Split Decision in Danville: Biden Wins on Passion, Ryan on Wonkery

More

A spirited debate between the vice president and his would-be successor puts the top of both tickets to shame.

VPdebate1.banner.reuters.jpg
Reuters

Joe Biden's debate performance easily cleared the low bar set by his boss: He was aggressive, attentive and in many ways effective pushing President Obama's agenda. But he was also sarcastic and condescending - a stylistic blemish against workmanlike rival Paul Ryan.

It is impossible to predict how voters will view Biden's frequent interruptions, his tense smiles, and his derisive laughter. Did they consider the behavior rude or a reflection of Ryan's naiveté?

But, clearly, viewers and voters were treated to a free-wheeling and substantial debate over the size of government, the limits of U.S. military power and other issues defining the choice between Obama and Mitt Romney. In style and substance, Biden v. Ryan outshined Obama v. Romney.

The debate is unlikely to play a significant role in the outcome of the Nov. 6 election. Partisans walked away from the debate happy with their guys' performance, and undecided voters will focus more intently on the top of the ticket.

"Biden won the passion card. Ryan the wonk card," said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. "More or less a draw."

But, boy, what a show.

Moderator Martha Raddatz opened with a simple question: Did an intelligence failure lead to the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya? Biden ducked the question and launched into a long-winded defense of Obama's foreign policies, making sure to mention the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Ryan answered Raddatz directly and methodically. He noted that it took the administration two weeks to acknowledge that terrorists attacked the embassy, after blaming an anti-Muslim video. He said the administration failed to secure the embassy. And he said Libya is indicative of a broader problem.

"What we're watching is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy, which is making things more chaotic and us less safe," Ryan said.

Unlike Obama, who failed to respond to Romney's best punched a week ago, Biden responded in kind. He said Ryan's party voted against increased security for U.S. embassies and that Romney's first public response to the embassy attack was knee-jerk. "Usually, when there is a crisis, we pull together," Biden said, calling Romney an opportunist. "That's not presidential leadership."

Call it a draw.

Biden was at his best demonizing Republican policies on the middle-class. Democrats chagrined over Obama's sleepy performance surely were cheered as Biden cited the auto industry rescue and efforts by the Obama administration to help underwater homeowners, calling out Romney's opposition to those policies.

"It's about time they take some responsibility here," Biden said. "And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class we're going to level the playing field; we're going to give you a fair shot again; we are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the super wealthy."

Ryan, two generations younger than Biden, seemed at times to more youthful than his 42 years. But, mostly, he held his own. For instance, Ryan effectively excused Romney for telling donors that he wasn't concerned about 47 percent of the public.

"I think the vice president very well knows," he said with a nod to the gaffe-prone Biden, "that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."

He accused the administration of not aggressively responding to Iran's nuclear ambitions, refusing to bow to a bullish Biden.

"We cannot allow" Iran to get nuclear weapons, Ryan said.

"You're going to go to war? Is that what you want to do?" Biden snapped at Ryan. "We want to prevent war," Ryan responded.

Biden would have won the stature game hand-down had it not been for his behavior during Ryan's responses. "I love that," he derisively said after one answer. "With all due respect," Biden said later, clearly not intending to show respect, "that's a bunch of malarkey."

"Mr. Vice President, I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground," Ryan said at one point, "but I think people will be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other."

In the end, voters will be better served if Romney and Obama debate next week at their running mates' level.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ron Fournier is editorial director of National Journal.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In