Given how much Barack Obama's lackluster debate performance last week had dramatically altered the presidential race, there was no question the vice presidential debate last night between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in Danville, Kentucky had enormous stakes in play.
It was clear Joe Biden’s principal mission was to land some blows to Paul Ryan in an effort to stop the hemorrhaging to the Democrat ticket caused by Obama’s dismal performance. A score of polls have shifted dramatically in target states putting Mitt Romney ahead of Barack Obama for the first time since becoming the Republican candidate.
The debate delivered on several fronts: it was feisty, it was insightful and it was definitely entertaining. Biden showed scrappiness, zeal and a passion that his boss never showed during his turn. Ryan repeated the rational, clear and intellectual case for policy reversal necessary to address the current economic malaise, just as his boss did.
Although the polls will probably remain unchanged as a result of this debate it doesn't mean this debate will not be much talked about.
What Americans will remember, years from now even, will be Biden’s demeaning facial expressions that dominated the night - his constant eye rolling, sighs and condescending grinning that will prove to have lost him style points for conduct unbecoming a Vice President. Americans watching at home feel the hurt and struggles being endured by so many are grave matters, and Biden’s constant laughing gave the sense he wasn't interested in a serious debate. Biden constantly interrupted Ryan’s responses, was petulant, dismissive and at one point even barked back at the moderator, Martha Raddatz.
For some time now, the angry old white guy shtick had long been attributed to those on the right. Who knew Biden would take it to another level? Expect Saturday Night Live to have a field day with it this weekend.
Ryan’s tone and demeanor was markedly different - determined, deliberate and focused on the matter at hand. In fact, at times, Ryan came across too scripted and frustratingly wonkish in his answers. But curiously, I watched for the CNN dials each time he delivered his tough love answers on entitlement sustainability, and they were high.
The evening also had its fair share of personal digs between the rivals. Biden was the first to take a shot across the bow when he retorted that Ryan’s answers to a question on foreign policy was a “bunch of malarkey”. There was also a comparison to Sarah Palin, a reference to Ryan being a Jack Kennedy wanabee, and of course that constant smirking. Although Ryan did not take as many digs at Biden, he didn’t show any shyness when telling Biden at one point “I Know You're Under A Lot Of Duress To Make Up For Lost Ground”.
On policy, the two candidates could not have been more different. And this is where Ryan scored big points; making the better case for recession-wary Americans looking for detailed answers to lower unemployment, reduce the poverty levels and turn the direction on debt, deficits and government dependency. Ryan was adept at striking the right tone and the right message on growing the private sector while lessening the growth of government.
In what was probably Ryan’s most memorable jab of the night, he underscored that President Obama has not delivered on reversing the economic malaise by asserting, “We get speeches, but were not getting leadership.”
What was missing from last night’s debate once again was any mention of immigration reform and there was nary a word on educational attainment. The Supreme Court was mentioned only in passing and the issues of energy and free trade also went completely disregarded.
In the end, although there was never any expectation that Ryan was going to outperform Romney, he did a fine job holding his own against an old battle-hardened politician in Biden. Mostly, I think, because Ryan recovered very well in the second half of the debate and gave a particularly solid closing statement that summed up so much of what Americans are currently feeling.
For Biden, although he showed much more fight than Obama, he certainly didn't close the deal. He would score points when he poured on the charm using folksy answers and his laid back style when he remembered to look directly at the camera. But when addressing Ryan, his incessant interruptions, his smugness and disrespect to an American candidate for Vice President caused the dials to plummet.
They "let Joe be Joe", and that is bad news For President Obama.
Daniel Garza was formerly Associate Director at the Office of Public Liaison for The White House. He is currently the Executive Director of The LIBRE Initiative. You can learn more about The LIBRE Initiative by visiting their website at www.thelibreinitiative.com , liking their facebook page “The LIBRE Initiative” or following them on twitter @libreinitiative
Daniel Garza is the Executive Director of The LIBRE Initiative and former White House staffer from 2001-2006.