminds me of what you see in tyrants and dictators across the world.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Biden is a tyrant, but the attitude he displayed is not what most people look for in their elected representatives - unless you're a Democrat, it seems.