The 2012 vice-presidential debate tonight in Danville, Kentucky, looked to me like a clear victory for Joe Biden. Others may have seen it differently. I don't doubt that Republicans feel pretty good about Paul Ryan's performance as well. The two men went eyeball to eyeball, each fighting to make himself heard, each interrupting the other. I found it refreshing.
Ryan held his own as far as the theater of politics goes. The problem was that he had to articulate the policies (such as they are) of the Romney/Ryan ticket. Romney policies are not popular. Not even when Paul Ryan tries to explain them.
Biden scored several times. In the abortion exchange, Ryan stated "We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people, through their elected representatives and reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process, should make this determination."
Got that? Ryan says that state legislatures should legislate women's reproductive health decisions. He and Mitt Romney believes that women's rights should be subject to legislation. We've already had a glimpse of how that might look. Folks, they've got a problem with women voters. I don't think this will help.
Ryan stumbled when he tried to explain the GOP policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, as well. Quoth he: "And with respect to Afghanistan and the 2014 deadline, we agree with a 2014 transition. But what we also want to do is make sure that we’re not projecting weakness abroad, and that’s what’s happening here."
Huh? He agreed with the Obama administration's goal of a complete withdrawal by 2014. But at the same time, he objected to "projecting weakness." What does that even mean?
While Ryan was tap-dancing around the Romney position, Biden interjected with a booming "We will leave in 2014." I think that rattled Ryan.
Biden, for his part was letting fly with the populist rhetoric. Red meat to this humble egalitarian. And he hit on Romney's catastropic "47 percent" remark several times, including this response to a query posed by a military veteran:
"I would also tell him that the fact that he, this decorated soldier you talked about, fought for his country -- that that should be honored. He should not be thrown into a category of the 47 percent who don’t pay their taxes while he was out there fighting and not having to pay taxes and somehow not taking responsibility."
But the most devastating exchange came when Ryan bemoaned the perceived failure of the 2009 economic stimulus package as $900 billion of debt that produced nothing. Biden pointed out that Ryan himself asked for millions of dollars of stimulus money for his own congressional district. Ryan looked deflated after that exchange.
Back in the bad old days of the Junior Bush administration, I didn't much like Biden. I resented the extent to which he accommodated the neo-conservatives vis-a-vis the illegal invasion of Iraq. As that bitter memory loses its sting, I've had a change of heart toward Biden. His good-nature and avuncular manner reassures, somehow.
But there can be no doubt that Biden hit his biggest and most important goal for the night And that is this: Ever since Obama's poor performance in the first presidential debate, Democrats have been moping around like beaten dogs. Not any more. Biden, with his vox populi rhetoric fired up the Democrats when their spirits were flagging. Watch and see.