Tonight President Barack Obama will try to repair the damage from the last debate.
No, not just the first one, the one he sleepwalked through against Republican Mitt Romney. I also mean the vice presidential debate between Republican Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden. The one in which Biden gave independent, swing voters a good reason to reject the Democratic ticket.
Democrats and Republicans both insist their side won, but what about moderate voters who are disgusted with the lack of civility and compromise in public discourse?
Biden guffawed, mocked, eye-rolled, sighed and grimaced his way through the entire debate, displaying exactly the kind of combative and offensive behavior that moderates and consensus-seekers have declared is ruining our country. You can run out of adjectives to describe the strategy Biden apparently mistakenly thought would capture those voters: Disrespectful, arrogant, smirking, interrupting and condescending. Veteran debate watchers said they had never seen anything like it.
Democratic partisans justified it, welcoming the introduction of the mean-spirited (as liberals are fond of calling the behavior) attack as too long in coming. Still mystified or disgusted by Romney's drubbing of the listless Obama in the first debate, they rejoiced in the unleashing of the Biden attack-dog persona. Wow! Wonderful! At last!
With all the talk about how the debate energized the Democratic base, the one thing that has been missing in the commentary is the damage that has been done to the party that holds itself above everyone else because of its superior caring, sensitivity and moderation. Witness the strafing that supporters of Democrat challenger Tammy Duckworth in the gerrymandered 8th Congressional District have been giving to Republican Rep. Joe Walsh because he is supposedly a loudmouthed, intemperate beast.
Can you imagine sitting across a negotiating table, trying to reach a compromise with the likes of Biden on the other side? Laughing out loud at your serious suggestions, whatever their merit. You'd probably say "what the …" and leave. No, Biden is not the president, but he didn't put on that display entirely on his own. It's a timeworn gambit to leave the attacks to the surrogates while the president appears "presidential" and above the fray. Biden's behavior was the Obama campaign's plan and responsibility.
Flash polls by CNN and CBS immediately following the debate turn out to be contradictory about who won and whether Biden blew off the moderate, undecided voters. I can imagine, though, that Obama's political brain trust hopes that independent voters have short memories.
I can't imagine what tonight's debate between Obama and Romney will bring. Who could have predicted the unusual and memorable events of the first two? Maybe for once we'll see a Democrat who is both informed and respectful.
On to health care
I can't let the Biden-Ryan debate go without commenting on substance. Unfortunately, I don't have the space for all the back and forth, so I'll focus on Biden's assertion that no Catholic or religious hospital or social service agency has to pay for free contraception for its employees under new Obama administration regulations. "That is a fact. That is a fact!" Biden proclaimed, his voice rising.
Blarney. Every employer has to. The only exception allowed for religious institutions applies if the employer inculcates "religious values as its purpose," primarily serves or employs people "who share its religious tenets" and is a nonprofit church organization. In other words, such places as churches, seminaries and missions, where instilling beliefs is their persistent and main purpose.
Catholic hospitals and social services do not exclusively serve or hire Catholics. Their purpose is not to inculcate religion but to provide wellness, comfort and rescue to all in need. The church believes it has a God-given role to provide such services. But no religious test is applied. No screeds are issued. The Obama administration has defined a religious institution in a way that serves Obama's political purposes.
Obama is forcing Catholic and other faiths to violate their own religious beliefs or shut down thousands of hospitals, schools and social service agencies — at great expense to the country. There is no choice — provide health insurance that gives out free contraceptives and certain abortifacients or be in violation of the law.
It's hard to imagine a clearer violation of the First Amendment's protection of the "free exercise of religion."