Smilin’ Joe and the Janesville Kid

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Reviews are mixed on the “winner” of Thursday night’s debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan – predictably, reactions are split along party and ideological lines – and we won’t fully know what effect it had on the polls, if any, for a few days.

But from a purely strategic point of view, Biden came out ahead by doing what he had to do – reestablishing some credibility for the Barack Obama White House and defibrillating Democrats and progressives who a week ago lay prostrate after the president’s less-than-stellar performance during his first encounter with Mitt Romney.

As Benjy Sarlin wrote at the website Talking Points Memo, shortly after the conclusion of the Biden-Ryan vice presidential debate:

“Before the Obama campaign could steal away Mitt Romney’s supporters or lock down undecideds, it had to reassure its own supporters after last week’s uninspiring debate performance from President Obama. Judging from early reactions to the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden succeeded with flying colors on that count, garnering strong reviews from the same left-leaning pundits who rushed to decry the president’s first debate as a demoralizing debacle…”

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Biden came out swinging, taking a combative stance and alternating it with an Irish-style garrulousness and frequent smile and laugh that verged on the incongruous when discussing serious matters of state. The younger Ryan, equipped with statistics and the earnestness of a kid in the classroom with his hand perpetually raised, seemed to do no serious harm to his cause, although often seeming frustrated and somewhat flustered by his opponent’s attacks.

At The Atlantic magazine’s blog, James Fallows said, “I expected both candidates to do well, and they did. But Paul Ryan, who was fine, did not advance his team’s prospects beyond what Mitt Romney had done last week. Whereas Joe Biden, who put on the best performance of his long career, supplied the only good news his team has had in six days (since last Friday’s jobs report). Even though, yes, he could have smiled less. Obama owes him…

“By virtue of his position and his personality, Barack Obama cannot comport himself in the next debates the way Biden did this evening. But he sure as hell should be studying the detailed defense Biden offered of the administration’s record and plans, his willingness to go right at the other side’s policies, and his overall ‘Game On!’ attitude from the first second he began to speak. Seriously, Biden himself and whoever helped prepare him for this evening should be feeling very good about what they did. (As Romney and his team did a week ago.)”

Ed Kilgore at The Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal” blog, concurred. “If the biggest impact of the presidential debate (and you can make that case) was to discourage Democrats, Biden clearly provided a major tonic for the troops,” he wrote. “He was combative, confident, never let Ryan win an uncontested point, and did not forget to make simple assertions of fidelity to progressive values. The very things some pundits criticized him for — talking over Ryan, laughing and grimacing when his opponent was doing his number, etc. — were exactly what many Democrats wanted to see and hear.

“Ryan’s accomplishment was not screwing up, not sounding ‘radical’ (except for the abortion issue) and sounding superficially knowledgeable about foreign policy. He also, as I figured he would do, dragged the brief discussion of taxes and budget far enough into the weeds to become relatively inscrutable to low-information voters.”

At Salon, Joan Walsh thought Biden knocked it out of the park, although, “Biden probably smiled and laughed too much.

“He showed a lot of teeth, occasionally looking like he really wanted to bite Ryan, not merely reply to his arguments. During the opening minutes alone he interjected with ‘That was a bunch of malarkey’ and ‘Not a single thing he said is accurate’ and ‘Incredible!’ and ‘Oh God!’ If I had been in a control room talking into his ear, I’d have told him to calm down. At some point, I think Jill Biden or someone in the audience must have given him a cue to tell him to dial it back, because half way through, he did. Or else his 5-Hour Energy drink wore off in four and a half. Yet watching clips of the debate — which is what most people will see in the coming days — Biden won virtually every exchange.”

(AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

Nevertheless, Benjy Sarlin noted, “Outside the left, the media reaction was more mixed. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer considered the result a draw, while several FOX News hosts chastised Biden for appearing too aggressive or condescending in taking on Ryan. But for a Democratic pundit class on the edge of hysteria in the wake of Obama’s performance, Biden calmed nerves that the ticket had lost its fight. That will surely help tide over the Democratic base for the next few days before Obama gets a second crack at Romney on Oct. 16 in New York.”

New York Times pollster and analyst Nate Silver concluded, “My best guess: perhaps Mr. Biden can be credited with what in baseball statistics would be termed a ‘hold:’ something a bit shy of either a win or a save and which will probably seem perfunctory with the passage of time, but which might have done his team a bit of good.

“However, he won’t have relieved Mr. Obama of the burden of needing to improve his performance in next week’s presidential debate in Hempstead, N.Y.”

In any case,  the most successful performance of the evening may have been by moderator Martha Raddatz of  ABC News, who kept the debate moving forward, interrupting when necessary to ask the next question and move along the discussion, covering a range of topics that gave the audience greater exposure to the candidates’ differing points of view. However, many issues still remain unexamined, including immigration reform, human rights and the environment. Not a word about climate change, for example.

What questions do you think still need to be asked – and answered?

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  • Margaret

    What I think is that finally Ryan was called on the misinformation and ever-changing positions of the Romney-Ryan team. Senator Biden knew exactly what Ryan had done and challenged him when Ryan said things that were simply contrary to his record in Congress. Martha Raddatz insisted on getting questions answered instead of having her questions dodged according to what the candidates (esp. Ryan) wanted to say. The idea that this is theater, instead of giving voters information about the positions of each team, galls me. I know, especially as a woman, that my rights have been under attack and will continue to be if the Republicans take office – as will my future medical care and already paltry retirement.

  • Auburn Meadow Farm

    A stated policy regarding the role of corporations in the leadership of this country.

  • Ellen Raff

    During Obama-Romney debate I had answers ready for Romney that I never heard Obama make. During Biden – Ryan I had answers ready and Biden did way better than the answers I hoped for. Great job. Plus at the end he mentioned the next president will be picking Supreme Court nominees — something we all need to keep in mind if we care about the long term.

  • shelley stephens

    I wish Biden would have mentioned that the cut to Medicare was the same amount that Ryan cut in his budget. Then Ryan turns around and dings the President for it. As Clinton said, “That takes some brass.”

  • Jeff Sponberg

    The questions I would ask Republicans is…Do you believe that climate change is real, and if elected, is it your intention to repeal key pieces of environmental legislation?

  • Zeppelin

    I thought the best moment was when the Moderator repeatedly asked Ryan about the details of the mystery plan. And he failed to answer repeatedly. Until she said so you don’t have any details? He still could not respond. So, for me that was the moment. This great Plan that he told Chris Wallace – it would take too long to go through the math doesn’t exist! So far, Romney has named two budget items he would cut Planned Parenthood and PBS. But he also said he would cut taxes 20% across the board, but no explanations about how that would be “revenue neutral.”

  • Catzpjz

    I thoroughly enjoyed the debate. I didn’t find Joe Biden rude or irritating; I thought he firmly, factually, and respectfully countered points that Mr. Ryan made, and defended the choices and policies and reforms of his President, as well as calling out Mr. Ryan on his (and by default, Mr. Romney’s) hyperbole, misstatements and flaws in logic. I’m midway between these men in age and can see Biden’s mellowed statesmanship and wisdom necessarily dampening Mr. Ryan’s aggressive ego, ambition, and testosterone-fueled need to dominate. There was no question whose leadership I valued more going into the debate, nor whose will earn my vote now that it’s over.

    I do wish our country and all of its leaders would pull the camera back, however, and address our need to “lead the world” in more than military dominance and economic security. We need to pull away from the pervasive and destructive enchantment that leads us to work harder and harder at meaningless jobs to buy crap that stuffs our lives and homes and bodies but leaves our spirits empty. I would face a new day much more joyfully if I knew that our country’s commitment to collaboration with other cultures and belief systems rather than the fuel of fear, was guiding us. I would find life much more meaningful if locally, nationally, and globally, we focused upon easing the suffering of fellow humans and animals and the earth. I would be much more enthusiastic about this country’s future prospects and sleep much more peacefully if I believed our leaders understood the precarious environmental issues facing us, the habitats and species lost and the damage already incurred by climate change. That these issues and their projected repercussions are not central to the political debate at this time in history is unconscionable. One day, it will haunt us, if we survive to be haunted.

  • bowerygals

    For working class people it was refreshing to see Biden’s directness, loyalty, honestly-earned command of the facts, and toughness while also showing (at least in our world) an affability towards Ryan. Watching most pundits you realize they live in a very different world -where destroying your neighbor is fine as long as you keep up a veneer of “manners”. Biden was terrific. Nice to see he doesn’t forget his roots in word, in style and in deed. Nice to see a white, raised working class man who deeply understands the value of our African Heritage, raised working class President. No matter how that President performs on any given night.
    Ryan, gulping water, stiff, doing his best impression of caring, full of superficial “facts” (that looked like he crammed the night before) was out of his league. Not a “draw” except in the land of professional punditry- so far removed from where most Americans live.

  • GrapeJAM

    The KID knew his lines…the MAN knew his ‘stuff’. Great job, Joe!

  • Celia

    The top “zinger” of the debate was when Biden reminded Ryan that he had made two requests for stimulus funds for his district. So much for the stimulus doing no good!

  • mom062651

    Joe Biden rocked! Did just what he needed to do.

  • Marian Hennings

    Biden handled the Catholic/abortion question in just the right way, stating that he had no right to force his beliefs on others. Ryan should learn something from this. Maybe he will the day after the election when he and Mitt lose for the GOP stance on contraception and abortion.

  • Hannah Hinchman

    The quote about dragging the policy discussion into the weeds illuminates a general problem with all of the recent cross-talk. Biden made several successful summations of progressive values, and I would like to see the questions in the next debate allow that possibility. I would rather hear a defense of WHY we care so much about leaving fossil fuel behind (the Commons, both planetary, our own public lands, health), instead of arguing over the percentage of stimulus-plan projects that succeeded or failed. We need to hear the big ideas driving these niggling details, and we need to hear them presented with inspiring conviction.

  • Lorene

    I have always liked joe he really cares about people and it shows.

  • Donald Shank

    So far not a word about the two most important issues of our time, climate change and money in politics. And when asked in the final question about how the negative tone of campaign ads effects voters, both Biden & Ryan proceeded to launch into a negative diatribe against the other side. These attacks are devisive, usually exaggerated, and make the compromises needed for governance almost impossible to achieve.

  • diane Baumgart

    Biden used information, facts, wisdom, and knowledge to buffer the misstatements of Candidate Ryan. He did a great job as Ryan snickered and postered and sputtered…

  • signjay

    I was left with the wish that the Democratic ticket was flipped the other way around, with Biden at the top. Biden’s decades of experience would be mighty helpful during this time, and Obama, despite his intelligence and his many other gifts, has been a tepid, conciliatory President. He has punted on first down too many times.

  • Mother Mack

    I want to hear them talk about the environment and climate change as well as poverty. There’s a lot of talk about the middle class, but not a word about the poor – both in this country and around the world.
    I’d also like to hear them address the millennium development goals.

  • cdeh62

    Well said! I’m much closer to Biden’s age than Ryan’s but the concerns you expressed, worry the heck out of me and what will be left to my children and future grandchildren!

  • kathy gray

    First, I thought Martha Raddatz did a spectacularly good job — much better than the one Jim Lehrer did moderating the first presidential debate. (That was disappointing because I hold him in high esteem.) Secondly, I really appreciated Joe Biden and the strength of his passion and convictions and defense of the president. I don’t imagine that people who already live on one side or another were changed by watching. Still, it was an invigorating and strong performance.

  • Jay Baglia

    I agree that Joe laughed a little too loudly at times when simply waiting his turn and correcting Ryan might have been more effective. But if Joe laughed too much, Paul Ryan had some extremely creepy, fraternity boy stares going on when the Veep was talking. I suppose at some point in his life Ryan’s momma told him he had nice eyes but I thought that the staring was just plain weird.

  • Julia Hay

    Joe Biden was front and center… no one said much about Romney’s facial expressions, they were way worse than Mr. Bidens’s, sh,, eatin grins, and in approprate blinking… he was rude and disrespectful and most importanly lied about his agenda… so no Joe was not over the top… he did what he had to do, just as Romney did!! GO JOE!! tell them the truth about the issues/policies of those greedy ‘all about me’ policies!!

  • Sherry Howland

    Seriously, GrapeJam, can I steal that line??

  • GDGehr

    Based on content alone, i.e. what was actually said, Mr. Biden was the clear winner in my opinion. He put Mr. Ryan on the defensive throughout the debate and accurately disclosed many of the inconsistencies in the Romney-Ryan platform. Perhaps the most telling exchange was when Mr. Biden revealed Mr. Ryan’s request for Bailout funds even as he was denouncing the bailout program. I did not care for Mr. Biden’s body language nor the disrespectful interruptions by both candidates. I was quite impressed with Martha Raddatz’ handling of the debate. I must wonder: What ever happened to the rules of formal debate that were once a cherished and highly respected art form? What passes as a “debate” these days more nearly resemble a bar room brawl. It is a sad commentary on our society and indicative of how disrespectful we have become in too many areas of life.

  • Al

    I liked what VPBiden did. I am amazed that the Republicans even attempt blaming The White House for not reaching across the aisle successfully though… liked that the Vice President began to address that…

  • susanpu

    Beautifully said.

  • susanpub

    Me, too! That’s great!

  • susanpub

    And apparently touted the good those stimulus funds would do!

  • susanpub

    money in politics… I hope you aren’t holding your breath.

  • Concerned

    I thought the seriousness of Ryan, and the unseriousness of Biden was very disturbing considering all the serious issues this country is facing. I was disappointed that an “experienced” man (Not going to call him a gentleman), was so rude and not respectful. A matter of opinion of who was mistating what….I had researched some “facts” before the debate, and to me Biden was NOT telling the truth, and putting lies out in the public…Ryan put out “facts”….Biden just came back with sarcasm, which is NOT representative of any man who should be in charge or vice-president of this country.

  • Concerned

    Biden was not terrific, he was rude.

  • Concerned

    Obama has failed to provide any specifics about any of his plans, and his healthcare, over 900 pages, was only given to Congress 2 days, I think, before he wanted an answer…Obama didn’t and hasn’t provided specifics either!!

  • wise up

    Romney’s plan is to not cut medicare, ……Obama’s is!

  • i lbelieve in life

    The main thing all of you Democrats keep hounding the Republicans about….funding abortions or not…..the MAIN thing, is that IT SHOULD NOT BE FUNDED BY MY TAXES!! THAT’S THE KEY. If people want to do it on their own money, not that anyone agrees, it’s their choice, their money….the KEY is , don’t use someone else’s money (taxes) to support what someone else feels is morally wrong. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT PHILOSPHOPY.