Vice Presidential Debate 2012

A brief history of vice presidential debates and why they matter.

In an incredibly tight race for the Presidency, the debate between the vice-presidential candidates matters more than usual. The debate is famously renowned for being memorable – who can forget Dan Quayle’s retort, ‘Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy’ to Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. Furthermore, it provides a chance for the voters to assess the candidates who could be first in the presidential line of succession. The familiar term, ‘only a heartbeat away from the Presidency’, means this debate is incredibly relevant.

The first vice presidential debate first took place in 1976. In this debate, Republican Bob Dole stated, ‘If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.’ Walter Mondale labelled his opponent a ‘hatchet man’ after this blunder, earning him the winning ticket. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman candidate, and Bush had a memorable debate. In 1992, Admiral James Stockdale’s comment ‘who am I? Why am I here?’ in the first three way vice presidential debate in 1992 left viewers wondering if he knew the answer to either question. Biden’s 2008 debate with Sarah Palin was watched by 70 million viewers, so far a record.

The debate has historically provided a platform for further presidential nominees – Bob Dole, Walter Mondale and Al Gore. George H. W. Bush, a Vice Presidential candidate in 1984 went on to become President. Democrat Joe Biden could be a potential Presidential candidate in 2016 and Paul Ryan is a rising star for the GOP. Political careers are at stake adding a further dimension to a vice presidential debate.

Why are the 2012 debates relevant?

President Obama’s disastrous performance in last Wednesday’s debate put running mate Joe Biden under pressure to perform. For the first time two Catholic candidates face each other on the stage. However, both have been at odds with the Catholic hierarchy – Ryan with his budget plans that critics say conflict with social justice causes, such as caring for the poor, and Biden with his stance on abortion and gay rights.

Ultimately, a vice president’s role is usually to balance the ticket. They aim to make the presidential candidate look good, and project that they are a good team. For example, Al Gore and Bill Clinton offered youthful leadership and Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush projected presidential confidence. Paul Ryan appeals to core right wing GOP voters – young, male and straight – in order to compensate for Republican distrust of Mitt Romney. He was also chosen to appeal to women voters. Biden was chosen to lend experience to youthful Obama.

The debate covered both foreign and domestic topics, was sharp and strongly contested by both candidates. The media is undecided as to who won and felt that both Biden and Ryan had largely held their ground.

Read more on this 360° series

Leave a Reply