Friday, October 12, 2012
CONTINUE NOT PANICKING. I'm confident the eventual fallout will be that Paul Ryan won last night's debate. Does it matter? Too soon to say. But I have thoughts anyway, most of them centered on the number 'two.' Maybe they're illustrative of what's going on in our imperiled nation. Take a look-see.
Two screens tell a story.
A Face-off of Number Twos
Vice-Presidential debates are placeholders. Just something that happens between presidential debates -- unless there's a debacle of some kind. Nobody really casts a vote for the second guy on the ticket. Why it was weird that Democrats were somehow counting on Biden to put Obama back in the game and stanch the hemhorraging in the polls. Really? All Ryan had to do was seem knowledgeable, smart, credible in terms of character and seriousness, and he'd pass the litmus test for a running mate. If he doesn't scare us as a guy a heartbeat away from the presidency, he wins. He did that. Which might render everything after this a footnote. But I'll proceed anyway.
Two Flavors of Contempt
Obama lost the first debate because he didn't even bother to participate. He held his opponent in such low regard that he didn't prepare, didn't respond to challenges, and clearly didn't even want to be on stage interacting with Romney before the American public. So what changed in the second? Only the tactics. Biden was equally contemptuous of his opponent but in a much louder and more obnoxious way. Where Obama stared at his podium, Biden smirked, laughed, rolled his eyes, guffawed, interrupted at will, raised his voice, talked over his opponent, and did everything possible to sabotage the whole idea of "debate." It's exactly the same attitude, executed differently. Does this give any useful tip to Obama for his second debate, given that Number One has already declared his mistake "being too polite"? No. Remember Clinton's famous campaign dictum, "It's the economy, stupid"? The lesson for Obama's campaign this time should be, "It's the contempt, stupid. Cut it out."
The Democrat meme of a Republican war on women took a serious hit last night. One of the hugely overlooked factors in this race is that grown-up women really really like Paul Ryan. I don't understand it, but I know it to be so from a flood of anecdotal evidence. Women also are painfully familiar with the patronizing and dismissive tactics Biden used against Ryan. They've encountered them with blowhard assholes-in-charge in every walk of life. Men may excuse Biden up to a point on alpha male dominance behavior grounds, although I personally think men are more sophisticated readers of character than that. But the typical female response to what Biden did last night is visceral, instantaneous, and hostile. The man is a bully, a jerk, and an oaf. Ryan, in stark contrast, is polite and that rare thing, a gentleman. I hate to break it to the Democrat Party, but women by and large admire gentlemen, even if they don't marry or otherwise consort with them.
Forget the pundits. I watched (and heard via radio) too much of the post debate analysis. All this inside-the-beltway expertise is getting toxic. Brit Hume, Greta van Susteren, and Laura Ingraham (to name just a few) keep marveling at the fact that in person Joe Biden is a truly nice guy, continuously affable, charming, and in Hume's words, "willing to take his shirt off and give it to you on the spot if you asked for it." They can't comprehend why he can become so unhinged and vicious in events like last night's debate. Bullshit. It doesn't occur to media personalities that they are on TV and radio talking about Joe Biden? It's not possible he has some vested interest in being nice to them? Here's a take (via TNR's Campaign Spot) by someone who watched him up close in his senate dealings:
David Harmer, who ran the closest race of any California Republican House candidate in 2010, sends along this message of his particular disdain for Vice President Biden, and his challenge to Romney donors.
Those of us outside the Beltway get to see Biden as he is outside the Washington preserve. We're not similarly beguiled by his blarney and bluster. We can see him for what he is, a half-smart, self-important, insensitive, blundering narcissist who should never be within shouting distance of nuclear launch codes. Worse, we can hear the thud of his entirely inappropriate attempt to exploit the death of his wife and daughter in a purely politically motivated effort to compare his own humanity to that of Mitt Romney. He lowered his voice like a bad actor -- or one of the many defendants we have seen on true crime shows who weep without tears to sway the jury their way. Great guy? Good old Joe? That's just not going to sell to people who have a soul.
Screw the pundits on this one. Wait a few days and see what verdict the jury brings in.
Two Against One
I think Ryan won the debate for reasons stated above. But I do believe it worth mentioning that the moderator was helping Biden. She didn't stop Biden from interrupting, which he did 80 some times, and she also interrupted Ryan herself with followups she never seemed to have for Biden.
Debating for Two
There's been criticism of Ryan for not getting into Biden's face as Biden got into his. Conservatives are making this case aplenty. A stupid charge. Ryan was showing the maturity he isn't expected to have at the tender age of (ahem) 42. He never forgot that his mission was not to screw things up for Romney. If he were debating Biden without that burden, I'm certain he would have uncoiled a couple of crushing counterpunches. This is the guy, after all, who made Obama look silly in White House meetings on ObamaCare. But he made a cool and clever decision to let his opponent self-destruct without risking controversy by upping the ante and courting chaos and meltdown on national TV. He remembered that his job was to be solid, stolid, prepared, and statesmanlike, not Rocky. He accomplished the mission. Today he's not the star, but he's not a lightning rod either. What better description do you have of the the role of Vice-President?
Ryan's implicit advantage. Obama failed to make his second-term case for hope and change. Biden's job was to drive home campaign talking points that all Republican ideas are old and worthless while Obama ideas are new and glowing with potential. Think about it. (Although he mentioned Obama by name only once or twice?!) The old man is arguing that his own long experience is proof of the vigor of Obama's so far dismal results. The young man is arguing that Washington's long experience is a death knell for the next generation. Who's more credible? An old man who wants to stay the course? Or a young man who wants to leave a stronger nation for his young children? If both are sincere, who gets the nod? If one is a shameless old hack and the other an earnest, evidently astute reformer with skin in the game, who gets the nod?
Two Kinds of Christians
Two Irish Catholics. One who believes that life begins at conception, which makes terminating a life past conception unacceptable. One who believes life begins at conception, but, hey, murder is in the eye of the beholder. Who are we to say? Are we all expected to be politicians of faith?
Two Kinds of Americans
One who declares that we should never be ashamed to stand up for American values. One who doesn't see the grotesquerie of laughing during a discussion of the brutal assassination of an American ambassador and then claims his opponents have always been down on America. Right.
Biden exemplifies an ultimate, highly distilled version of the class system he pretends to oppose. In reality, there are only two classes in the liberal Democratic view. The governors and the governed. He's been riding the Amtrak gravy train so long he can't even tell when he is patronizing not just his debate opponent but the citizens he's supposed to be serving. He tells them to use their common sense. As if he, at this stage in his long coddled, corrupt life, he would know what common sense is.
Common sense is the guy who detected the fraudulent game Biden was playing and chose, quite sensibly, not to play but to let reality speak for itself to the American people.
The Obama campaign has a golden opportunity to learn from last night's circus. Will they? No. Will Romney? We can only hope.
P.S. I made a prediction about this debate (see caption under main graphic). I was right. When Ryan referenced JFK's tax reductions, Biden lit up and said, utterly out of context, "So you're Jack Kennedy now!" He'd been waiting for his Lloyd Bentsen moment, but that moment was, unfortunately for him, almost 30 years in the past. Like most of what he had to say.