Martha Raddatz was an awful moderator ??? pretty much everything conservatives might have feared, after learning at a late hour of her undisclosed personal relationship with Barack Obama. She interrupted Paul Ryan constantly, openly argued with him, and presented Democratic talking points better than Biden did. If a Fox News anchor who once entertained Mitt Romney at her wedding had treated Biden that way, the left wing of the Internet would be burning down tonight.
Raddatz did ask a few solid questions of Biden, although never with anything like the contentious tone she displayed toward Ryan, and she didn???t cut him off nearly as much. Biden was rather rude to her during these moments. He doesn???t like being challenged much more than his boss does.
For those on the lookout for a good ???Bidenism,??? the best one came when he claimed to have talked about the Independent Payment Advisory Board of ObamaCare during his 2008 debate with Sarah Palin. That debate, of course, happened a year before ObamaCare or the IPAB existed.
Some of Biden???s answers were patently false. He kept pushing the utterly discredited ???$5 trillion tax cut??? and ???$6400 Medicare increase??? lies, even after Ryan called him on it. Anyone who has lost a loved one to the nefarious ???green on blue??? attacks on our soldiers in Afghanistan must have been boiling with rage when Biden said turning over the country to Afghan forces had gone ???mostly without incident.??? It became painfully clear that Biden understands how ObamaCare works even less than Barack Obama does.
Ryan???s strongest moments came during discussions of Medicare and tax policy, and during his powerful closing statements on abortion and Obama???s broken promises. He also scored a solid blow when he asked Biden if he knew the unemployment rate in his hometown of Scranton had gone up during the Obama tenure. Biden bizarrely asserted that unemployment is getting ???better,??? which is objectively untrue even if you accept the weird September jobs report, which clearly showed job creation slowing in each succeeding month over the past quarter. Telling America that the private sector is ???doing fine??? didn???t work for Obama, and it won???t work for Biden.
Ryan is ???wonky,??? but not in an obscure or off-putting way. He???s good at making complex ideas understandable. He remained controlled and polite (with a joke here and there, and one pointed reminder to Biden that the debate would be more illuminating if the contestants didn???t interrupt each other.) And when it was time to talk about personal and emotional matters, particularly abortion, he was sincere and moving, without being maudlin.
Ryan hit a sore spot when he talked about Obama???s ???green pork,??? one of several points Biden had literally no response to, beyond yelling something about how nobody???s been brought up on charges for cronyism yet. Biden kept lapsing back into standard-issue Democrat demagoguery about raising taxes on ???millionaires,??? which probably sounds better to anyone who doesn???t know that Obama???s huge proposed tax hikes kick in at $200,000 income for individuals. Someone apparently told Biden that he could get away with waving off the effect this would have on small businesses. It was also laugh-out-loud funny to hear Biden claim that Moody???s credit rating service loves Obama policies, since they, along with every other credit rating agency, have put us on notice for a downgrade.
Biden was better on Afghanistan and Iraq, although his evasions on Libya were as maddening as every other cloud of blue smoke this Administration has pumped out. Blaming the intelligence community for the White House???s absurd ???spontaneous video protest??? narrative does a deep disservice to that community. But when it comes to the other Middle Eastern theaters, most of America has long ago stopped thinking about grand strategy ??? they just want to get out. It should be noted that Biden flatly lied about his own record ??? he voted in favor of both the Iran and Iraq wars. (He also once voted in favor of legislation that would have over-ridden Roe vs. Wade, for those lending too much credence to his efforts at reconciling Catholic faith with the Democrat Party???s abortion extremism.)
On Iran, Biden???s blithe assurances that the mullahs are far from having a warhead rang false in the ears of anyone who heard Benjamin Netanyahu speak on the subject at the United Nations. His insistence on characterizing Romney and Ryan as eager to get into a war in Syria was disingenuous, but might have played well with war-weary listeners.
But it was tone of voice and body language that will shape most impressions of this debate. Biden was rude, loud, and hectoring, more heckler than debate partner. On the very rare occasions that moderator Raddatz decided to ask him a serious question, he was equally rude to her. When Ryan was speaking, Biden grinned and laughed, often at very inappropriate times. No one really thinks the death of four Americans in Libya is funny, Joe.
Biden???s blustery performance was nourishing for the Democrat base, which is still smarting from Obama???s lackluster showing at the first presidential debate. They???ll be energized from the Angry Joe performance, no doubt about it. And that might be good enough to call the evening a success from the Democrat standpoint. The media will also love it. Expect a lot of op-eds tomorrow in which pundits will tastefully avoid fact-checking Biden, but will write about how he ???commanded??? the debate or ???intimidated??? Ryan. Bear in mind that these are the same people who complain endlessly about our showy, substance-free politics.
But the Republican base will be energized too, not only from Ryan???s knowledge of the issues and a few stellar assertions of conservative positions, but from pushback against Biden???s demeanor. The ???energize the base??? segment of Thursday night???s mission will probably work out to a draw. It might help the Democrats a bit more, because they really needed a good stiff rallying.
As for independents??? it???s hard to believe they would be anything but repulsed by Biden???s manner. (CNN had an undecided-voter ???heartbeat??? graph running on the bottom of the screen, and it generally perked up when Ryan was speaking, but flatlined for Biden. Undecided women seemed especially pleased with some of Ryan???s segments.) Biden probably came off better for those who listen to audio only, because the sense that Ryan was getting pushed around would be stronger, and Biden???s absurd body language would be masked. It might be worth noting that clips of the debate circulated on the Internet won???t always show a split-screen of both candidates, which might minimize the fallout from Biden???s flashing teeth.
Biden???s aggressive rudeness might have paid some short-term dividends by making him seem more ???alpha,??? but frankly, a candidate with a record as appalling as Obama and Biden???s can???t really afford that kind of arrogance. In an election that???s all about competence, with an electorate looking for solid plans to correct America???s disastrous course, Ryan???s intelligence and reserve will pay off more over time. We???ve already had more than enough of Obama and Biden???s emotional theatrics.
But independent voters don???t usually put a lot of stock in the vice-presidential debate. They may come to like Ryan???s more substantive performance when they have more time to digest it, but veep debates usually don???t get mulled over at great length, as presidential encounters do. They most likely will not come away thinking that Ryan thrashed Biden as badly as Romney defeated Obama, which will play under the lofty expectations for Ryan. There might not be a big shift in the momentum of the race over the next couple of days, but some of Ryan???s better moments will see a lot of play as viral Internet clips, and do his ticket more good over the long term.
Meanwhile, back to Barack Obama???s Benghazi horror show.