Your VP-Debate Prep Sheet: Follow Along at Home

I had all sorts of rococo viewer's-guide suggestions before the initial Obama-Romney debate last week. Obama is a great orator but only a so-so debater; Romney a so-so orator at best but often a very strong debater; yet Romney is vulnerable to gaffes when taken by surprise; and yet some other things. You can read it for yourself.

I will be really interested to see Joe Biden and Paul Ryan tonight, but my expectations are much simpler: I think they'll both do a good job. They know each other, they both like mixing it up, each has experience talking himself into a corner and (more or less) out again. It should be entertaining. That's as much twelve-dimensional-chess pre-game insight as you'll get from me.

On the other hand, a reader in Florida who has spent a lot of time thinking and writing about rhetoric sends in this tip-sheet on what Joe Biden needs to do, in the wake of Obama's showing last week. You can print this out for quick guidance while watching tonight -- "print it out" being a quaint anachronism that includes just keeping it open a browser window -- and then tick the points off if Biden makes them. I figure that after last week's debate the GOP side doesn't need any tips.

BidenOnion.jpgI have three major thoughts [for Biden] on the upcoming VP debate:

1) Viewers absolutely need to hear the jobs numbers that are shown graphically on the Obama campaign's private-sector jobs chart. VP Biden simply needs to say: "The day Obama was inaugurated, we were losing more than 800,000 private-sector jobs a month. Two months after the stimulus was passed (with ZERO Republican votes), the private-sector job losses were less than half that number.  And after only one year in office, with no help at all from Republicans in Congress, we had totally reversed the private-sector job-loss trend, created positive private-sector job growth and have continued that trend right through this latest jobs report. Our policies ARE working, and we will fully restore the American economy in a second term whether Congressional Republicans help us or not!

Thumbnail image for PaulRyanbeefcake.jpg2) VP Biden should also remind voter REPEATEDLY that the unemployment rate would have been 1% or more lower if the President had gotten his requests for public-sector funding approved. Why is this so relevant? Because in every recession for the last several decades (note: fact check needed), public-sector spending ROSE under Republican presidents, as a logical economic response to a recession.
  • Implication: Republicans believe that spending on public-sector hiring is good when a Republican is president, but bad when it's a Democratic president- pure politics again.
  • Implication: this recession could have been far milder, and the job losses far milder if Republicans had agreed to the same measures that they use when Republican presidents are in office.
3) VP Biden should use any reference to Obamacare to REPEATEDLY note that: a) the basic idea was created by the Heritage Foundation, conservative bastion, in the early 1990s as a response to Hillary Clinton's single-payer efforts; b) that Romney's and Obama's legislation followed the Heritage formula; c) Republican senators who served between 1992-2010 (with Biden) supported this legislation when it was a Republican idea, and then unanimously rejected it when it was a Democratic president; and d) its Heritage pedigree and Obama's adoption make it an inherently bi-partisan bill. President Obama IS bi-partisan- with the real Republican Party that Joe Biden knew when Bill Clinton was president; not the extremist Republican Party that compromises on nothing and cannot act in a bi-partisan fashion.
  • Implication: Obamacare was a conservative idea, and the Congressional Republicans simply became hyper-partisan and sacrificed governing for politics.
  • Implication: Biden saw the transformation of a centrist Republican Party into an extremist faction.
  • Implication: When the Republican Party actually governed, instead of obstructed, the country did well (Clinton economy)....
I believe that these talking points, hammered over and over, favor Joe Biden's style.

Last week, I watched in laboratory-isolation conditions: no Twitter feed, no email, no Internet, no commentary, just the debate stream. Tonight my wife and I will be watching with politically interested friends, and I'll weigh in tomorrow.

And, if you'd like a different kind of guide, I turn you over to our friends from Taiwan at NMA. Yes, you could criticize this video for various sorts of "false equivalence." But parts of it are pretty funny.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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