Man, that felt good. And it was fun, too. Vice President Joe Biden certainly looked like he was having a good time. In fact, Republicans’ biggest complain seems to be that Biden was having too much fun. He laughed too much. That Republicans can’t find much to attack in what Biden said during the debate — or much to defend about what Paul Ryan said— speaks volumes about the difference between the two major parties.
That difference was reflected in the two men who represented the parties last night, and how they each came to be there.Joe Biden was chosen to be on the Democratic ticket because of what he knows. Paul Ryan was chosen to be on the Republican ticket because of what he believes. That was the “BFD” of the VP debate. And the “D” is for “difference.”
So, why was Joe Biden smiling? Why was Joe Biden laughing? It could be that so much about the debate was laughable.
There was his opponent, for starters. I’m not saying that Paul Ryan should have spent more time on debate prep and less time pumping iron. But clearly something was lacking in his preparation. How is it that Republicans sent Ryan out to debate Biden without giving him a few crucial bits of advice:
- Do not go out there and compare yourself to Jack Kennedy. It never goes well.
- Don’t use a tragic car accident as an example, in a debate with an opponent who lost his wife and daughter in a tragic car accident. People will think that either you don’t know enough not to mention it, or that you don’t care. Neither is good.
- Don’t bad mouth the stimulus, if you sent your opponent two letters requesting stimulus dollars for your district. He might remember how that stimulus you called “wasteful” helped save your hometown. Worse, he could be smart enough to bring those letters with him.
- Don’t talk about “privatizing” Social Security. We need Florida to win, dammit. We can’t even send you down there now.
Maybe Joe Biden was smiling because he already knew what soon dawned on most of the rest of us: he was winning.
The morning-after consensus is that Biden showed up. He did his job, delivering a much needed shot in the arm to both the Democratic ticket and its base. The BFD between this debate and the first presidential debate is that Biden was the “happy warrior”, armed with a winning combination of knowledge, message and passion.
In retrospect, what dispirited an awful lot of Democrats about the first presidential debate was that it emblemized the fear that in an intense, high-stakes battle with an ascendant and radicalized conservative movement, progressive elected officials just didn’t have the willingness or ability to make a full and passionate case for their own cause. That was at the heart of criticisms not only of the president’s demeanor, but also of his many missed opportunities to rebut Romney and expose the rickety substructure of the mendacious self-presentation Moderate Mitt was attempting. And this is obviously a complaint that’s been just under the surface of mixed progressive attitudes towards Obama and many other Democratic leaders for years now.
There was none of that with Biden, although he in no way contradicted a single word Obama uttered last week. Josh Marshall probably best summed up the reaction from Democrats:
Biden made the whole Democratic argument — on policy and values and he hit Romney really everywhere Democrats wanted him to. He left nothing unsaid. You can agree with those points or not. But this was exceedingly important for recovering the damage from last week’s debate when many Obama supporters simply felt that Obama wasn’t willing or able or something to make the case Democrats around the country are hyped up to make. Why didn’t you say this? Why’d you let him get away with that?
Biden said it all. And for Democrats around the country that was extremely important….
I suspect Ryan’s equivocations and unwillingness to give details will be the day 2 and weekend stories. But the most critical point in terms of the trajectory of the debate was that Biden left it all on the field
If you want to know one reason why Joe Biden was smiling, look at the transcript of the debate, look at some of the fact-checking, and you’ll see that the facts were mostly in Biden’s favor. Meanwhile, all Ryan had to fall back on was the standard Romney campaign tactic: Tell lies like “Medicare and Social Security going broke,” and declare them “indisputable facts.” (Lying is something of a habit for Ryan, apparently.)
In some ways, it may have been sweet revenge for Biden. After all, less than two months ago, Republicans were calling for Biden to step down as Vice President, advising the president to drop Biden from the ticket and draft Hillary Clinton, lest Biden’s so called “gaffes” sink Obama’s candidacy.
Part of me suspects that Joe Biden was perfectly happy to let Republicans think of him as a gaffe-prone clown. It’s an old, and effective tactic to allow your opponent to think you weak and inept, just long enough for them to get within striking distance. After last night I think that Biden was merely confident that he had all he needed to defeat Paul Ryan Thursday night: conviction, passion, and the facts to back them up.
In 2008, it was obvious that Barack Obama turned to Joe Biden as a running mate because Biden’s knowledge and experience balanced out the ticket, and allayed concerns about Obama’s lack of “experience.” In 2012, it was obvious that Mitt Romney turned to Paul Ryan as a running mate because Paul Ryan’s ideological cred helped allay GOP concerns that Romney was insufficiently conservative.
Conservatives rejoiced over the Ryan choice, because they weren’t sure what Mitt Romney really believed, and Ryan signalled a committment to a radical right agenda.
Ryan was the perfect pick for the “culture of belief” that dominates the GOP — a culture in which what you believe is far more important that what you know, and knowledge is informed by belief instead of the other way around.
The US is unique compared to the rest of Western world, which tends to accept evolution, but the comparison is less significant than the inference we can draw about the US and the associated impacts visible in our disdain for not only education, but also the well-educated, the informed: the predominant culture in the US is a belief culture.
By “belief,” I do not refer to religious faith per se. This discussion is about a belief culture that is secular, political and, ultimately, ideological, even when belief is connected to religious traditions and stances.
As Einstein offered, both belief and science have value, even as complements to each other: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” – especially as faith informs our ethics. But in the US, we are apt to misuse belief and ignore (or misunderstand) science when we need it most.
As I said in the beginning, Biden is on the Democratic ticket because of what he knows, and Ryan is on the Republican ticket for what he believes. (Which is astonishing, given some of the things Paul Ryan believes.)
Last night, Vice President Biden showed Democrat how to effectively combine passion and truth to craft a winning message. He gave the performance Obama sorely needed to give in his first debate, and should borrow liberally from for his second.
Terrance Heath previously worked as a Blogging and Social Media Consultant for several organizations, after serving as Blogmaster for EchoDitto, Inc. He stumbled into blogging and social media after starting his own blog, The Republic of T. He has worked as an activist on LGBT equality and HIV/AIDS issues with the Human Rights Campaign and the National Minority AIDS Council.
This piece first appeared on the Campaign for America’s Future blog, OurFuture.