I was impressed with last night's debate. This blog has criticized VP Biden quite a lot, so I have to begin by saying I have never seen him so focussed. He only drifted off into blather territory a couple of times. He also scored solid points on foreign policy issues such as Iran. I sit here a bit stunned that Biden did so much better than President Obama did in his own first debate.
I'd never heard Ryan speak more than a sentence or two until last night. I thought he handled himself well. I didn't expect him to be strong on foreign policy, and indeed he hemmed and hawed some, but he didn't commit any major gaffes.
I do think both he and Biden bobbled the question posed by Martha Raddatz from a soldier who reported unhappiness with the tone of the election. I thought Ryan, by getting into military spending in his answer, failed to grasp the question. It was not about the state of the military, it was more about having an election process a soldier can be proud of defending. By the same token, I thought Biden was off base when he rattled on about how the topmost, sacred duty of our leaders is to take care of the military. Rather, the topmost, sacred duty of our leaders is to defend the Constitution.
The third winner was Martha Raddatz, who showed how to moderate one of these things. She should replace Jim Lehrer at NewsHour.
The biggest winner was the American people, who saw what a good debate looks like, and heard real differences explored.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.