The VP debate: Who do you trust?

October 12, 2012

What a difference a week makes.

In a CBS News post-debate poll of undecided voters, Joe Biden won the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate by a margin of 50 to 31 percent, with 19 percent saying it was a tie.

Joe Biden came out fighting Thursday night, challenging Romney on the 47 percent. About Republicans, he said, “It’s about time they took some responsibility.” He took on the Republican “malarkey.” “Facts matter,” Biden said. Indeed they do, and the facts weren’t on Paul Ryan’s side last night.

It was time for an arithmetic lesson. 47 percent of Americans are slackers and 60 percent are takers, according to Romney and Ryan. $2,000 tax increase on the middle class under Romney. Those aren’t good numbers for the Republicans.

Biden more than made up for he passion and fire that Obama lacked last week. Even though he was rude and condescending, he was passionate. I’ll take a snarky debate on substance to a he-said-he-said like the last debate any day. Martha Raddatz, the moderator, had a lot to do with making it much more informative. Regardless of who won the debate, the pundits and I agree this debate was more engaging and just plain better than the last one all around.

It was a strong performance for Biden. He shot himself in the foot by being his usual crotchety self, but the points still stuck. When asked for specifics, Ryan was evasive, at one point just plain admitting he and Romney didn’t have the numbers on taxes and would get them later on in their administration. He displayed some of the circular arguments that got Obama in trouble in the first debate.

It was a lot of, “Well, this study says this,” or, “That scoring wasn’t fair for that.” Biden’s counter-punches were right on point — I was there in the Oval Office and I heard Obama say this, I was there in Afghanistan and I saw that, The people I know will pay more (for healthcare), etc. Contrast this with Ryan, whose only specifics of the night were naming towns in Afghanistan that not even Carmen San Diego could find on a map.

This debate sets the stage for Obama to take back command of the race next week at a town hall when he connects with voters, something Romney doesn’t really do. Biden gave him the script. My favorite quote of the night: “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey.” That’s how you take down a bunch of “stuff,” as Biden put it. I’ll cut the president some slack — it is hard to attack Mitt Romney. As Biden said when mentioning a Romney policy, “I could be mistaken, he changes his mind so often.”

More important than attack lines was the enthusiasm displayed by Biden and the Democrats in post debates. As Biden put it, “I’ve had it up to here with this 47 percent notion.” A lot of people feel the same way about the do-nothing Republican Congress and the Romney campaign, and the next few weeks will be about getting those people out to vote.

Most of the time, words are not Joe Biden’s friends. But tonight, he used all the right ones. I have to give Ryan credit — he deflected Biden’s attack line, “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy.” At least he didn’t look like he was going to cry like Dan Quayle did. Beyond that, Ryan’s points sounded like either a campaign commercial or a policy paper. Americans don’t want those. They want an answer to the question that Joe Biden posed on Medicare: “Who do you trust?” That’s what this election’s going to be all about.

I think I can sum up this debate in one way, thanks to Vice President Biden. “Let’s take a look at the facts.” He followed that up with his best answer of the night, making the case for his re-election and the middle class in general. “These people are my mom and dad. The people I grew up with. My neighbors.” They are the middle class, and they, like Vice President Biden, have had it up to here with the Republicans in Congress and the lies their presidential candidate has been telling.

Game on.

Photo: Barack Obama watches the Vice Presidential debate aboard Air Force One with his staff.

Photo credit: Pete Souza, White House

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared as an opinion column in The Maneater on October 12, 2012.