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Originally published Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 9:59 PM

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TV analysis: Night of sharp and spirited debate

Vice President Joe Biden, clearly delighted to come to President Obama's rescue, relished his role, addressing his opponent as "my friend" but dismissing his arguments as "malarkey."

The New York Times

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Joe Biden knew Lloyd Bentsen.

Lloyd Bentsen was a friend of Joe Biden's.

And the vice president made full use of his old Senate colleague's 1988 debate playbook, shaking his head and scoffing pityingly at Rep. Paul Ryan, trying to paint his opponent as a latter-day Dan Quayle.

Ryan was no Dan Quayle, but he did make the mistake of mentioning John Kennedy in an argument over whether tax cuts recharge the economy. Biden flashed a Cheshire cat grin and said to Ryan, after waiting a beat to let the moment sink in, "So, now you're Jack Kennedy?"

The vice-presidential debate Tuesday was supposed to be a reboot for the Obama campaign after the president's dismal performance at his debate with the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, last week.

Biden, clearly delighted to come to President Obama's rescue, relished his role, addressing his opponent as "my friend" but dismissing his arguments as "malarkey." He laughed at Ryan's remarks so often and so heartily that at times he seemed like a guest at a comedy club roast, not a vice president debating the fate of the nation with his opponent.

It was a sharp and spirited debate, with both candidates delivering some lacerating blows, but Ryan at times seemed disconcerted by the sheer blowhard intensity Biden brought to the night.

Ryan tried to be respectful, listening to the vice president with a tilted head, choirboy smile and puppy-dog eyes, but he showed his irritation when Biden kept interrupting to attack his policy on Medicare.

"I know you're under duress," he told the vice president, prompting another belly laugh.

For Biden especially, the night was his chance to relive past debates and unleash his inner barroom brawler. He had to be contained and courteous when he debated Sarah Palin four years ago, lest he look like a bully.

This time he let loose.

And unlike the courtly Bentsen in 1988, Biden turned his temperature up, singeing the young man across the table with patronizing grins, but mostly withering retorts.

His interruptive barrage was as relentless as his silent mugging for the camera.

Ryan held his own, but he did look abashed when Biden mocked him for opposing the Obama stimulus, yet asking for government funds for his own district. "On two occasions, we — we — we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants," Ryan said stiffly.

"I love that. I love that," Biden said. "This was such a bad program, and 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."

When Biden went after Romney's infamous remark at a private fundraiser about the "47 percent," Ryan reminded the vice president of his own propensity for gaffes.

"I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way," he said with a gotcha smile.

Biden was not quite as amused.

Biden was not the only one in the room intent on rectifying his predecessor's mistakes. Martha Raddatz of ABC News was the moderator, and she made a point of speaking forcefully, pushing the candidates to be specific and changing subjects abruptly. She seemed determined to be less passive and sleepy than Jim Lehrer of PBS was as moderator of the Obama-Romney debate.

Ryan made a point of praising Romney, even trying to soften his image by recounting a time when Romney gave money and attention to a couple whose children were badly injured in a car accident. It wasn't the best example to use, because it prompted Biden to describe his own tragedy, when his wife and young daughter were killed in a car crash.

Ryan talked a lot about Romney. Biden talked a lot about Biden.

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