VP debate: Will Ryan double down or walk it back?

By Joel Shapiro of Portland, Oregon. Joel is a longtime Democratic activist, policy staffer, and attorney. He most recently worked for Senator Ron Wyden and Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel. He previously contributed: When Paul Ryan and I were friends.

This Thursday’s Vice Presidential debate will bookend Paul Ryan’s national ticket prominence. The first pinnacle, of course, was his checkered speech at the RNC convention.

Since then, Ryan has largely been off the national media’s radar while dispatched to standard VP nominee duties – fire up the base, play attack dog, campaign in home-region swing states, and occasionally serve as sacrificial lamb (see speech to AARP.)

As he takes his second star turn, the big question is: will Paul Ryan double down or walk it back?

In the first debate of the season, Romney was hailed as the victor over a somnambulant Obama. But he was criticized for vague and misleading answers. Ryan hasn’t been dinged for vagueness, but he was widely knocked for lying at the RNC. So a pattern has emerged, and the stakes are high.

Will the Republican ticket further incite the media by continuing the pattern of dishonesty? Or will Ryan restore some integrity by adding context to his answers?

If you read my previous post, you don’t need a spoiler alert to conclude that I don’t expect my friend Paul to come clean. As I wrote then, Paul was “unembarrassed and unbowed” by the furor over his RNC speech, but offered “a full-throated defense of his charges, facts be damned.”

As I commented, I’ve always known Paul to be highly partisan and very aggressive in framing his arguments. He’s much more interested in scoring ideological points than in an honest exposition of the facts. Sadly, I don’t expect this leopard to change his spots on Thursday.

So how should we rate Ryan’s performance in the debate? Here’s my scoring guide of what to watch for on five key issues. (On the jump...)


Will Ryan acknowledge that the $716 billion savings from Medicare included in health care reform is not a “cut” to beneficiaries, but instead a reduction in payments to providers?

+10 points, if Ryan explains the reduction is to providers not beneficiaries.
-10 points, if he simply calls it a Medicare cut.
+10 points, if Ryan walks back his criticism of Obama, and admits that the Ryan Budget includes the same $716 billion in savings.
-20 points, if he doesn’t admit that his plan not only claims the same savings, but would steer it to tax cuts for the wealthy, rather than strengthening health care.
-10 points, if Ryan says that in order to save Medicare, we must repeal Obamacare.
-10 points, if Ryan name-checks Ron Wyden.
+20 points, if Ryan admits he proposed eliminating current Medicare in favor of a privatized system.
+20 points, to Joe Biden, if he calls out Ryan on his plan to privatize Medicare.


Will Ryan admit that his budget plan wouldn’t balance the budget until after 2040?

+10 points, if Ryan admits this.
-10 points, if Ryan doubles down on Obama increasing the deficit, without mentioning the recession.
-10 points, if Ryan argues the importance of reducing the deficit without mentioning he supported TARP, the auto bailout, and both foreign wars without paying for any of them.
+10 points, if, at anytime on this topic, he says the word “Bush.”

Debt Commission:

Ryan famously said that President Obama thanked the Simpson-Bowles commission, then did exactly nothing. What Ryan fails to mention is: 1) Congressional approval (not Presidential action) would have been the next step; 2) Ryan served on the commission and voted against the report, helping to kill it.

+10 points, if Ryan acknowledges his role in killing the Simpson-Bowles proposal.
-10 points, if Ryan doubles down on Obama doing nothing about the national debt.
+10 points, to Biden for mentioning any steps they’ve taken to reduce the long-term debt.


Ryan recently told Chris Wallace he didn’t have enough time to explain his tax plan. We’ve got 90 minutes to burn. Oh Paul, we’re waiting…

+1 point for each minute Ryan uses to explain the tax plan.
+10 points, for each specific deduction, exemption, or credit he lists for elimination.
-20 points, if he spouts the trickle-down canard that lowering rates for the rich will boost revenue.
+25 points, to either candidate for explaining Jude Wanniski’s “Two Santa Claus” theory.

Social safety net:

Ryan & Romney have tried to have their cake and eat it too. (It’s pretty hard to avoid “let them eat cake” jokes.) Romney has said he’s not worried about the poor because we have a safety net. In Ryan’s RNC speech, he said the greatest responsibility is for the strong to protect the weak. They talk a good game, but their policies sing a different tune. Nearly two-thirds of the cuts in the Ryan budget are to programs that serve the poor.

+10 points, if Ryan acknowledges that his budget would gut the safety net and hurt the poor.
+10 points, if he admits that he supports free market individualism, rather than dependency.
+50 points, if he can reconcile the two ideas: protecting the weak, and scorning dependency.
-20 points, if he doubles down on sanctimonious rhetoric about protecting the weak.

But this is merely the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg. Many other potential comments are rich for scoring. Suggest your own favorite criteria in the comments. And perhaps you have ideas on turning the scores into a drinking game.

Oh, one last item to listen for: I’m pretty confident that Joe Biden will do just fine. But I’ll give him 20 bonus points if he manages to utter the word “stench” during the debate.

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    Ryan will lie and evade as he usually does. Joe Biden was around during Ryan's Congressional career and the many votes he took to put two wars, an expansion of Medicare, and the Bush tax cuts on the credit card. And Joe does have several decades of debating in the Senate. He will pin Lyin'Ryan to the wall, and hoist him on his own petards, most particularly his plan to change Medicare to a voucher program with huge out of pocket expenses and the end of the federal guarantee for senior and disabled health care.

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    There are a number of debate watch parties tonight, but I encourage you to join me for the best one at The Waypost, 3120 N. Williams: https://www.facebook.com/events/510479825630803/

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