On Saturday (as expected) Saturday Night Live released it’s parody on the Vice Presidential Debates. Many aspects of the debate were dramatized, such as Ryan’s excessive water drinking and Biden’s hand gestures. Moderator Martha Raddatz was also spoofed as being tough, unlike PBS’ Jim Lehrer, and warned the candidates not to walk all over her.
Our favorite debate moments were highlighted. Joe Biden, played by Jason Sudeikis, spoke of “malarkey” and constantly interrupted Ryan verbally and with a creepy-smirk, played by Taran Killam. And when asked about abortion, Ryan added that he still calls his oldest child “bean” because that was her shape during the first sonogram. SNL mocked this by saying he had to nickname his other two kids “bean” also because he realized that was just the shape all children have at that stage of pregnancy.
But moderator Martha Raddatz, played by Kate McKinnon, said something very important: “A reminder tonight your performance tonight is extremely unlikely to affect the outcome of the election.” Is this true? Do the Vice Presidential debates really have no affect on the outcomes of the election? If so, then why do we hold them?
Many signs lead to no. Americans do not vote for a Vice President, but instead for a President. The “heartbeat question” doesn’t seem to impact how Americans will end up voting. In the 1988 Vice Presidential Debate, Lloyd Bentsen’s famous takedown of Dan Quayle occurred: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” But a month later, Quayle’s running mate, George H. W. Bush, crushed Michael Dukakis by a margin of almost eight percentage points and carried forty states. This example illustrates how little of an impact the winner of a VP debate has.
But many believe that this VP debate mattered. POLITICO believes that’s because this is the rare presidential year in which, from a policy standpoint, one side is running as much against the other’s veep pick as they are the presidential nominee. Ryan is the architect of the controversial budget plan that would offer younger voters the option of taking a voucher in place of traditional Medicare coverage. He was also among the biggest advocates in the Bush years of letting taxpayers put part of their Social Security in private accounts and had the privatization plan in his original fiscal “roadmap.”
Both did what the needed to do, but barely. Biden showed aggression towards the GOP, but this was somewhat overshadowed by his nonstop succession of incredulous smiles, sneers, taunts and guffaws that were apparently intended to show self-confidence and fighting spirit but struck many viewers as undignified and rude. And Ryan gave Republicans the minimum they needed. He turned in a passable performance with no big errors and with very occasional flashes of the young domestic policy activist that first won him the national spotlight. But he didn’t do much more than that. His earnest-but-bland performance rarely if ever dominated the evening.
The question will remained unanswered as to whether or not the VP debates still matter, but for this election they did not– even if they didn’t do much more than pass.