Last week, both left and right agreed that the debate was a defeat for President Obama.
This week, the most agreement was that the sparring between Vice President Joe Biden and VP candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), seated at a table in Danville, Ky., was a real debate.
Complete with emotion, interruptions, accusations, stat-dropping, and — in the “Big Bird moment” of this debate — the smiling.
In some rather inappropriate moments — like talking about the deadly attack on the Benghazi consulate or Iran’s nuclear program — the dispassionate, staring-at-the-podium Obama was replaced by incredulous, animated, smirking-his-pearly-whites Biden.
But point for point, smirk for smirk, zinger for zinger — and both men got their share in — there was clear partisan divide on who the winner was, leaving how the middle received the face-off for the pollsters to judge.
“I have to say that Biden did to Ryan what Cheney did to Edwards in style and demeanor and authoritah,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan, who ripped Obama’s performance last week.
“My CNN colleagues all seem to think it was a draw. I don’t agree. Biden clearly the winner,” tweeted Piers Morgan, who early in the night chided the veep, “Joe, seriously, STOP SMIRKING. This is serious stuff. Be Vice-Presidential.”
“Biden smiling when nothing is funny,” noted Roger Ebert.
Martha Raddatz of ABC News began the debate with Libya, launching a 90-minute mix of foreign and domestic policy that dipped into the comfort zones of each candidate.
The first debate topic also made news on its own that will surely surface at tomorrow’s White House press briefing.
“What were you first told about the attack? Why — why were people talking about protests?” Raddatz asked in the exchange.
“Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment,” said Biden.
Ryan defended U.S. apologies for Koran burning, but said the administration was “projecting weakness” by talking about the YouTube video.
“Should the U.S. have apologized for Americans burning Korans in Afghanistan? Should the U.S. apologize for U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses?” asked Raddatz.
“Oh, gosh, yes. Urinating on Taliban corpses? What we should not apologize for — what we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values,” Ryan said. “What we should not be doing is saying to the Egyptian people, while Mubarak is cracking down on them, that he’s a good guy and, in the next week, say he ought to go.”
And the double-digit that didn’t make an appearance in Denver made its debut on the VP stage.
“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 recently in a speech in Washington said ’30 percent of the American people are takers,’” Biden said, referencing Ryan.
“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. They 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 they take some responsibility here.”
In a twist, Ryan was the first one to name-drop Biden’s oft-quoted hometown.
“Joe and I are from similar towns. He’s from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m from Janesville, Wisconsin. You know what the unemployment rate in Scranton is today?” the congressman said.
“I sure do,” Biden responded.
“It’s 10 percent,” Ryan shot back.
“Yeah,” said Biden.
“You know what it was the day you guys came in — 8.5 percent,” the Republican said. “That’s how it’s going all around America.”
“You don’t read the statistics,” retorted the veep. “That’s not how it’s going. It’s going down.”
Considering the House Budget Committee chairman was seated at the debate table, though, the debate was anything but light on statistics. And, yes, zingers.
“With respect to that quote,” Ryan said of the 47 percent video of Mitt Romney, “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
“Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me a policy. Show me a policy where you take responsibility,” Biden said.
The vice president accused Ryan of speaking against the stimulus while having requested funds.
“I love my friend here. I — I’m not allowed to show letters but go on our website, 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,” Biden said.
“On two occasions we — we — we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. That’s what we do,” Ryan replied. “…Was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland, or on windmills in China?”
On entitlement reform, Ryan referenced “this new Obamacare board in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.”