Al Jazeera Blogs


Americas

Biden and Ryan bring back the buzz

US VP debates tend to be dull affairs, but on Thursday the two candidates at least shed some light on the road ahead.
Last modified: 13 Oct 2012 14:29

I am probably not supposed to admit this, but I had so much fun last night watching the vice presidential debate. I know that sounds very dorky, but I am a political junkie, I blame my parents.  

As someone who has studied politicians and the art of debating, this debate was just an interesting example of how it is done.

The two men brought very different approaches to the discussion.  

Congressman Paul Ryan was obviously aiming for a calmed, measured, fact filled approach.  Vice President Joe Biden was all personality and energy.  

That was an interesting study in contrasts for a nerd like me.  

I’m not going to go into any discussion here about the smirks, laughter or one liners, that has been talked about enough in the US media.  

In my opinion, all the focus on the showmanship is nothing more than commentator candy, easy to digest, fun to eat, but too much of it is just bad for you.

What was important to me is that for the first time, thanks to really impressive moderating by Martha Raddatz, the candidates came close to something resembling specifics.  

I don’t think the American people will walk away with a deep and lasting understanding of the two very different beliefs in the role of government that these candidates represent, but they at least saw the outlines of their ideas.

Very important topics were covered on foreign policy. The discussion began with the attack on the consulate in Benghazi which is the outrage of the moment for conservatives.  

It is likely a valid point, which I raised the first day we covered the attack that killed four Americans including the US ambassador, where were the US Marines or any kind of security?  

That discussion is legitimate and important because in the long run lessons should be learned and bureaucrats should be held accountable, especially if they ignored requests from their people on the ground, but I don’t think it is all that helpful in finding out what the world can expect from either of these administrations.  

What was important was the discussion on Iran.  

Ryan seems to believe they have enough material to build five nuclear bombs.  

I don’t propose that I have the slightest understanding of what it takes to build a nuclear bomb, which I’m sure everybody is quite relieved and surprised to hear, but I do know what the experts have said, and they have not said that.  

Remember the prime minister of Israel and his famed drawing at the United Nations? Binyamin Netenyahu said Iran was close to getting enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb.  

Biden chose not to go after him on that, but he did make an important point. He stressed that there is no evidence Iran is able to build a nuclear weapon.  

To the world, that might seem obvious, but here that was an important point that is often not even mentioned when politicians or the TV talkers mention “Iran’s nuclear weapons programme”.  

It is not a point the Obama Administration has stressed or ever tried to emphasise.  

The next time anyone in the government starts implying with carefully crafted statements that Iran is "this close" to having a nuclear weapon, perhaps the country will remember this definitive statement from the vice president;
 
"When my friend talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 per cent up, then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know - we'll know if they start the process of building a weapon."
 
Any political science professor will tell you, historically, debates do not usually determine elections, and vice presidential debates definitely don’t.  

What they can do is set the agenda; establish policy and the shed light on the road ahead.  

For the first time in the history of presidential elections, this vice presidential debate may have accomplished at least that.