Vice President Joe Biden can be hard to take even during his better moments because of his aggressive attitude and his carelessness with the facts. However, he may have been at his worst during Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.
It came as no surprise when debate watchers praised the demeanor of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is Republican Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in this year’s presidential election. Next to Biden, Ryan looked calm, cool and collected.
Many viewers considered the debate to be a draw, but Ryan was the clear winner where class is concerned. I pretty much tuned Biden out the first time he flashed that wide grin that many viewers correctly called a smirk, which the dictionary says is to “smile in an irritatingly smug, conceited, or silly way.”
Democrats loved Biden’s performance. Jim Messina, President Obama’s campaign manager, called Biden a “happy warrior” for the middle class, who was simply being himself.
Russ Schriefer, a senior adviser for the Mitt Romney campaign, said, “The sighing, the eye-rolling, the grinning. I don’t know if the vice president knew that there was a camera on him the whole time, that there was a split screen …”
Newsmen and women seemed to agree Biden’s behavior was overboard.
“Mr. Biden showed no hesitation in hectoring, heckling and interrupting his challenger,” said The New York Times.
The Washington Post said Biden “may have hurt his case by smiling sarcastically as Ryan made some of his points and interrupting repeatedly as the Wisconsin congressman defended his and Romney’s policies.”
David Gregory, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said, “The smile, the laugh, I think a lot of people may view that and think that he was a little too hot, too aggressive, maybe condescending,” Gregory said.
Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” said, “I think I have watched almost every presidential and vice presidential debate since the first four Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, and thinking back over the last few minutes, I don’t believe I have ever seen a debate in which one participant was as openly disrespectful of the other as Biden was to Paul Ryan tonight.”
Perhaps the harshest criticism came from Mike Huckabee on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.” He said Biden came across as “an obnoxious drunk who’s loud and boisterous and interrupts every conversation.”
David Gergen of CNN, who is more objective than most political analysts, said, “On style I think Paul Ryan won the debate. The Biden dismissive laughs, the interruptions, the sort of shouting, I think that Ryan was calmer and more presidential.”
Ryan proved more adept at foreign policy than many expected. He was especially effective when the first question was devoted to events in Libya that resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Biden refused to say it was an intelligence failure, calling it a tragedy. He said the Obama administration will find the persons responsible and bring them to justice and get to the bottom of the story, “wherever facts lead us.”
Ryan said the incident is getting more troubling by the day. He said it took the administration two weeks to admit it was a terrorist attack and not a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim film. It is projecting U.S. weakness abroad, Ryan said, and shows the Obama foreign policy is unraveling.
Biden simply responded by saying, “Not a thing he said is accurate.” He blamed Republican budget cuts for the failure to provide adequate security at the American compound in Libya.
The two men disagreed on Iran’s nuclear capability, the U.S. relationship with Israel, the economy, the direction of the country, the deficit, Medicare and the handling of the civil war in Syria.
Ryan said Obama took office promising hope and change, but is now conducting a campaign based on “attack, blame and defame” and is depicting the Romney-Ryan ticket as “something to run from.”
The middle class was the focus of both men. Biden tried to portray Democrats as its defenders, but Ryan said middle income Americans have suffered even more since Obama took office.
Biden said Obama inherited “a God-awful mess” and all the middle class is looking for is an equal shot and a level playing field. Ryan said Obama had his chance and ended up spending, borrowing and having government take over health care.
CNN analysts agreed Biden helped make up for Obama’s weak showing in the first presidential debate, but said he didn’t succeed in making Ryan the bad guy.
If Biden had been able to control his ridiculous behavior, he would have been more effective. Ryan was able to hold his own most of the night. At one point when Biden was critical of remarks by Romney, Ryan offered a quick reply.
“I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way,” Ryan said.
Most political observers don’t think the vice presidential debate is a game-changer. However, the 48-44 percent edge held by Ryan in a CNN poll didn’t slow the momentum Romney has enjoyed since his debate victory a week earlier.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].