Women get a shot: Martha Raddatz rules the vice-presidential debate

MICHAEL REYNOLDS / POOL EPA Vice President Joe Biden gestures toward Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as moderator Martha Raddatz listens … Continued



Vice President Joe Biden gestures toward Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as moderator Martha Raddatz listens at the vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

In the New Testament, Martha does all the hard work while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, learning. (Luke 10:38-42) Both jobs are clearly needed, but ABC foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, moderator of the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) clearly did the hard work of keeping the conversation on track despite vigorous debate between the two contenders.

Raddatz had to struggle on two fronts; both controlling the battling debaters in front of her, and criticism both before and during the debate.

This criticism had a disturbing tone of gender bias. Gender bias against women moderating debates has raised its ugly head before, as was the case with Gwen Ifill in 2008. Even before the 2012 vice-presidential debate ended, Raddatz was criticized for her moderating skills. The direction of the criticism during the debate was that she was too easy on Biden.

But actually Raddatz ruled with an even hand, giving extra time to Ryan at times, and letting Biden comment at others.

Importantly, Raddatz even had the gumption to bring up what many consider one of the most contentious issues in American political life, the relationship of abortion and faith.

Raddatz was specific in questioning the candidates on how faith does or does not inform policy on this issue.

“We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.”

“I believe that life begins at conception,” said Ryan, and that “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.” This is a shift for Ryan, as he has previously opposed all reasons for abortion. Ryan also repeated the “religious freedom” issue in regard to the Obama administration’s position on support for contraception.


Moderator Martha Raddatz watches as Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin participate in the vice presidential debate at Centre College on Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky.

Biden, also a Catholic, was quick to agree with Ryan on what Catholic teaching says about life beginning at conception. He immediately broadened it to the whole of “Catholic social doctrine,” however, and how that has informed him as a Catholic about taking care of the most vulnerable.

Biden was also clear that the “religious freedom” issue regarding reproductive choice coverage for women, including contraception, did not affect the religious freedom of either Catholic churches or institutions; “none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.”

In fact, as Biden pointed out, the key issue of religious freedom is on the other foot. Biden argued that his Catholic beliefs should not dictate policy positions that he would take as an elected official. The vice president stuck to his faith perspective, but added that “I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”

This is it. The bottom line for American faith and public life. We respect each other’s religious beliefs, but it is unacceptable to impose those on others as law.

And finally, it seemed like I heard the word “women” uttered for the first time during the 2012 presidential and vice-presidential debates. “I do not believe,” said Biden, “that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body.”

Mr. Vice President, if you had mentioned the Violence Against Women Act I would have been happier, but thank you for respecting both the true American practice on religious freedom, the freedom from religious dominance, and also the right of women to have the final say about their own bodies.

But Raddatz was not done with her values question. She wanted each candidate to talk about the tone of the race, and whether they were, indeed, “embarrassed by that.” Both candidates ducked her question in different ways.

By the earliest CNN poll, Biden won by a wide margin, though it is early yet in the responses.

It’s true the vice president did well. But in terms of the Mary and Martha story in the New Testament, in this case it was Martha who “had the better part.”

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

  • verbummilitant

    Your are absolutely right, Martha did control the debate. Every time Ryan attempted to make a point she made sure to call for the next question and always gave her candidate, Biden, the last word. You know that, and so does anyone else who watched that “debate.”

    Your attempt to belittle Ryan by selectively quoting, out of context, the Word of God is beyond shame. “Martha [Biden]does all the work while Mary [Ryan] sits at the feet of Jesus, learning” (Luke 10:38-42) Reverend, you forgot to point out what Our Lord said to Martha [Biden]in Luke 10:42 “Martha, Martha, you are anxiuos and worried about many things. There is neeed of only one thing. Mary [Ryan] has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

    Reverend, you should know better!Listen….Listen…Listen to the Word and then, and only then, ACT. That is how we all learn. Perhaps your candidate would have been better off to listen to what Ryan had to say. That would have been “the better part.”

  • Janet Olson Chlebek

    This article is so far from the truth. Did you not hear her ask Ryan a very difficult question and not ask Biden the same? Why did she allow Biden to make a fool of himself and interrupt Ryan constantly? If Biden conducts himself in this disrespectful manner with dignitaries, we are doomed!

  • jfair1

    Why on earth does it take “gumption” to raise the issue of faith and abortion? It isn’t the moderators job to bring up things that make everyone feel comfortable.

  • edismae

    I think the CBS poll of undecideds had Biden winning.
    CNN gave it to Ryan within the margin of error.
    You might want to read the link you provided.

  • IntellectOne

    Joe Biden is a Heretic He is not an ‘Authentic’ Catholic.. Every man, woman, and child will be forced to pay for abortifaceints, Abortion on Demand and sterilizations through the Tax dollar and the Insurance premiums.This is because of the ‘Affordable Healthcare Act’ aka Obamacare. Every small business that operates their business with morals and ethics is forced to pay for their employees insurance , which would include these ‘Elective non-essential -benefits.( they are not healthcare) Either Joe Biden does not know what is going on or he is lying. Either way it is negligent to Lie to the American People, because he is the Vice President. He can talk all he wants, but he voted and promoted and must be condoning this administration’s actions which are directly against Roman Catholic Church Teaching. Biden is part of this administration. .
    Both: the Abortion and the same-sex pseudo marriage are not only Political Issues , but Moral Issues. VP Joe Biden is an “Authentic” Heretic.
    Moderator Martha Raddatz watches as Vice President Joe Biden bloviates without asking him to back-up his untrue rhetoric. .

  • quiensabe

    Sorry, Susan, but Biden didn’t make contraception a non-relilgious position of the Administration. Americans are familiar enough with how insurance works to know that insurance compnies don’t pay for anything…either the company, religious organization or folks who are part of it pay. Don’t flim-flam us with Obama’s position being First Amendment nuetral. It is not.