Lively Biden-Ryan debate generates student reactions

Students watched the only 2012 vice-presidential debate screening between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan on Thursday night in Taper Hall.

Viewing · Students gather to watch the vice-presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan Thursday in Taper Hall. – Zhaoyu Zhou | Daily Trojan

The debate, hosted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and sponsored by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, focused on foreign and domestic issues, such as the nuclear threat from Iran, the stagnant unemployment rate and abortion. Both Biden and Ryan worked to clarify their running mates’ stances on the topics.

The debate was held at Centre College in Danville, Ky., and moderated by Martha Raddatz, a foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News.

The debate started on a somber note, by discussing the recent terrorist attack on American ambassadors in Benghazi, Libya; Raddatz questioned the vice presidential candidates about how each administration will effectively handle future terrorist threats. Ryan criticized the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi event and highlighted other incidents of inefficiency that he said led to a lack of credibility for the administration overseas.

“This Benghazi issue would be a tragedy in and of itself, but unfortunately it’s indicative of a broader problem,” Ryan said. “And that is what we are watching on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.”

Biden pushed back later in the debate, showing the weaknesses in the Romney-Ryan plans on Medicare and Social Security.

“And in regard to Social Security, we will not privatize it,” Biden said. “If we had listened to Romney, Governor Romney, and the congressman during the Bush years, imagine where all those seniors would be now if their money had been in the market. Their ideas are old and their ideas are bad, and they eliminate the guarantee of Medicare.”

The vice-presidential candidates did not only differ on policy during the debate, but also in their presentation.

During each round of the debate, Biden continually displayed energy and quick responses to Ryan’s statements. The current vice president smirked and grinned at Ryan’s statements and repeatedly called him “friend” before negating his opponent’s statements.

“Biden had a lot more aggression,” said Maya Jackson, a sophomore film and television production major who watched the debate in Taper. “Ryan was much more calculated, almost as if he had practiced his answers in the mirror the night before.”

Compared to Obama’s performance in the presidential debate last week, Biden’s  liveliness signaled increased excitement for the Democratic base, according to Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the Sol Price School of Public Policy.

“Debates are good for getting the base fired up and that’s what Biden did,” Bebitch Jeffe said.

According to a CNN poll of debate watchers, 48 percent believed Ryan won, and 44 percent perceived Biden as the winner.

Students who attended the screening said they believed the debate was not overly influential to the outcome of the race.

“It was nice to listen to them,” said Negin Baradari, a graduate student studying entertainment law. “But they really didn’t say anything new.”

Bebitch Jeffe said though this debate might have served as a morale boost, it might not benefit each presidential candidate in the polls.

“I don’t think debates move the needle too much one way in favor for a candidate,” Bebitch Jeffe said. “But it definitely won’t hurt either candidate. Ryan held his own and didn’t lose any ground for the Republicans and Biden did much better than the president did by revving up the Democrats.”

Students also said they believe that the debate did little to sway undecided voters.

“I’m personally undecided,” Jackson said. “I felt a few things were cleared up, but I think this debate was more for the people who already know who they’re voting for.”

The next presidential debate will be held Oct. 16.