THE vice presidential debate Thursday night will likely be remembered more for Democratic incumbent Joe Biden's nonverbals than any specific quotes. Biden's bizarre behavior — inappropriate laughter, smirks and constant interruptions — quickly fueled parodies. Mark this one a win for the GOP.
Republican Paul Ryan was dignified and respectful, although perhaps too deferential at times. A bit more push-back was warranted now and again. Still, Ryan made the most of his constantly interrupted time.
When Biden blamed the intelligence community for claiming a YouTube video caused the murder of our Libya ambassador, Ryan simply noted: “If we're hit by terrorists, we're going to call it for what it is: a terrorist attack.”
Biden often seemed out of touch with reality. He was so dismissive of Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear weapon that even the moderator was compelled to note, “You are acting a little bit like they don't want one.” Biden repeatedly claimed that maintaining current tax rates for the middle class is a tax cut. It's not.
Biden's slightly unhinged, undignified and rude behavior may fire up core Democrats, but likely turns off swing voters. Ryan looked like a vice presidential candidate; Biden looked like a kid blowing spit wads in middle school, not someone who should be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Appearances matter. Ryan treated voters with respect while Biden prompted many to recall Proverbs 29:9: “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.”
A giant loss
The University of Oklahoma, indeed the state of Oklahoma, lost a great teacher last weekend with the passing of professor J. Rufus Fears. Fears, 67, was a classics professor at OU, where he spent 22 years including a stint as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. OU President David Boren said flatly: “Rufus Fears was one of the greatest teachers in the history of our state.” Fears was a popular lecturer and writer, usually tying the lessons of the past to the politics of today. In an op-ed in The Oklahoman in January, he cited the Federalist Papers, the Magna Carta and even Pericles in explaining the power of the purse held by the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a distinguished fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank. “There are very few people who have done more for the cause of liberty or more to preserve the history of our great republic,” said Dr. David R. Brown, OCPA's founding chairman. Fears will be missed, on campus and off.
Sending a clear message
State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, plans to author a “parent trigger” law in Oklahoma. Under that plan, if 51 percent of local parents sign a petition to intervene in a chronically low-performing school, they could replace staff or convert the school to a charter school. There are pros and cons to the proposal, but one attack trotted out by opponents doesn't hold water. Melissa Abdo, a parent coordinator with the Tulsa Area Parent Legislative Action Committee, argues that school boards are elected by all local citizens and the trigger law would give outsized influence to just a handful. In reality, turnout for school board elections is often abysmal. That's not necessarily the fault of the schools, but a petition with 51 percent participation would dramatically exceed turnout for most school board elections and send a clear message from voters.
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission's rule against electioneering reads as follows: “A person shall not use or authorize the use of public funds, property, or time to produce, print, publish, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate material designed or timed to influence the results of an election for state office or a ballot measure, except political activities or statements inherent to or part of the function of a candidate or an elected officer or the performance of a state officer's or state employee's duties or as allowed by law, regardless of the lack of specific reference to the election.” Got that? John Miley says he does. Miley is general counsel for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. His wife is Noma Gurich, a justice on the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In early October, Miley sent an email — during working hours, using his state email account — to 126 state agency legal advisers urging them to push for the retention of state appellate judges, including his wife. Miley says he didn't break any ethics laws, in part because a retention ballot is “not an election at all.” He also says he would do things differently next time. Miley seems to understand that, although the commission's rules can leave one dazed and confused, he should have known better.
Info surplus no problem
We've supported efforts by business groups to issue judicial ratings for judges on the retention ballot, believing a well-designed informational campaign would serve voters well. So far, that's proving true. The existence of the business-backed Oklahoma Civil Justice Council's judicial ratings has led the Oklahoma Bar Association to launch a similar informational campaign. Because the bar makes clear its system is designed to counter the business-backed ratings, it may have a very different take on judicial effectiveness. That's fine. The existence of competing rating systems increases the amount of information available to voters. Rather than confuse citizens, we think a surplus of information is far preferable to the vacuum that existed in past elections. Voters are used to dealing with claims and counterclaims from candidates for other offices; they won't be intimidated by competing information regarding judicial effectiveness.
Belly flop of a rule
This year the federal Justice Department declared the Americans With Disabilities Act applied to pools used by the public. This led to an outcry from many hotel operators who faced the sudden cost of installing elevators, lifts or ramps to accommodate the disabled and the threat of associated lawsuits. It turns out that rule's impact wasn't limited to the hotel industry. Tulsa Public Schools may close many of its pools due in part to the new regulations. The district could have to install lifts at 23 pools at a cost of $7,500 apiece. That $172,500 total cost is equivalent to several teachers' annual salaries and effectively cuts school funds. As with many federal regulations, this proposal will do little to increase access for the disabled, and much to reduce access for countless other Americans.
Sandusky, ever delusional
Before being sentenced this week to 30 to 60 years in prison for molesting boys, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had his say. What a pathetic waste of time it was. Sandusky rambled for about 15 minutes, telling the judge that, “I've forgiven, I've been forgiven. I've comforted others, I've been comforted. I've been kissed by dogs, I've been bit by dogs.” He added that, “I've conformed. I've also been different. I've been me.” At another point he said, “In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts.” Whatever. A jury in June had no trouble finding Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of abusing 10 boys over a period of years. He used his position in the community as an entree to have his way with them, and has been delusional since the scandal unfolded last year. Clearly nothing has changed. Even if he winds up with just 30 years in prison, it's essentially a life sentence for the 68-year-old Sandusky. He certainly earned it.