No More 'Reaching across the Aisle,' Please
About two thirds of the way through the vice presidential debate, I turned it off in disgust and walked away. My blood pressure just wasn't worth it anymore.
My anger was two-sided. One side, naturally, was revulsion at the Biden-Raddatz Filibuster Hour. (Or should that be "Filibluster"?) The second side, sad to say, was my frustration at watching Paul Ryan apologize for his conservatism.
It is easy -- and correct -- to outline how offensive Joe Biden's behavior was, and how biased Martha Raddatz's moderating was. Both were predictable. Everyone knows that Ryan's strength is his ability to lay out the numbers case against the entitlement society. And everyone knows that this strength requires an audience willing to give him a hearing. Thus, the careful strategy for this debate, from both the VP and moderator, was to refuse to give Ryan that fair hearing.
For Biden's part, this strategy boiled down to the simple technique, very natural for him, of never shutting up. Refuse to allow Ryan to make his point without interruption; laugh out loud and mutter mockingly at everything Ryan says; talk over Ryan incessantly, so that no viewer could possibly follow the subtleties of his explanation of the insolvency of Medicare and Social Security. Sure, this dynamic prevented Biden from making his own points, too -- but since Biden had few legitimate points to make, his kamikaze strategy served him well, while costing Ryan precious opportunities to speak to the voters directly.
Raddatz seemed to be working on a similar principle: whenever she asked Ryan a question regarding one of his "wheel-house" issues, such as Social Security reform, she was careful not to allow him to complete his answer. In mid-sentence, for no apparent reason, she would shout "Vice President Biden," taking the floor away from Ryan before he had made his point. Generously interpreted, it was a classic case of the umpire forgetting that the fans didn't pay to watch him. Raddatz acted as though the candidates' answers were of secondary importance to her performance as discussion leader. This method, once again, was all to the good for Biden, who always benefits from being disarmed before he shoots any more holes in his shoes, while it badly harmed Ryan, who was politely -- far too politely -- trying to make cogent arguments.
But this leads us to my second, ultimately more serious frustration with this debate. Cut through Biden's appalling and mean-spirited behavior, more suited to a nasty spousal fight than to a political debate. Put aside the moderator's efforts to short-circuit any extended explanation of issues or plans. Look at this debate's rhetorical arc from a sufficient distance to take in the lasting impression it is likely to leave with voters who are not already committed to Romney/Ryan. What do you see?
Here is what I see: Ryan begging everyone not to accuse him of wanting to bring radical change to Social Security; Ryan defending himself and Romney against the charge that they would cut entitlement programs; Ryan promising not to reduce the percentage of the tax burden borne by "the rich"; Ryan apologizing for Romney's perfectly defensible "47%" remarks; and Ryan engaging Biden in the usual arm-wrestling over which ticket is more willing to "reach across the aisle."
This is not all Ryan said, to be sure. On the Middle East, the deficit, ObamaCare, and a few other matters, he completed the first half of quite a few good points, before cordially deferring to the bullying interruptions of Raddatz and Biden. On "substance," he could hardly lose to Biden if he tried.
But with the election only a few weeks away, and the fate of liberty on the planet hanging in the balance as rarely before, why must conservatives settle yet again for having their views represented apologetically, rather than with gusto and defiance?
The Romney/Ryan ticket is all about balancing the budget and championing the free market. So champion it. You cannot argue that America's entitlements are an unsustainable burden, and then shrink from the accusation that you want to reduce that burden. Social Security and Medicare, as Ryan well knows, have devoured the American economy, and they are eating their way through the economy of your great-great-grandchildren -- and that's presuming, unrealistically, that the economy of that future will be anything more than stale crumbs, if the government remains on its present course.
The answer to Biden's fear-mongering-by-the-numbers about "vouchers" and "privatization" is to look him and the voters in the eye and say, "Yes -- it's time to end the eighty-year leftist fantasy of nanny-state guaranteed security, and to reinstitute the moral traditions of individual and familial responsibility that made America the most prosperous and hopeful nation in the history of mankind."
The answer to Biden's anti-rich screed, with his frequently repeated phrasing about Romney/Ryan "giving" millionaires thousands of dollars they "don't need" is: "Neither you nor we are in the position of deciding how much to 'give' the rich, or how much they 'need.' It's not the government's money; it's their money. Tax reduction is not 'giving' people anything; it is allowing them to keep more of what is rightfully theirs. If you, President Obama, and the other redistributionists want to confiscate more of people's legally earned and constitutionally protected property to institute more socialist programs, then you should at least have the courage to describe this confiscation accurately, so that voters can decide whether this is what they want."
To the 47% attack, the answer should be easy: "Governor Romney was right about the principle, though he may have overstated the percentage. Too many people have been deafened to the argument for economic liberty, because they have accepted the liberal premise that society owes them things. What is the real percentage of such people? We'll found out on November 6, when Americans vote in an election that is reducible to one question: do you prefer dependency and increased government power, or personal responsibility and increased individual freedom?"
But for this viewer, the most annoying moment of all in this debate was Ryan's attempt to prove that he and Romney have a better track record of "reaching across the aisle" than Obama/Biden. There is indeed an aisle in modern American politics. On one side of it are men and women who, at least nominally, represent the cause of liberty, the principles of economic freedom, and the rejection of Marxist class hatred. On the other side is a faction that is heartily endorsed by the Communist Party USA, that actively supports the destruction of property rights, that advocates socialized medicine, that demonizes the prosperous (while hypocritically taking good care of its cronies), and that is proudly turning the Middle East over to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to the undermining of Western civilization and the institution of a global caliphate.
The only justification for reaching across that aisle is to pull the occasional spiritual defector from the socialist mob across to safety on the side of reason. Republicans meeting the left halfway has been a contributing cause in most of what has gone so horribly wrong in America. And with the Democrat side of the aisle forever receding farther to the left, that compromising "halfway" point is inexorably shifting away from the side of freedom, rationality, individualism, and plain decency.
All the Ronald Reagan-Tip O'Neill clichés notwithstanding, the time for meeting the Democrats halfway -- for reaching across the aisle -- is long gone. The only hope for the survival of freedom in America and the rest of the world is for freedom's defenders to stop making deals, stop reaching across the river Styx, and stop apologizing for believing that government's relentless multi-generational expansion must be reversed if civilization, prosperity, and liberty are to be restored.
More freedom, not more government, is the answer to today's political and cultural ills. Paul Ryan is very capable of making this case. He should make it, fearlessly.