How Smokin’ Joe Biden Got Plucky In Kentucky
By Mike SeccombeOctober 12, 2012
My only question is this: If Barack Obama were to come down with a bad case of laryngitis just before his next debate with Mitt Romney, could he send his understudy instead?
After the President’s metaphorical speechlessness in the first debate, actual speechlessness might be Obama’s best tactic next time round.
Let Smokin’ Joe do it.
Seriously, Joe Biden’s performance in the one and only Vice Presidential debate before the US election showed exactly how it should be done.
He was factual, he was feisty, he was folksy, funny, faithful and fervent in turn, as necessary. He was everything Obama was not in his woeful showing the week before.
And for his part, Republican Paul Ryan was also very impressive. In fact, he too was arguably better than his running mate. But that’s a closer call to make, for Ryan had to lift his performance to stay in the contest, whereas Romney did not.
Let’s face it, the pressure was all on Biden. He was representing the team playing catch-up; he was the man defending the record of an administration cursed with the luck of having to govern in the toughest of times. He was the man with the reputation for straying off-script.
And he performed flawlessly.
I’m not going to say he won, because this debate was nowhere near as easy to judge as the Obama/Romney one.
I cannot, as a citizen of a relatively liberal, still-prosperous, less martial and God-fearing country, pretend to see politics as American voters do. I can’t see it like middle America, where median family net worth crashed by 40 per cent between 2007 and 2010, where incomes are falling and employment is barely rising.
Or underclass America, where 50 million people live below the poverty line of USD 23,000 a year, for a family of four, and where life expectancy is now declining.
I can’t see it like white America, who know they will be a minority in the country within a generation, or like black or Hispanic America, for whom the prospect of upward social mobility recedes with every year.
And nor can other non-Americans guess how the competing agendas of the candidates will be perceived, and their performances assessed, among their voting public.
So I’m not going to declare Biden the winner.
What I can say, though, is that he did everything the US critics of Obama’s performance said he had to do.
He was spirited. It was less than 10 minutes into the 90-minute debate when he first arced up, when Ryan claimed the administration’s “devastating” cuts in defence spending projected weakness to the world, and had contributed to emboldened jihadists killing the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
Biden called it “malarkey” and pointed out that Ryan’s own budget proposal would have cut $300 million from embassy security.
With a little help from the moderator, ABC News's Martha Raddatz, he pushed Ryan in blathering about how to contain Iran’s nuclear program. Ryan ultimately said another Middle East war would be preferable to a nuclear Iran.
The moment we were all waiting for – the reference to Romney’s foot-in-mouth declaration at a fundraiser that 47 per cent of the country saw themselves as “victims” and were “dependent” on government for services — came when the debate turned to the economy.
Ryan rattled off statistics about Obama’s unmet promises on jobs and growth.
Biden replied with a reminder of the rescue of car industry.
“Romney said no, let Detroit go bankrupt. We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said no, let foreclosures hit the bottom.
“But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 per cent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives.”
He segued seamlessly into another quote, from Ryan himself, about 30 per cent of the population being “takers”, and from that into Romney’s tax minimization.
In a few short sentences, he managed to get in all the jabs we’d been expecting Obama to deliver.
Of course, we all knew Joe could deliver a line or an anecdote. The surprise was that delivered numbers as well. The suggestion, going in, was that Ryan would out-wonk him when it came to the arcana of Medicare funding and Social Security, et cetera.
In fact Biden was at least a match for Ryan in the stats department throughout, and managed repeatedly (again with some help from the moderator), to pin him on the lack of detail in the Republican ticket’s expenditure cuts.
We could go on, but really, you should just watch the whole debate, if you didn’t already. It was quite compelling watching the two men fence.
The polls will tell us soon enough who Americans thought the victor.
But I bet that in the Democratic Party back rooms, so recently depressed by Obama, they would have been cheering themselves hoarse just because this time their guy put up a fight.
And wouldn’t it be great if Obama, too, had cheered himself hoarse?