It’s unfortunate that Martha Raddatz can’t moderate every debate in 2012, because she’s at the top of the moderator game. In last Thursday’s Vice Presidential debate, Raddatz asked tough, specific questions of Joe Biden and Paul Ryan that had both candidates stumbling at times and actually… answering them, as opposed to the traditional debate tactic of responding with a rote talking point, then “pivoting” to talk about something unrelated, often times attacking your opponent. At times, Raddatz even refused to allow this practice, and watching her keeping Biden and Ryan on task was wonderful in contrast to Jim Lehrer’s performance in the first presidential debate. Late night political comedian John Stewart nicely summed up Raddatz’s performance:
“I don’t know what it was, but it was amazing. The lost language of journalism being spoken on modern television, watching her moderate that debate with, oh my God, editorial authority. Its like going to Amish country and seeing them making beautiful chairs by hand. You’re like I thought this craft had been completely forgotten.”
At Independent Voters of America, we thought one of the best questions Raddatz asked was towards the tail end of the night, when many viewers had probably already tuned out to watch Thursday night primetime TV, football, or playoff baseball. Addressing the subject of partisan mudslinging in campaign advertising, Raddatz asked:
I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this Presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, “the ads are so negative and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country.” What would you say to that American hero about this campaign, and at the end of the day are you ever embarrassed by the tone?
Unfortunately, both Biden and Ryan only partially addressed the full scope of the question asked, although it’s not surprising that neither a Democrat nor a Republican would cop to full responsibility for the slew of overwhelmingly negative campaign advertising that’s dominating TV airwaves throughout the country this October, especially in swing states.
Biden responded first, and after taking the softball ‘addressing the soldier’ part of the question, he pointed out that Citizens United is responsible for much of the negativity in the campaign, a claim that if we offered an IVA fact check, we’d deem on the surface as “mostly true.”
I would also tell him that there are things that have occurred in this campaign and occur in every campaign that I’m sure both of us regret anyone having said, particularly in these special new groups that can go out there, raise all the money they want, not have to identify themselves and say the most scurrilous things about the other candidate. It’s — it’s — it’s an abomination.
Biden eventually concluded on the attack by asking:
Whether or not the slipshod comments being made by my — my friend [Paul Ryan] or by Governor Romney serve — serve our interests very well. But there are things that have been said in campaigns that I — I find not very appealing.
While Biden at least offered a modicum of an answer to the question, Paul Ryan’s response really speaks for itself:
First of all, I’d thank him to his service to our country…Second of all, I’d say, we are not going to impose these devastating cuts on our military which compromises their mission and their safety…And then I would say, you have a president who ran for president four years ago promising hope and change who has now turned his campaign into attack, blame and defame. You see, if you don’t have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It’s what he’s doing right now.
Ryan then went on to attack Obama and Biden’s record with several statistical talking points, completely ignoring Raddatz’s question altogether. Ironically, just minutes later, he stated that the unique thing his personal character could bring to serve this country would be honesty. Ultimately, it’s too bad that neither Biden nor Ryan fully addressed Raddatz’s question about the overwhelmingly negative tone of the campaign that they are partially responsible for, but at least that pointed question from Martha Raddatz and many others throughout the night allowed a chance for substantial debate of the issues from both candidates.
So kudos, Martha Raddatz. We wish you could moderate every debate.