One thing is absolutely clear from the last night's vice presidential debate: time for Jim Lehrer to retire.
What a difference does a moderator make! Martha Raddatz was splendid. She did not let the Romney backers intimidate her. The Breitbart crowd is no match for a war correspondent like Ms. Raddatz. Unlike Lehrer, she kept control. Her follow-up questions were on point and tough. As a result, the debate was informative, fast moving. A real service to voters.
Whatever progress Mitt Romney made last week in distancing himself from the severely conservative agenda he embraced to win the Republican nomination, it was undone by Joe Biden in 90 minutes. Once again, the Democrats are positioned as the defenders of Medicare and the middle class. Biden was also very effective in tying Paul Ryan's previous support to privatize Social Security to Romney.
Where the vice president failed was in his body language. Too much condescending grinning, laughing. He constantly interrupted. But, I suspect that was done for the benefit of Democrats who have been in total despair during the last week over the president's performance in the first debate. They wanted to see a fighter last night and that's what they got.
I think Biden was most effective when he thoughtfully and calmly handled questions like he did when dealing with abortion. If he had done that throughout the debate, it would have been a triumph. Instead, Biden scored a solid win.
Paul Ryan held his own. Barely. He was clearly outclassed when it came to foreign policy. It was obvious that this is not an area that he has thought about very much. He also was hampered by Romney's latest foreign policy position which is to simultaneously criticize and agree with Obama.
Ryan did a lot of damage to the GOP ticket by suggesting that a Romney administration would increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. Once again, the GOP is underestimating just how tired the American people is of war. Biden most effective line of the evening was about it is time for the Afghans to step up and take care of their own security.
As expected, Ryan did well handling questions about budget matters. This is his area of expertise and that came through. However, Ryan is still saddled with the untenable Republican position of delivering tax cuts to the upper income earners while reducing the rate of growth of entitlements. A position that can be quickly demonized by the Democrats as cutting benefits to middle class seniors in order to give tax cuts to the rich.
I suppose both camps will declare victory. The Democrats can claim that Biden stopped the bleeding. The Republicans can be critical of Biden's body language. But the real winner last night was Martha Raddatz and the real loser was Jim Lehrer.