The vice presidential candidates sparred during a debate Thursday over issues ranging from foreign affairs to the economy, and took very different views on the role their faith plays in their duties as public officials.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said his Catholic faith is inseparable from the decisions he makes while in office under questioning from moderator Martha Raddatz on how his religion guides his pro-life views.
“I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith,” Ryan said. “Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.
Vice President Joseph Biden similarly talked about the importance of religion in his life — saying he’s been a practicing Catholic all his life and his religion has informed his social views — but he went on to say he’s pro-choice and wouldn’t impose his religion on others who may not share his views.
“But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman,” Biden said.
It’s these views on religion that could help explain why they hold opposing views on same-sex marriage, which is opposed by the Catholic Church. Biden came out for marriage equality in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” while Ryan opposes same-sex marriage and voted twice for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban it throughout the country.
Adam Bink, who’s gay and director of online programs for the Courage Campaign, said the candidate’s opposing views on the way religion affects their public duties should concern LGBT Americans — particularly with several cases related to marriage pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“For anyone concerned about LGBT equality, the bottom line was Rep. Ryan saying he can’t separate his faith from the way he serves in public office, and Vice President Biden saying ‘I accept the church’s doctrine in my personal life, but I refuse to impose that on others,’” Bink said. “With the Supreme Court considering whether to take cases on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, I know who I want advising the next president on judicial nominees.”
But no explicit mention of LGBT issues was made during the 90-minute debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., where the terrorism attacks in Benghazi, Libya, the best way to end the war in Afghanistan and managing the fiscal affairs of the U.S. government took up large portions of the evening.
The murder of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens, during the attacks in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 led the evening. Ryan was critical of the lack of Marines guarding the consulate at the time of the attack, but Biden retorted that Ryan wanted to cut embassy security by $300 million as part of the budget he proposed as House Budget Committee chair. Biden also criticized the Republican ticket for politicizing the tragedy by issuing a statement critical of the Obama administration on the night of the attack and calling a news conference, saying, “That’s not presidential leadership.”
Biden and Ryan also offered a clear distinction on the war in Afghanistan, which Raddatz noted has taken the lives of more than 2,000 U.S. service members. Biden said the Obama administration would for sure pull out troops in 2014, but Ryan said a Romney administration wants to remove the U.S. military at that time only if conditions on the ground permit it.
Ryan was vague about the conditions that would be necessary for withdrawal and criticized Biden for having such a hard and fast timeline. Biden replied that 49 allied countries have agreed to the U.S. proposed timetable for leaving the country in 2014.
At one point when Biden and Ryan were sparring over government revenue, Biden took issue with Ryan saying a Republican White House could balance the budget by finding $5 trillion in tax loopholes while still offering a 20 percent tax cut, saying “Not mathematically possible.” When Ryan retorted President Kennedy lowered taxes and increased growth, Biden replied, “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy” — recalling an infamous line that Democrat Lloyd Bentsen used against Republican Dan Quayle during the 1988 vice presidential debate.
Views on who won the vice presidential debate were more mixed than last week when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was declared the winner because he seemed more energized in taking on President Obama, but the general consensus was Biden was more effective. A CBS News poll found 50 percent of undecided voters believed Biden won while 31 percent said victory belonged to Ryan. However, a CNN poll of those who watched the debate revealed 48 percent gave the victory to Ryan, compared to 44 percent who thought Biden came out on top.
The strongest sentiment after the debate was that Raddatz was effective as moderator because she pressed candidates to clarify their views and challenged them as they answered questions.
LGBT groups on the right and left issued statements following the debate backing up whichever candidate their organization has been supporting over the course of the campaign.
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, drew on a favorite word of Biden’s during the debate — “malarkey” — as he praised Biden for making an exceptional case for the administration’s domestic and foreign policy record.
“Joe Biden wasn’t having any of the Romney-Ryan malarkey tonight,” Davis said. “From the start, it was evident that Paul Ryan was going to follow Mitt Romney’s lead and say whatever it takes to get elected. Ryan misled Americans on the unemployment rate and refused to give specifics on the Romney-Ryan tax plan that would significantly increase the tax burden on the middle class.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, carried the Republican talking point for the evening that Biden was inappropriately smirking and laughing at remarks he deemed inaccurate from Ryan.
“Not only did Biden laugh his way through a discussion over their failed economic record, he also laughed his way through a discussion of this administration’s failed foreign policy in a dangerous world,” LaSalvia said. “Paul Ryan made it clear how seriously the Romney/Ryan administration would take America’s leadership in the world and in protecting Americans at home and abroad.”