If you support strong and effective government, then the unfamiliar glow you felt after last Thursday's debate was the satisfaction of seeing your opinions forcefully defended by a national candidate. There hasn't been much of that going on lately. But a deceptive question was asked in the vice presidential debate, while other important ones still haven't been asked of any national candidate.
The president's been undercutting his own party's best message and keeps threatening to cut benefits for its signature programs. As for Mitt Romney and his running mate, there's little left to be said: They're both determined to undermine Medicare and Social Security. Even if they're retreating from their most radical ideas now, you know those ideas will be back once they're in office.
If what follows focuses more on the president than on his challenger, its because the Republicans are beyond redemption on this issue. But both candidates need to answer some direct questions on this topic.
This Tuesday the presidential candidates will meet with voters face-to-face for a town-hall style debate. Let's hope the voters will ask the questions the media haven't.
Joe in the Flow
What you saw that night was a candidate on the Democratic national ticket doing something we haven't seen in a while: representing "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." It was a pleasure to watch a gifted politician in the "zone," that state of maximum achievement sometimes called the "flow state."
But there were shadows over Biden as he spoke his stirring words about these two programs. First there was the shadow of Martha Raddatz's deceptive and scaremongering characterization of these programs, when she posed her question by stating that Medicare and Social Security are "going broke." That statement's simply false, a untruth that's been spoon-fed to careless reporters by billionaire-funded think tanks with a mission to undermine these programs. (And they eat every morsel.)
Hopefully good journalists like Raddatz will eventually be scrupulous enough to review the evidence and stop saying things like that. But either way, it's too late to correct the misconception she reinforced in last week's debate.
The President's Promise is Missing
The second shadow was Biden's own equivocation on substance: will a second Obama/Biden Administration program defend these programs from needless cuts or won't it? Biden didn't repeat the unequivocal defense of these Social Security benefits he offered last month. Biden told voters in the Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart, Virginia that he could "flat guarantee" there would be no changes to Social Security if he and the president were re-elected.
But when Raddatz posed her deceptive question last week, the once-resolute Biden tried distraction rather than clarity. He used the same technique employed by other Democrats on the Social Security hotseat: "We will not -- we will not privatize it." That wasn't the question.
Biden's shift can be explained by the third shadow: The president's apparent mistake to throw away the enormous political advantage Democrats can still win for themselves if they stand firm in defense of benefits for seniors. Instead, when he was asked to differentiate himself from Romney on this issue he said this:
"You know, I suspect that on Social Security, we've got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It's going to have to be tweaked ..."
With those words Obama all but threw away one of his party's greatest assets: its once-reliable reputation as the defender of Medicare and Social Security. Democrats better hope he gets it back -- if not for his sake, than for the sake of candidates further down the ticket.
The Fourth Shadow