Centre College did a masterful job hosting last Thursday’s vice presidential debate, which included hordes of national media and campaign surrogates who descended on Danville to spin the aftermath of the verbal bout between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.
Democrats witnessed a much different scene from the presidential debate a week earlier, in which a listless President Barack Obama let Mitt Romney play loose with the facts and re-brand himself as a moderate.
Joe Biden grinned, cackled at, interrupted and openly mocked Rep. Ryan whenever he threw out a false statement or avoided specifics, like a papa bear swiping at a cub whenever he got out of line.
After the debate, media and campaign surrogates swarmed into “spin alley,” a polite term that is more accurately described as, to borrow Jon Stewart’s line, “deception lane.” No matter what really happens during the debate, this room is often where the public perception of the debate is formed, as each side does its best to show how their candidate brilliantly dominated while their opponent dishonestly blundered into a pile of failure on national television.
The post-debate themes were easily predictable from both sides. Obama surrogates praised Biden for showing his foreign policy expertise and calling out his opponent’s misinformation and extreme policy positions. Republicans’ line of spin was almost exclusively free of substance, going after Biden as a mean old man with a vicious smile and laugh.
Among the senators, congressmen and campaign advisors accosted by the media in spin alley were a good number of Kentucky’s elected officials, whom LEO spoke to.
Sen. Mitch McConnell — the Sith Lord of talking-point spin — got right down to business.
“I don’t think independent voters will like the vice president constantly interrupting Congressman Ryan, making facial expressions. He was quite animated,” said McConnell, possibly jealous of the fact that Biden can actually move his face. “There’s nobody in Congress smarter than Paul Ryan. And he was able to present himself in a calm and respectful way.”
Rep. John Yarmuth praised Biden’s performance, which he said would energize Democrats: “I think he did a really good job of showing how empty some of the GOP ideas are, and really challenging Paul Ryan on a lot of the factual problems that he has.”
Yarmuth couldn’t blame Biden for interrupting Ryan, disagreeing with the Romney campaign’s talking point of the night.
“I think he was trying to fight to get a word in edgewise sometimes, because Ryan just went on babbling, which he is prone to do,” Yarmuth said. “Ryan’s plan was to occupy as much time as you can, use as many platitudes as you can, avoid talking about specifics, and when you do, try to avoid the fact that you’ve taken positions that aren’t popular.”
Attorney General Jack Conway said Biden was simply being the “scrapper from Scranton” and dominating Ryan on foreign policy issues. He also noted, “Osama bin Laden isn’t better off than he was four years ago.”
“When you’re getting lied about, you can get exasperated,” Conway told LEO. “Look, Joe Biden’s a fighter. If he’s lying about you up there, he’s going to bring the fight. He’s going to say you lied. And I think a lot of people out there want someone fighting for the middle class.”
The AG also went right for Mitt Romney’s Cayman Islands jugular, saying it’s not moral for our soldiers to “pay for this country in their blood” while the Republican candidate is only paying 13-14 percent in taxes and has offshore accounts.
The most honest and spin-free responses of the night came from state Senate President David Williams. Though he watched the debate from the hall and couldn’t see how Biden’s facial expressions played on TV, the Republican — who himself has been described a time or two as a rude bully — took no issue with Biden’s behavior and praised his performance.
“I think Joe Biden acquitted himself very well,” Williams told LEO. “He’s a street fighter, he didn’t get shaken. I will tell you that he was a strong advocate of the points that he believed in and that he’s a good debater.”
Williams’ complete lack of partisan spin is probably very telling of his political future, as there’s a good chance he will be offered and accept an open position as circuit court judge in his home county, which LEO Weekly first reported a month ago. When you’re out of the game, there’s very little need to spread more fertilizer.
Sen. Rand Paul only made a brief appearance after the debate as a Romney surrogate, perhaps because he had spent the entire week stepping all over Romney’s foreign policy attacks against Obama, which he openly disagreed with.
Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor — who as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq famously spun the chaotic carnage of America’s foreign policy blunder — dutifully avoided directly answering any of LEO’s questions about whether Romney agreed with Paul’s desire to end foreign aid and allow the Senate to have more power when it comes to the use of military force.
The most surprising honesty came from the Rev. Hershael York, a longtime conservative voice and fixture in Frankfort politics.
York told LEO that he doubts any kind of legislation making abortion illegal would pass, and if it did, he isn’t sure what kind of criminal penalties should be imposed.
LEO asked, “Like a fine, for killing a baby?”
“Yeah,” answered York. “But a lot of pro-lifers don’t really know what that would look like. But I’m confident that Mitt Romney would uphold pro-life values.”
Who would have thought all that pro-life bluster likening abortion to the Holocaust was all for the sake of it being treated like a speeding ticket? Now that’s some impressive spin.