President Barack Obama conceded Wednesday that he had “a bad night” in his Oct. 3 debate against Mitt Romney. His confirmation of that widespread consensus put extra pressure on Vice President Joe Biden to do well in Thursday night’s debate against Paul Ryan.
And if playing the aggressor while mostly avoiding his gaffe habit qualifies as doing well, Mr. Biden rose to the challenge in Danville, Ky.
But if Mr. Biden’s goal was to expose Mr. Ryan as an ideologue or a lightweight who’s not ready for the prime time of serving as vice president, he failed.
Mr. Biden also was downright rude. He constantly mugged for the camera with disdainful laughs as Mr. Ryan spoke. He repeatedly interrupted his opponent.
And though the Obama campaign claimed victory in the lone VP debate, a CNN poll gave the edge to Rep. Ryan, albeit by a much slimmer count (48-44 percent) than the lopsided margin Mr. Romney posted in the Denver debate.
So who’s laughing now?
OK, so a CBS poll pegged Mr. Biden the winner by a rousing 50-31 percent.
But beyond the implications of conflicting poll numbers and his breaches of decorum, Vice President Biden did score a few points against Mr. Ryan — including his reminder that though the congressman continues to criticize the administration’s $831 billion stimulus package, he sought and received some of that money for enterprises in his home state of Wisconsin.
Mr. Ryan, however, held his own while refraining from the temptation to respond in kind to Mr. Biden’s unseemly facial contortions. The House Budget Committee chairman demonstrated a strong grasp of facts — and a clearly contrasting focus on free enterprise, rather than Obama-Biden-style big government, as the ultimate solution for our continuing economic woes.
And Rep. Ryan fairly faulted the administration for being so slow in stating the obvious about the Sept. 11 assault that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Sevens, at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
As Rep. Ryan said: “It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack.”
Vice President Biden compounded that failure Thursday night by asserting that “we weren’t told” that U.S. officials, alarmed about rising risks in Benghazi, “wanted more security” there.
Yet two security specialists who worked for the State Department had testified to Congress earlier Thursday that they repeatedly asked for more security. And two State Department officials testified that they had denied those requests.
A White House spokesman said Friday that “we,” in the case of what Mr. Biden said Thursday night, meant the president and vice president — not the entire administration.
In other words, it depends on what the meaning of “we” is.
Rep. Ryan had a few tough moments of his own, including his persisting refusal to provide more details on which tax loopholes he and Mr. Romney aim to close — and his confusing explanation of how their Afghanistan exit deadline differs from the current administration’s.
Still, Mr. Ryan effectively countered most of Mr. Biden’s barbs. For instance, the vice president, as expected, repeatedly referred to a stupid remark by Mr. Romney at a May fund-raiser. Mr. Biden called Mr. Romney “a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives.”
That set up this quip from Mr. Ryan: “With respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
Mr. Biden fired back: “But I always say what I mean.”
Does that mean the vice president meant what he said two months ago when he told a Virginia audience, including many black people, that if the Romney-Ryan ticket wins, “They’re gonna put ya’ll back in chains”?
At least Mr. Biden avoided such offensive verbal imagery Thursday night — though he did make a lot of creepy faces.
But don’t let that scare you away from Tuesday night’s second of the three debates between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney.
After all, it should be safe to assume that that both of them will, unlike Mr. Biden, mind their manners.