An energetic display paves way back for president
IN THE wake of Thursday night’s debate, Republicans ganged up on Joe Biden, portraying the vice-president’s aggressive performance as “unhinged” and excessive.Tim Miller, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, started the onslaught of criticism, which continued yesterday, with a statement saying: “You can’t blame Joe Biden for being so unhinged. It must be frustrating to debate when you have a record that is so hard to defend.”
The conservative columnist Peggy Noon said Mr Biden’s “grimaces and laughter were reminiscent of Al Gore’s sighs in 2000 – theatrical, off-putting and in the end self-indicting.”
But Democrats felt the vice-president redeemed Barack Obama’s defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney the previous week. Mr Biden “delivered an eviscerating performance,” Georgia Logothetis wrote on the Daily Kos liberal blog. She praised his “deep knowledge, huge heart and brutal honesty”.
The political process may have been the biggest winner. Articulate, animated and indepth exchanges of views on fundamental issues including taxation, social spending and US military adventures abroad have been rare in the presidential campaign.
Forty-eight per cent of respondents in a CNN/ORC poll conducted after the debate said the Republican candidate Paul Ryan won; 44 per cent Joe Biden. Most judged the debate a draw.
Mr Ryan remained cool and calm throughout the fast-moving, 90-minute match, and avoided living up to his reputation for wonkishness. He landed several blows against Mr Biden, as in the pre-rehearsed line that unemployment in Mr Biden’s beloved home town of Scranton had risen from 8.5 to 10 per cent under the president.
Mr Ryan attempted to brush off Mitt Romney’s “47 per cent video” with an allusion to Mr Biden’s past gaffes: “The vice-president very well knows sometimes words don’t come out of your mouth quite the right way,” he said.
But time and again, Mr Biden showed himself to be the stronger, more experienced debater. “If you heard that little soliloquy on 47 per cent and you think [Romney] just made a mistake, then . . . I got a bridge to sell you,” Mr Biden said. He provoked laughter by labelling Mr Ryan’s pronouncements “malarkey”.
Mr Biden constantly referred to Mr Ryan as “my friend”. The vice- president mentioned Mitt Romney 26 times, while Mr Ryan evoked Barack Obama half that often.
Mr Ryan spoke too of Mr Romney, but to praise him. After he vaunted Mr Romney’s record of bipartisanship and deficit busting in Massachusetts, Mr Biden retorted: “Why isn’t he even contesting Massachusetts?” Touché.
Mr Biden also pointed out Mr Ryan’s hypocrisy in requesting stimulus money for his own constituents, when he has often condemned the Recovery Act as a waste of money and a source of political patronage.
Mr Biden was at his weakest at the start of the debate, when Mr Ryan attacked the Obama administration for its changing explanation of the September 11th attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. But he more than made up for it subsequently, when Mr Ryan came across as confused and hot-headed regarding Iran, Afghanistan and Syria. Mr Ryan never backed up his contention that “what we are watching . . . is the unravelling of the Obama foreign policy”.
When he refrained from grinning, laughing and interrupting Mr Ryan, Mr Biden embodied the older statesman and voice of reason, saying “war should always be the last resort” and “the last thing America needs is to get in another ground war in the Middle East”.
On abortion, Mr Ryan said he did not “see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or their faith”. The policy of a Romney administration would be “to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.” Mr Biden, who like Mr Ryan is a practising Catholic, said he accepts the church’s position in his personal life.
“But I refuse to impose . . . that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman. I do not believe that we have a right to tell . . . women they can’t control their body.”
Mr Biden also warned that if Mr Romney wins the election, he is likely to appoint Supreme Court justices who will outlaw abortion.
When Mr Obama debates Mr Romney for the second time in Long Island on Tuesday, his challenge will be to replicate Mr Biden’s energy and combativeness, without appearing rude or condescending.