Lawyers have a saying that I am sure you have heard: When in court, if you have the law on your side, argue the law. When you have facts on your side, argue the facts. And when you have neither, pound the table.
Joe Biden didn’t quite pound the table tonight, but he did everything else to show that he didn’t have any facts or evidence on his side that would justify giving him and his boss a second term. All of the eyerolls, the fake laughs, the clownish facial expressions, the attempts to interrupt Paul Ryan while Ryan spoke–all of that was done to try to disrupt an actual debate, and distract from actual criticisms of the Obama record. People who are confident that they have the facts on their side would not feel the need to act like the troublemaking kid at the back of the classroom throwing spitballs and being loud and rude while everyone else tried to get their work done and while the teacher tried to actually teach the kids something.
Biden’s desperation turned off commentators and people in focus groups interviewed afterwards on CNN–as well as on other channels. I won’t be surprised if they turn off others as well. I was instantly reminded of Al Gore’s annoying little sighs during his first debate with George W. Bush in 2000, and I see from Twitter and elsewhere that others were reminded of that too. The argument for Biden’s performance was that he rallied the base. But I have a hard time imagining that he connected well with moderates and independents. And if you still have to rally the base 26 days before an election, you are in trouble.
Romney and Ryan, by contrast, sit pretty with the Republican base, and could therefore afford to reach out to moderates and independents. Ryan was sober, adult, reasonable and calm while debating Biden. It was clear that Biden wanted to throw Ryan off and make him lose his temper and self-control. He failed utterly at that task. More than one commentator on both CNN and ABC (the only two television channels I watched for the debate and for debate reaction) said that Ryan did himself a world of good in this debate. He proved that he could be on the same stage as Biden, and he was nowhere near as desperate, immature and frantic as the guy who is just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
This poll seems to agree. Biden may have wanted to right the Obama ship after the president’s disastrous debate performance, but he ended up losing on points. Yes, Biden did better than the president did, but how could he not; the president’s was almost comatose during his debate with Mitt Romney. If Joe Biden cleared the Obama hurdle, it is only because the bar was set so low for him. And even then, he grazed the bar.
During the debate, Biden made a number of untruthful statements. Just to focus on two: He claimed that he voted against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars during the George W. Bush presidency. Utterly untrue, and Biden should be panned, slammed, mocked and raked over the coals for trying to tell so blatant a lie. And then there was the claim that the Obama administration wasn’t aware of requests for more security in advance of the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi. Again, a lie. Anyone who calls himself/herself a fact-checker without suppressing a need to chuckle out loud ought to make Team Obama pay for Biden’s entirely and deliberately false statements.
I’m disappointed that there was no in-depth discussion of Stephanie Cutter’s despicable comments stating that the only reason why the attacks in Benghazi are an issue is because the Romney/Ryan ticket made them an issue. This, of course, is as appalling as it is untrue; even the liberal Mother Jones reporter Adam Serwer understands that the reason the attacks are an issue is because four Americans–including the ambassador to Libya–were killed in the attacks. It should be an amazingly easy leadership call for Barack Obama to come out and say that Cutter’s comments have no place in civilized, intelligent discourse, and that she would no longer be working on his campaign. Alas, even this test of leadership was failed by Team Obama. I do wish the debate made Cutter and her comments the focus of attention, and that Biden would have been forced to answer for her comments.
At the end of the debate, when it came time to give closing statements, Biden looked tired and confused, fumbling for words. Ryan, by contrast, looked at the camera, was gracious to his opponent despite Biden’s singular lack of grace, and spoke crisply and eloquently. The contrast will serve him–and Romney–well. Remember that vice presidential picks are the first truly presidential decision any candidate for the White House makes. I’d rather have Mitt Romney’s first decision a heartbeat away from the presidency; at least I know that Paul Ryan won’t be a hothead and a buffoon in a crisis.
It’s worth noting that things are now worse for Team Obama. As of this writing, they are down to 201 electoral college votes versus 181 electoral college votes for Team Romney. Barack Obama has lost the tremendous lead he had in the electoral college, and given that Biden lost the debate, the bleeding may not have stopped. Democrats may be happy about the Biden performance, but they have to wonder whether independent, moderate, swing and/or undecided voters found his performance attractive in any way. Oh, and Romney now leads by seven in Florida. His campaign still has the momentum. Barack Obama’s is still searching for it.