The irony of ironies: The Biden-Ryan debate was more about foreign policy than the economy and jobs. And yet another irony: Paul Ryan, an expert on all things fiscal, revealed a much better knowledge base of foreign policy than anyone thought existed. Shows how smart and well-rounded he really is.
In fact, Ryan’s Benghazi slam, right out of the chute, won him the debate. This terrorist attack is going to be a huge presidential-race issue. Americans are furious at the Obama-Biden-Clinton stupidity and mismanagement surrounding the tragic Benghazi deaths. They are enraged at the Benghazi cover-up. Ryan accused Biden of malfeasance in every aspect of this tragedy. It was a tremendous body slam right from the start.
And Biden misled everyone with a string of falsehoods. He said the administration did not have complete intelligence at the start of the crisis. But we now know they did have sufficient intelligence to realize that the killing of Ambassador Stevens and three others had nothing to do with spontaneous reactions to a YouTube video, and that it was a planned al Qaida attack.
Then Biden denied that the State Department asked the White House for stronger Benghazi security and was turned down on several occasions. But we know this to be true from various sources. We even know that State Department officials saw the Benghazi attack in real time. These untruths will dog Biden on the campaign trail.
The Benghazi round clearly went to Ryan. And later in the debate, when the discussion turned to Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria, Ryan went toe-to-toe with Biden, the supposed foreign-policy expert. He was every bit Biden’s equal and more, which is one of the surprising outcomes of this debate. The confidence factor in young Paul Ryan will rise as a result.
On the economy, not surprisingly, Biden adopted Obama’s redistributionist, tax-the-rich, go-after-the-millionaires approach. Ryan, the free-market capitalist, pounded hard for Mitt Romney’s tax-reform plan, which would lower tax rates across-the-board, provide new incentives for growth, and put limits on special deductions in order to balance out revenues.
A clear choice emerged: Biden is for a government-directed economy. He blathered on about a non-existent, $5 trillion Romney tax cut for the rich, which Ryan easily parried. Heck, even the Brookings Institution has pulled back from that charge. Biden also proudly touted a $1 trillion tax hike on successful earners. Now there’s a great idea to solve the worst economic and jobs recovery in modern times.
Ryan, in contrast, came out for free-enterprise, rewarding success, and creating opportunity, growth, and jobs. He was the candidate for lower tax rates, increased take-home pay for the middle class, and incentivizing investment and risk-taking for successful entrepreneurs.
However, Ryan should have said what Romney said a week ago: There will be a strict dollar cap on special tax deductions, probably a $20,000 limit that will be even lower for top earners who get a marginal tax-rate cut. This would have been a good specific to include in the tax-reform argument. It’s a huge revenue-raiser, at lower tax rates.
On the other hand, Ryan echoed a key Romney point: Obama’s leadership failure. Obama failed last year to get a grand-design deal, as chronicled in Bob Woodward’s book, The Price of Politics. This year, Obama was too busy campaigning and appearing on daytime TV to hash something out with John Boehner and the Republicans to avoid the recessionary fiscal tax cliff.
Ryan also emphasized Romney’s successful bipartisanship point: A Romney administration will be willing to reach across the aisle to get a grand-design package of spending reduction, pro-growth tax reform, and entitlement reform, exactly where Obama failed. Actually, I think the Romney bipartisanship offer is big reason why the Romney-Ryan ticket is doing so well in the polls, particularly among undecideds and independents. These people want to see the parties work together to get these problems solved before America goes bankrupt and lapses into permanent, European-like stagflation.
Another key point: Obama has yet to provide a real reason why he should be re-elected, and Biden failed completely to construct one. What is Obama’s raison d’être for re-election? No one knows. Including Barack Obama.
Finally, there was Biden’s snarky smile. His demeanor during the debate was very off-putting. It was like he was forcing his aggressiveness, attempting to make up for Obama’s lack of it a week ago. The fierce grins, the Ryan put-downs, the interruptions, the inappropriate laughter — it really hurt Biden.
Polls will show a Ryan victory in this debate. Perhaps Biden stopped the bleeding after the president got clocked in Denver and proceeded to chase Big Bird all over the country. Dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.
But the big point is this: Mitt Romney’s march to the White House continues, and it was helped mightily by Paul Ryan on Thursday night.
Larry Kudlow is the host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.”