DANVILLE, Ky. – At Thursday night's vice presidential debate, the moderator was a member of a minority who, with her outstanding performance, made the case that future debates would be well served by having more moderators like her. Hey Commission on Presidential Debates: Give us more reporters!
Yes, you’re right, Martha Raddatz is a woman, but that’s not what made her better than “silent Jim” Lehrer or other predecessors. Look at the list of moderators from the last two presidential elections: Lehrer (twice), Bob Schieffer (twice), Gwen Ifill (VP moderator in both ’04 and ’08), Tom Brokaw, and Charles Gibson. Esteemed journalists all, but ones who have spent years as anchors or hosts. By contrast, Raddatz, as my colleague Farhad Manjoo pointed out on Twitter earlier tonight, has been an ABC News correspondent for more than a decade, and before that covered the Pentagon for NPR. She’s been to Iraq 21 times.
You knew from the very first question, when Raddatz asked, directly and specifically, about the Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, that she was going to steer the debate toward substantive issues and demand specific answers.
Last week we got: "What are the major differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating jobs?" And: "What are the differences between the two of you on how you would tackle the deficits?" Thursday night we got Raddatz pushing Ryan to be more specific on Romney’s tax plan and challenging Biden on the Afghanistan surge. Instead of just asking them to talk generally about Medicare, she reminded Biden and Ryan that Medicare and Social Security are going broke. (Not that they need reminding.) She called the Obama administration out for its projection that unemployment would be 6 percent now if the stimulus passed, and made Ryan confirm Biden’s claim that he asked for stimulus dollars. (He did.)
I am sure a good number of conservatives, fueled by reports that Obama attended Raddatz's wedding in 1995, will not agree with the assessment that Raddatz rocked. And I did actually think she was a little easier on Biden. She interrupted Ryan on multiple occasions and didn't do much to stop Biden from constantly doing the same. But even Ryan’s crew in the spin room didn't seem to want to make much hay out of that. (What’s the old line? If you are complaining about the moderator, you already lost.)
There was a lot of talk after the first presidential debate last week about how "wonky" it was. But if that’s true, it was in spite of, not because of, the moderator. What Raddatz did Thursday night was demand substance but also foster spirit and emotion from both candidates. And she kept things moving.
There are two debates left, and an election that is getting closer by the day. Since it would be a tad awkward and a complete violation of protocol for Raddatz to step in and take over the final two debates, let's hope that Candy Crowley and Bob Schieffer at least follow her example. And that four years from now, Raddatz gets a promotion to moderate the candidates fighting it out to be president.