September 26, 1960: the debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. As the story goes, those who listened to the debate by radio thought Nixon the clear winner, but those who saw it on TV thought just the opposite. Nixon looked pasty, unsettled, even deceptive, while Kennedy looked tanned, relaxed and believable.
Fast forward to October 11, 2012, the vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan. I later watched the entire debate on videotape, but caught about a half hour of the middle via radio as I was driving home from a rehearsal. I was amazed—and disgusted–by Joe Biden’s behavior. I won’t go into great detail, but for those interested, a Fox News transcript of the debate is available here.
VP Biden: Biden presented himself as an old, bellicose, arrogant-without-justification, attack dog politician. In the four decades I’ve been watching presidential debates, I’ve never seen anything like it. Even Al Gore’s surly performance against Mr. Bush was, by comparison, merely silly and ineffective. But Mr. Biden set a new standard—a new low–for behavior in a debate. He was rude, condescending, even insulting. He constantly interrupted Mr. Ryan, laughed, smirked, mugged for the cameras, sneered, repeatedly called Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney “my friend(s)” in such a way that it was obvious he considers them anything but. I’ve always known Mr. Biden to be a loud and obnoxious jerk prone to running his mouth without engaging his brain, and equally prone to saying whatever flows out his open yap with little regard for the truth. He was in particularly low form tonight.
Martha Raddatz: In the tank for the Obama campaign. She consistently interrupted and quizzed Ryan, and asked demanding questions that implied he didn’t have any real plan or details to support what he was saying, despite his recitations of those plans and details. Her lack of similar behavior toward Biden was as obvious as it was unethical and unprofessional.
Paul Ryan: Well prepared, but perhaps a bit too polite. Ryan came off as well-informed, well-intentioned and competent, but he allowed Raddatz and Biden—who also did his best to interrupt and intimidate Ryan—to control the flow of the debate. However he certainly appeared to be adult and polite, as well as having probably the best zinger of the debate.
Best Zinger: Responding to Mr. Biden’s commentary on Mr. Romney’s “47%” comment, Mr. Ryan said:
I think the Vice President knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.
On Syria: Mr. Biden condescendingly claimed Mr. Ryan wasn’t saying what a Romney Administration would do differently when Mr. Ryan just spent several minutes doing precisely that. This was a common tactic for Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden was also strident and sometimes made little sense, as in this response to Mr. Ryan’s charge that Mr. Obama gave Russia a veto over our actions regarding Syria:
Russia has a different interest in Syria and that’s not our interest.
That was pretty much Mr. Ryan’s point, Mr. Vice President.
Whoppers: Honest fact checkers will, no doubt, have a field day with Mr. Biden’s pronouncements, but several immediately stand out.
Mr. Biden completely mischaracterized the effect of Obamacare on religious freedom in general and the Catholic Church in particular, giving Mr. Ryan the chance to point out that the Catholic Church wouldn’t be suing the government if what he had to say was true.
Mr. Biden also asserted that he and Mr. Obama picked two people (Ms. Sotomayor and Ms. Kagan) for the Supreme Court with “open minds” and “no agenda.”
Mr. Biden threw the intelligence community under the bus, claiming “we” were told the Benghazi attack was caused by a video, but the intel people later changed their mind. He also claimed “we” weren’t told about the many requests for proper security.
After trashing the intelligence community, he claimed it would be essentially omniscient in being able to accurately tell when Iran’s nuclear program was able to assemble nuclear weapons.
Mr. Biden: He began by blaming George W. Bush (unnamed) for all the troubles the Obama Administration inherited, and hit on a litany of campaign talking points, such as 47%, giving Americans an “even shot,” a “level playing field,” a “clear shot,” and “peace of mind.” Nothing new here and certainly nothing convincing.
Mr. Ryan: He sincerely thanked Mr. Biden, who responded by smirking and mugging like the village idiot. Ryan spoke of stopping spending, borrowing, stopping higher taxes, and repealing Obamacare. He mentioned high poverty, high unemployment, and promised real reforms and “real recovery for all Americans.” He asked if it wouldn’t be “nice to have a job creator in the White House?” Most convincingly, he said Mr. Romney and he wouldn’t blame others, but would take responsibility and would “reapply founding principles.”
SAD NEWS ( for CNN and the Obama Campaign) FROM CNN (via Instapundit):
I suspect Mr. Biden was encouraged to be aggressive to make up for Mr. Obama’s lackadaisical first debate performance. In that pursuit, he went very much overboard and throughout the debate, behaved boorishly. In the Obama/Romney debate, Americans truly got to see each man for the first time. I suspect that as the dust settles, Americans will realize the same thing about this debate, as the CNN polls suggest. Keeping in mind that CNN is hardly a right-leaning network, these post-debate results are remarkable and likely indicative of even wider margins for Mr. Ryan.
Who won? Mr. Ryan, but not necessarily on substance. Mr. Biden made no painfully obvious gaffes and actually made a number of effective–if fundamentally misleading–points. In the category of rhetoric, they were essentially even, which might reasonably be considered a win in itself for Mr. Ryan. By Friday, however, I’m sure numerous sources will put together compilations of Mr. Biden’s bad behavior, which, like Mr. Obama’s record, Mr. Biden will not be able to explain or escape. In fact, both Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan performed well in arguing their respective positions, but debating is a visual medium, and the optics—as politicos say—were just terrible for Mr. Biden, and this time, there is no one to blame, which is not to say he won’t try.
As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Ryan did not aggressively push back against Raddatz or Biden. I suspect this was not only due to his polite character—he has been insulted in public by Mr. Obama—but a calculation to allow the public to see Mr. Biden for what he is. If so, the next few days may prove that to be a wise calculation indeed.
Will this debate make a major change in the race? Perhaps a point or two here or there. The best Mr. Obama can hope for out of this debacle is essentially a tie that causes no more prodigious leakage, but I suspect that as Biden “rude reels” begin to hit the airwaves and the Internet, a substantial number of undecided voters will move into the Romney camp. It’s ironic: the candidate determined to give all Americans an “even shot,” a “level playing field,” and “a clear shot,” did his damndest to deny it to one particular American—Paul Ryan. Americans don’t like that kind of rudeness and bad manners. Many may well conclude that Mr. Biden must have been raised by wolves.