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.”
“You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels,” Biden said, though the 2008 debate came before IPAB was proposed.
In arguing about Medicare advantage coverage, Ryan quipped, “Mr. Vice President, I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don’t keep interrupting each other.”
“Well, don’t take all the four minutes then,” Biden said.
The debate got tangled in wonk-ese — and dropped out of the Twitter trending topics, an indication that viewers may have been dropping out — when it came to tax reform.
“Look, if you taxed every person and successful business making over $250,000 at 100 percent, it would only run the government for 98 days. If everybody who paid income taxes last year, including successful small businesses, doubled their income taxes this year, we’d still have a $300 billion deficit. You see? There aren’t enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for all their spending,” Ryan said.
“And so the next time you hear them say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll get a few wealthy people to pay their fair share,’ watch out, middle class, the tax bill’s coming to you,” he added.
When advocating a Ronald Reagan-Tip O’Neill framework for forging tax reform, Biden asked if he could “translate.”
“There’s not enough — the reason why the AEI study, the American Enterprise Institute study, the Tax Policy Center study, the reason they all say it’s going — taxes go up on the middle class, the only way you can find $5 trillion in loopholes is cut the mortgage deduction for middle-class people, cut the health care deduction, middle-class people, take away their ability to get a tax break to send their kids to college. That’s why they arrive at it,” Biden said, citing AEI, the think-tank where Ryan originally introduced his Path to Prosperity budget plan.
“He is wrong about that,” Ryan said. “You can — you can cut tax rates by 20 percent and still preserve these important preferences for middle-class taxpayers.”
“Not mathematically possible,” Biden interrupted.
Ryan countered that the plan had been done “a couple of times” — “Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth. Ronald Reagan…”
“Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?” Biden broke in, laughing.
An hour after the debate was over, #ThingsThatMakeBidenLaugh was trending on Twitter.
Biden sobered up for the abortion part of the debate, when each candidate was asked how his Catholic faith affected his policy on the issue.
“I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life,” Ryan said, turning to a hit on the HHS contraception mandate. “…Our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious liberties.”
“My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion. …Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life,” Biden said. “But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the — the congressman.”
“With regard to the assault on the Catholic church, let me make it absolutely clear, no religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact,” Biden claimed.
“Man vs Food a good show, Man vs Boy a gr8 debate – go Joe!” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) tweeted in support of his old upper chamber colleague. “By the end of this Ryan may vote for Joe.”
But Ryan’s GOP congressional colleagues heartily championed their own.
“There’s no one out there who knows more about pro-growth economic policies than @PaulRyanVP,” tweeted House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Responding to a Larry Sabato tweet noting “You have to admit, Biden is on fire,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted, “Burn baby burn.”
In the end, it was the Biden laugh track edging out malarkey — “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey, because not a single thing he said is accurate,” the veep said of Ryan’s Libya answer — for the undisputed win.
“I actually like Joe Biden even though when he smiles he reminds me of the guy that sold me my worst car,” tweeted comedian Albert Brooks. “Ryan’s going to kill him when they get to bench pressing.”