The big winner of the vice-presidential debate was clearly Jason Sudekis.
In fact, we probably don’t even need to see him do Joe Biden on “Saturday Night Live,” because nobody does Joe better than Joe.
And the man outdid himself last night, employing his fullest panapoly of guffaws, smirks, eye rolls, double takes, and sustained outbursts DELIVERED AT PEAK DECIBEL LEVELS! In other words, whatever one thinks of the debate hinges largely on how one views Biden. Many folks at home — especially independents and swing voters — might well believe that Biden “lost” the debate, simply on style points. But his prime job last night was to buck up the Democratic base that had been demoralized by President Obama’s wan performance last Wednesday — and Biden surely did so.
Time and again, and much to the satisfaction of core Democrats, Biden left tire tracks on Paul Ryan’s backside. Witness this Biden colloquy, where he managed to pluck populist chords, eviscerate the Republican brand, invoke Mitt Romney’s fat-cat fundraising video, and wrap his arms around the middle class:
“We (in the Obama administration) knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, ‘No, let Detroit go bankrupt.’….But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend (Ryan) recently in a speech in Washington, he said ’30 percent of the American people are takers.’ These people are my mom and dad — the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. There are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, ‘not paying any tax.’ I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent – it’s about time (Republicans) take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class we’re going to level the playing field.”
It was around this time that conservatives on Twitter began to whine about the vice president’s demeanor. They also whined about moderator Martha Raddatz, who apparently had the temerity to challenge Ryan. (The GOPers were much happier last week with Jim Lehrer, because he lamely allowed Romney to treat him as roadkill.) But the whining was instructive. The whining was symptomatic of the fears they were reluctant to voice out loud — that contrary to their original expectations, their golden boy was not wiping the floor with Joe Biden.
Granted, Ryan did manage to score a few points, especially in his exchanges with Biden about the embassy crisis in Libya; when Biden finally said, “We will get to the bottom of this,” he basically acknowledged that the apparent intelligence failures are worthy of serious investigation. But when the discussion moved to other international hot spots, Ryan looked like a neophyte struggling to read his talking points off cue cards. Exhibit A was Afghanistan.
As Biden pointed out, we have a fixed timetable for pulling out the U.S. troops in 2014. A landslide majority of Americans want the troops out; even a large percentage of Rerpublican voters want the troops out. NATO has endorsed the 2014 deadline for pulling the troops out. Forty nine allies have endorsed the deadline for pulling the troops out. And Romney — according to Ryan last night — has endorsed it too, but his endorsement is more in the kinda sorta category (big surprise).
Ryan: “We agree with the administration on the 2014 transition (to the Afghan security forces)….We want to make sure that 2014 is successful. That’s why we want to make sure that we give our commanders what they say they need to make it successful. We don’t want to extend beyond 2014. That’s the point we’re making. You know, if it was just this, I’d feel like we would – we would be able to call this a success, but it’s not….We don’t want to broadcast to our enemies ‘put a date on your calendar, wait us out, and then come back.’ We want to make sure – “
Raddatz: “But you agree with the timeline.”
Ryan: “We do agree – we do agree with the timeline and the transition, but what we – what any administration will do in 2013 is assess the situation to see how best to complete this timeline. What we do not want to do, what we don’t want to do is give our allies reason to trust us less and our enemies more — we don’t want to embolden our enemies to hold and wait out for us and then take over.”
After Biden pointed out the obvious — that the Afghans will take full responsibility for their defense only if the allies adhere to their pullout deadline; that the civilian president runs foreign policy, not the commanders in the field; and that pushing back the pullout deadline is a prescription for more endless U.S. war — Ryan began to complain that not enough U.S. troops were being dispatched to fight in dangerous eastern Afghanistan. To which Biden replied (or bellowed, depending on your tastes): “That’s right! We’re sending in more Afghans to do the job! Afghans to do the job!” Which served to underscore what Biden had been saying all night, that foreign policy neophytes Romney and Ryan seem all too willing to extend the war we’re already fighting, and to threaten new wars elsewhere, notably with Iran. (Mocking Romney’s bluster about Iran, Biden said: “What more can the president do – stand before the United Nations, tell the whole world, directly communicate to the ayatollah, ‘we will not let them acquire a nuclear weapon, period’ – unless he’s talking about going to war.”)
But, for core Democrats, surely the most delicious moment was when Biden outed Ryan on a matter of rank hypocrisy. Ryan was busy complaining about the Obama economic stimulus plan, when Biden suddenly hit him with this:
“And I love my friend here….He sent me two letters saying, ‘By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?’ We sent millions of dollars.”
(Exactly right. Ryan wrote four letters to the Obama administration in 2009, begging for stimulus money. On Oct. 7 of that year, for instance, he wrote on behalf of the Energy Center of Wisconsin: “I believe they would make effective use of the funds they would receive.” On Dec. 18, he told the Obama administration that the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. would use the government money to create “sustainable demand for green jobs,” and to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”)
Here was Ryan’s stuttering debate response: “On two occasions we – we – we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. That’s what we do. We do that for all constituents who are – “
Biden cut in: “I love that. I love that. (Stimulus) was such a bad program that he writes me a letter saying – writes the Department of Energy a letter saying, ‘The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.’ His words. And now he’s sitting here looking at me.”
Yep, that’s all Ryan was doing. He sat there looking like a schoolboy who had just swallowed his gum.
All told, Biden did his yoemanlike duty for Obama; undoubtedly, Democratic heads have been removed from ovens all over America. But in the final analysis, the job still falls to the president to make the best case for himself. As a cure for his lassitude, he might consider taking a sip of the Joe Biden elixir.
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