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The Vice Presidential Debate: Joe Biden Was Right to Laugh
'You should laugh, because this stuff is a joke, and we shouldn't take it seriously.'
I've never thought much of Joe Biden. But man, did he get it right in last night's debate, and not just because he walloped sniveling little Paul Ryan on the facts. What he got absolutely right, despite what you might read this morning (many outlets are criticizing Biden's dramatic excesses), was his tone. Biden did absolutely roll his eyes, snort, laugh derisively and throw his hands up in the air whenever Ryan trotted out his little beady-eyed BS-isms.
But he should have! He was absolutely right to be doing it. We all should be doing it. That includes all of us in the media, and not just paid obnoxious-opinion-merchants like me, but so-called "objective" news reporters as well. We should all be rolling our eyes, and scoffing and saying, "Come back when you're serious."
The load of balls that both Romney and Ryan have been pushing out there for this whole election season is simply not intellectually serious. Most of their platform isn't even a real platform, it's a fourth-rate parlor trick designed to paper over the real agenda – cutting taxes even more for super-rich dickheads like Mitt Romney, and getting everyone else to pay the bill.
The essence of the whole campaign for me was crystalized in the debate exchange over Romney's 20 percent tax-cut plan. ABC's Martha Raddatz turned the questioning to Ryan:
MS. RADDATZ: Well, let's talk about this 20 percent.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well – (chuckles) –
MS. RADDATZ: You have refused yet again to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics, or are you still working on it, and that's why you won't tell voters?
Here Ryan is presented with a simple yes-or-no answer. Since he doesn't have the answer, he immediately starts slithering and equivocating:
REP. RYAN: Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. You see, I understand the –
"We want to have bipartisan agreements?" This coming from a Republican congressman? These guys would stall a bill to name a post office after Shirley Temple. Biden, absolutely properly, chuckled and said, "That'd be a first for a Republican congress." Then Raddatz did exactly what any self-respecting journalist should do in that situation: she objected to being lied to, and yanked on the leash, forcing Ryan back to the question.
I'm convinced Raddatz wouldn't have pounced on Ryan if he hadn't trotted out this preposterous line about bipartisanism. Where does Ryan think we've all been living, Mars? It's one thing to pull that on some crowd of unsuspecting voters that hasn't followed politics that much and doesn't know the history. But any professional political journalist knows enough to know the abject comedy of that line. Still, Ryan was banking on the moderator not getting in the way and just letting him dump his trash on audiences. Instead, she aggressively grabbed Ryan by his puppy-scruff and pushed him back into the mess of his own proposal:
MS. RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the math? Do you know exactly what you're doing?
So now the ball is in Ryan's court. The answer he gives is astounding:
REP. RYAN: Look – look at what Mitt – look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that. What we're saying is here's our framework: Lower tax rates 20 percent – we raise about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forgo about 1.1 trillion [dollars] in loopholes and deductions. And so what we're saying is deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation –
Three things about this answer:
1) Ryan again here refuses to answer Raddatz's yes-or-no question about specifics. So now we know the answer: there are no specifics.
2) In lieu of those nonexistent specifics, what Ryan basically says is that he and Romney will set the framework – "Lower taxes by 20 percent" – and then they'll work out the specifics of how to get there with the Democrats in bipartisan fashion.
3) So essentially, Ryan has just admitted on national television that the Romney tax plan will be worked out after the election with the same Democrats from whom they are now, before the election, hiding any and all details.
So then, after that, there's this exchange.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Can I translate?
REP. RYAN: – so we can lower tax rates across the board. Now, here's why I'm saying this. What we're saying is here's a framework –
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I hope I'm going to get time to respond to this.
REP. RYAN: We want to work with Congress –
MS. RADDATZ: I – you'll get time.
REP. RYAN: We want to work with Congress on how best to achieve this. That means successful – look –
MS. RADDATZ: No specifics, yeah.
Raddatz did exactly the right thing. She asked a yes-or-no question, had a politician try to run the lamest kind of game on her – and when he was done, she called him on it, coming right back to the question and translating for viewers: "No specifics."
Think about what that means. Mitt Romney is running for president – for president! – promising an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without offering any details about how that's going to be paid for. Forget being battered by the press, he and his little sidekick Ryan should both be tossed off the playing field for even trying something like that. This race for the White House, this isn't some frat prank. This is serious. This is for grownups, for God's sake.
The Romney/Ryan ticket decided, with incredible cynicism, that that they were going to promise this massive tax break, not explain how to pay for it, and then just hang on until election day, knowing that most of the political press would let it skate, or at least not take a dump all over it when explaining it to the public.
If you're going to offer an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without explaining how it's getting paid for, hell, why stop there? Why not just offer everyone over 18 a 1965 Mustang? Why not promise every child a Zagnut and an Xbox, or compatible mates for every lonely single person?
Sometimes in journalism I think we take the objectivity thing too far. We think being fair means giving equal weight to both sides of every argument. But sometimes in the zeal to be objective, reporters get confused. You can't report the Obama tax plan and the Romney tax plan in the same way, because only one of them is really a plan, while the other is actually not a plan at all, but an electoral gambit.
The Romney/Ryan ticket decided, with incredible cynicism, that that they were going to promise this massive tax break, not explain how to pay for it, and then just hang on until election day, knowing that most of the political press would let it skate, or at least not take a dump all over it when explaining it to the public. Unchallenged, and treated in print and on the air as though it were the same thing as a real plan, a 20 percent tax cut sounds pretty good to most Americans. Hell, it sounds good to me.
The proper way to report such a tactic is to bring to your coverage exactly the feeling that Biden brought to the debate last night: contempt and amazement. We in the press should be offended by what Romney and Ryan are doing – we should take professional offense that any politician would try to whisk such a gigantic lie past us to our audiences, and we should take patriotic offense that anyone is trying to seize the White House using such transparently childish and dishonest tactics.
I've never been a Joe Biden fan. After four years, I'm not the biggest Barack Obama fan, either (and I'll get into why on that score later). But they're at least credible as big-league politicians. So much of the Romney/Ryan plan is so absurdly junior league, it's so far off-Broadway, it's practically in New Jersey.
Paul Ryan, a leader in the most aggressively and mindlessly partisan Congress in history, preaching bipartisanship? A private-equity parasite, Mitt Romney, who wants to enact a massive tax cut and pay for it without touching his own personal fortune-guaranteeing deduction, the carried-interest tax break – which keeps his own taxes below 15 percent despite incomes above $20 million?
The Romney/Ryan platform makes sense, and is not laughable, in only one context: if you're a multi-millionaire and you recognize that this is the only way to sell your agenda to mass audiences. But if you're not one of those rooting gazillionaires, you should laugh, you should roll your eyes, and it doesn't matter if you're the Vice President or an ABC reporter or a toll operator. You should laugh, because this stuff is a joke, and we shouldn't take it seriously.