When the dust fully settles, very few people will remember anything about last night’s Vice Presidential debate except for the endless mugging and wildly rude behavior of the sitting veep. In that way it will be recalled similarly to the first Bush/Gore debate: no one remembers what was said that night, or even who “won”, but they remember that Gore spent the time sighing and rolling his eyes. Forget the substance of whatever was said that night, the impression was that Gore lost because he acted like an ass.
Biden has his fans, even on the Right. They may not like the policies he espouses, but Biden is by all accounts a good and decent man. Maybe so, but goodness and decency were not on display last night. What Biden demonstrated last night was complete and utter contempt for the young Congressman he routinely and, one would assume, sarcastically referred to as “my friend.” Well, with friends like that…
There were plenty of missed opportunities for Paul Ryan last night. He seemed nervous for the first half of the debate, repeated himself several times, got a little lost in the numbers, and failed to knock Biden off his heels. This could be because Ryan is new to a stage this large, but it is more likely due to the fact that nobody was expecting Biden to sit there raving like a drunk in the corner of the bar at three in the morning. My guess is that Ryan’s muted and tepid response to Biden was shock. Biden always seems affable, but last night he was giggling and snorting like Beavis and Butthead in Sex Ed class. Then, when challenged, he responded with something very close to rage. Ryan’s good at math, and he probably did some here: Rage + Huge Smile = Psychopath.
Many of Ryan’s responses were lukewarm, especially on foreign policy. But Biden’s responses were downright baffling. Sure he scored a few points here and there, but what conclusion can anybody draw when one candidate is discussing the very real possibility that a major terrorist force in the world is close to getting nuclear weapons and has stated the desire to destroy Israel and the other candidate is…giggling and laughing? If you’ve ever wanted to know what the Lloyd Bentsen/Dan Quayle debate would have sounded like if Bentsen had spent the afternoon drinking Kentucky mash liquor, you only need to see the clip of Biden barking, “Oh, so now you’re Jack Kennedy?!” Biden even snorted when Ryan was seriously, and touchingly, describing the ultrasound of his first child. Watching Biden was like watching the homeless man on Seinfeld who responded to every statement with a snappy salute and a non sequitur (“Potato salad!” “The government!”)
On substance, the debate was pretty much a draw. Biden held the edge in foreign policy, though some of his statements were, um, disingenuous. Ryan easily bested Biden on economic policies. But this is television and appearances matter so make no mistake: Despite the glee of the MSNBC crowd, Biden lost this debate. From the first minute to the last, it was clear that there was only one mature adult on that stage. His name was Paul Ryan.
A week from now all anybody will remember about this debate is the perception that the man currently a heartbeat away from the Presidency was loud, angry, rude, and contemptuous of his opponent who remained calm, unruffled, and serious. I doubt this will “move the needle” as the pundits say, but last night’s debate was like a slow release poison for Obama. They may not feel any effects now, but as time goes on Biden’s behavior will be looked at as unprofessional and childish, and that will not help Obama once people step into the voting booth and pull the curtain closed behind them.
UPDATE 10/13: The Magnificent Mark Steyn reminds us of what Clint Eastwood had to say about Joe Biden during the Republican convention: “Just a grin with a body behind it.”
I repeat: Who knew that Clint Eastwood was so prescient?