Politicked Off: VPs at the Funhouse
The VP debate tonight was a bit of a mirror image of the first Presidential debate. This time, the Democrat Joe Biden was the aggressor and had his opponent often playing defense. Paul Ryan, on the other hand, was calmer but seemed so rehearsed that even his personal stories seemed canned. Unfortunately for the Democrats that doesn't mean a big win because the mirror in this analogy was a funhouse looking glass - while aggressive like Romney, Biden looked silly, always laughing, often interrupting, and even going in on the moderator a couple of times. And while Ryan was calmer, he had far more life in him than Obama did.
Biden's hemming and hawing has been hammered by the press but the problem wasn't that he interrupted or laughed, it's that he did it too much. Some of the side comments were key; when Ryan tried to say that Obama wasn't being bi-partisan and he would, Biden chided, "That would be a first for the Republican congress." It was small and not exactly polite but it was effective and didn't let Ryan get away with his attack. And a few times when Ryan was stretching the truth, Biden would laugh and look directly in the camera as if to say, "We know better than to buy this."
But Biden KEPT doing it. Over and over. After a while, it became ridiculous and effectively neutralized the points he was making with his substance. And he was making points there.
Biden did a great job hitting Ryan on the middle class and the fact that the Romney/Ryan ticket has no specifics in their plan and, when pushed, at times agrees with what the Obama administration has done. The problem, besides the laughing and other antics, was that Biden never landed any clean, damaging punches. When it came to the military and Ryan's assertion that threats from Pres. Obama have no credibility, I was waiting for the Veep to mention the drone attacks and how Obama is being aggressive but not putting American lives in danger. But the attack of the drones never materialized. Biden was often effective when discussing the middle class but when it came from the big punch at the end, he would say, "Trust us!" or "Who do you trust?" and ended up sounding like a snake oil salesman.
In the end, Biden did what he had to and fired up the base, reminded independents of the stances that Obama has an advantage, but zeroed out any potential bump by acting like a class clown.
As for Ryan, he was cool, calm, but didn't really nail any of his arguments. He botched the Libya topic a bit and didn't nail the huge issues and red flags surrounding that ever-unfolding narrative. He was unable to escape any of the questions about specifics and seemed like he was weaseling away from them. He did a great job near the end, banging Obama on being a President who gives speeches instead of making plans, and the lines about Obama having to attack because he can't run on his record were effective.
But what might have been most problematic for Ryan was, like Biden, his body language. Whenever Biden was speaking, Ryan had a little smirk. Nothing about his manner seemed Presidential. He struck me more like a spokesperson than a candidate. During the Presidential debate, I was struck by how Presidential Romney appeared. He carried himself in a manner that fit the bill. Ryan? I mean, the best thing I can say is that he came off better than Joe Biden who actually IS the Vice-President so he's got that going for him. But there was just a blandness to him. He was kind of like the other boy next door that you don't really know all that well or care to meet.
The one key thing, however, was that he didn't allow himself to seem bullied by Biden. That would have been a kiss of death. Whenever Biden acted up, Ryan was right there with a retort or talked through it. Much like Biden, Ryan failed to land any great punches, didn't really move the dial any, but he did well enough that the momentum hasn't shifted any.
While I'm sure both sides are happy about their candidates' performance tonight, I think, internally, both camps are bemoaning missed opportunities and realizing that all this really accomplished was elevating the importance of the next two debates.