Biden Fights Back
People voted for hope four years ago. They’ve had their ups and downs since, but even with the slow recovery, were well on their way to re-electing the president because people felt that he still cared about them in a way his car elevator-owning challenger did not. When he got punched in the mouth and didn’t fight back, that shook a lot of weakly-aligned voters into taking a second look at Mitt Romney, because at least he showed some passion.
But Americans don’t really like Mitt Romney. They like heart and fight, and someone who inspires confidence when he lets them know that everything will be OK.
Last week, Mitt basically played a cartoon version of Barack’s boss. Wednesday, Joe chose to play Paul’s sitcom dad.
Biden’s best moment (and in my opinion, decisive score) was when he took moderator Martha Raddatz’s first question on the economy and worked the 47 percent tape, Ryan calling 30 percent of Americans “takers”, Romney’s “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” op-ed, Romney’s call to let foreclosures bottom out and Romney’s tax rate into a devastatingly persuasive contrast between the economic policies of the two tickets, painting Obama-Biden as the guardian angels of the middle class and Romney-Ryan as irresponsible plutocrats.
Ryan responded by citing inaccurate math (if the unemployment rate of the entire country is going down, anecdotal evidence of it rising in one town is not “how it’s going all around America”) and then he said the following:
“He talks about Detroit. Mitt Romney’s a car guy. They keep misquoting him, but let me tell you about the Mitt Romney I know. This is a guy who — I was talking to a family in Northborough, Massachusetts the other day, Cheryl and Mark Nixon (sp). Their kids were hit in a car crash, four of them — two of them, Rob (sp) and Reid (sp), were paralyzed.”
First of all, it’s hard to imagine a worse “sympathy” anecdote to use in a debate with Joe Biden than one involving a tragic car accident. Nothing more to say on this point.
Second, and more importantly, that transition is amazing. Ryan would rather redirect into a car crash story (!) than defend Romney on the auto industry. This obviously backfired, as Biden countered the Nixon story with his own personal memories of the tragedy that befell his young family, and then went right back to the auto industry and the Republican Congress spending beyond its means on wars and Medicare Part D.
Here was Biden at his sitcom dad best. He was authoritatively scolding young Paul for running up the (American) family credit card, and then further embarrassed him by calling him out for requesting stimulus money, which the Congressman had no choice but to admit to.
This back and forth made Ryan look small and self-serving, and Biden compassionate and magnanimous. If taken to its logical Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-type conclusion, Biden would have sent Ryan to his bedroom, and come upstairs a few minutes later for a talk on personal responsibility and the importance of being honest.
Another one of the better moments was an exchange between Biden and moderator Martha Raddatz (who was on balance very good) on the pullout of surge troops in Afghanistan before the fighting season, and the future prospects of the country. Congressman Ryan (and I did enjoy how Raddatz ignored pre-debate pleas to call him Mr. Ryan and made him answer to what he actually is), chimed in by giving us a menu of factoids with all the gravitas of a high school research paper.
Ryan also agreed with the Obama administration’s plan to leave Afghanistan in 2014, but thought that setting a specific date in advance would embolden the enemy. I’m not sure if he’s endorsing some kind of a surprise withdrawal strategy, which is just a terrible idea for Afghanistan (and birth control, especially considering his stance on abortion, where life begins at legume).
The Wisconsin congressman did not roll over like the president did; he was talked down to by Biden but still talked back, and made the type of seemingly convincing magical math claims about taxes and defense that tend to do well with the Republican base. However, his opponent Biden was not taking anything he said seriously, and American audiences traditionally don’t reward someone who is mocked directly to his face and does nothing about it. “You’re hilarious” is much more damaging of a blow than “you’re wrong.”
Biden’s whole repertoire of smugness was on display Wednesday night—the throwing up of hands, a variety of smirks and quizzical looks, constant chuckling and the toothiest of toothy grins—pretty much every time Ryan opened his mouth. One of his better faces was when Ryan somehow walked right into a Jack Kennedy reference—nothing like alluding to maybe the best moment of condescension in political history when you’re in the process of getting your “malarkey” called out at the kitchen table.
After the Wall Street boss ran rampant in Denver, America needed Dad to humble the hotshot junior partner. For an Obama campaign facing real adversity and needing a strong hand to right the ship, tonight was a BFD.
Read more of Neon Tommy’s coverage of the vice-presidential debate here.
Reach Editor-at-Large Matt Pressberg here.