Sorry, Democrats, but someone has to say it: Talking about what a “liar” Mitt Romney is may feel good right now, but if that’s what Joe Biden focuses on Thursday night, he’ll blow the vice presidential debate just as President Obama blew the first one.
No, if Biden wants to help the ticket make up for ground lost since the Denver debacle, he needs a different approach. An approach that doesn’t assume his listeners already agree with him. He needs to walk people through some political realities the way he’d explain them to a small roomful of independent or undecided voters.
“My friends,” Biden should say, “we can’t be sure at this point what Mitt Romney’s ‘real’ philosophy and values are. He governed Massachusetts as a centrist Republican and did things that I applaud — like enacting a universal health plan with the support of Ted Kennedy. That plan became a model for the president’s national reform.
“But then Governor Romney sold his soul to the right wing of his party to get the nomination – and adopted extreme conservative positions on taxes, immigration, health care, women’s rights and more.
“Did Romney call for well-off Americans to contribute nothing to deficit reduction — or for hard-working high school graduates to be deported, though they were brought here as children – or for millions of poor workers to be stripped of basic health coverage – because he really believes in this pinched vision of America? Or did he do it because he thought that’s what it took to win the nomination?
“I have no idea, my friends. And neither does anyone else.
“That’s the point. It’s impossible to know Mitt Romney’s real values. But it’s entirely possible to understand the conservative forces Romney has pandered to and empowered in his thirst for office. They’re the same extremists who will be calling the shots if you send him to the White House.
“The selection of Paul Ryan was part of Governor Romney’s strategy to court the right wing. The key thing I want to persuade you of tonight, then, is why Congressman Ryan’s values, and those of today’s congressional Republicans who stand with him, are out of step with America’s best traditions and current needs.
“Let me be clear: I’ve worked with Republicans over my entire 40-year career. You can’t accomplish anything in Washington if you don’t. But something a little crazy has gotten into the water the GOP has been drinking these last few years. Too many Republicans today won’t support the policies we need to renew America’s middle class and assure opportunity and security in a global age.
“Let me also stipulate that Paul is a hard-working young man and has a lovely family. My critique isn’t personal. But Paul is skilled at wrapping his ideas in a pleasant-sounding package that I’ll ask you to look beyond tonight.
“Here are three things you need to understand about my opponent and the congressional Republicans who share his views.
“First, on taxes: The single highest priority of Mr. Ryan and Republicans in Congress has been to cut taxes on America’s top earners — even though we’ve been at war for a decade and have huge deficits to shrink. This is the first time in our history that America has cut taxes for top earners at a time of war. Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans think we should let other people’s children fight our wars, and let other people’s children pick up the tab for them later. The president and I believe this is wrong.
“Second: Paul Ryan and the Republicans are NOT ‘fiscal conservatives.’ Fiscal conservatives pay for the government they want. Ryan’s budget, which his party endorsed, doesn’t balance the budget until the 2030s and adds $14 trillion to the national debt along the way. The fastest-growing program in Ryan’s budget is interest on the debt. What kind of ‘conservative’ has a 25-year plan to balance the budget? The president has a balanced approach to tame the deficit in the next decade while still making critical investments in education, research and infrastructure.
“Finally, Ryan has said that programs like Social Security and Medicare have become ‘a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.’ I’m not saying this view makes him evil. But it’s deeply misguided. It’s an ideological stance that could only be taken by someone who hasn’t thought about, or is perhaps personally insulated from, the challenges faced by millions of Americans every day. It suggests a readiness to return life in America to its rougher state a hundred years ago, before both parties came together to assure basic health care and retirement security for seniors.
“My opponent sees these programs as breeding ‘dependency.’ We’ve heard Governor Romney say much the same thing behind closed doors. This may have been a legitimate debate...in the 19th century. But shredding our safety net is not what America needs at a time when global competition and rapid technological change are leaving Americans increasingly vulnerable.
“There’s more we’ll get into – especially on jobs, where Republicans killed the president’s plan that would have created 2 million new jobs and left unemployment tonight below 7 percent. And of course Medicare, where our differences are profound.
“But these three areas show that the army of extreme conservatives Mitt Romney would bring with him to power are not what they pretend to be. I look forward to explaining this tonight, so at this critical juncture America can choose to move forward...”
Matt Miller is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a contributor to MSNBC. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.