Two Men, Totally Different

A scene from the vice-presidential debate in Danville, Ky., October 11, 2012


A few notes on the big debate last night, Biden versus Ryan. I’ll give these notes as I jotted them down. A couple of them may be out of order — but this is it, basically: 

Obama and Biden always talk about “ending” the Iraq War and “ending” the Afghan War. Okay. But is “winning” definitely out?  No such thing?

So, Biden is playing hot guy.

He is accusing us — us Republicans — of wanting another war. Nice.

Boy, does Ryan sound like he’s from Wisconsin! I like it when people sound like where they’re from. (Sometimes, Obama doesn’t sound like he’s from Honolulu.)

Ryan is dead right about the Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq. Dead right. I don’t know why Biden is laughing. It’s no laughing matter, and Ryan has him, and the administration, dead to rights.

Ryan seems very young. Not in a bad way (I think). He just does.

This will sound a little condescending, but I wonder how ordinary people — people who don’t follow the news, follow politics, day in, day out — can tell who’s telling the truth. Because what the two candidates say — on factual matters, I mean, not on matters of opinion — is totally at variance.

Biden says that Romney’s comment on our embassy in Cairo was “panned by the media.” Well, of course it was! As night follows day, Republican comments are panned by the media!

Our efforts against Iran have been “devastating”? Really? That’s what Biden says. Gee, I hope so — but don’t really believe it.

There was something inevitable tonight: Biden would say that the Republicans “bet against America.” And, sure enough, here he is, saying, “These guys bet against America all the time.” That’s what he says when Republicans express concern about the health of our country at home and the standing of our country abroad.

I wish Ryan had been prepared for an answer to this. Maybe he was. But this claims needs an answer — this Democratic McCarthyism, if you will.

Biden is blaming the intelligence community? Blaming it for misinformation about Benghazi? Doesn’t ring right to me — I mean, the accusation doesn’t ring true. Plus, it’s unseemly. (I know we’re talking about Biden.)

The moderator is pressing Biden on Benghazi, hard. This is interesting, from the media. Wow. Kind of impressed. (And Biden doesn’t like it, one bit. He doesn’t seem used to it, which is understandable. Getting angry, he is.)

Biden paints Russia as our great ally on Iran! I wish Ryan would say — someone would say — “Russia is helping Iran, every day! Get real!” (as Mayor Mike Bloomberg would say). (That’s a persistent Bloomie-ism: “Get real.”)

Biden is so sure that Iran is eons from a nuclear weapon. That they have nothing to put their nuclear juice in — no receptacle, no vessel. How can he be so sure? How can he be so cocky about it? If I were Ryan, I’d be tempted to say, “Okay, then, nothing to worry about, right?”

If Iran goes nuclear, Biden’s words ought to come back to haunt him. But they won’t. Because no one ever remembers, is my impression.

Ryan is being repetitious, and weakly so.

Biden is effective on the economy, I’m afraid — because he’s got the class-warfare shtick down pat.

Ryan talks about a family that Mitt Romney helped (one of the apparently countless such families). Did their name have to be Nixon?!

I wouldn’t do too much of this soft stuff, if I were Ryan. But maybe polls and focus groups and so on have told him and his camp that people like it.

“I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.” A first-rate one-liner! (I know a couple of speechwriters from whom that line might have come — sounds like them, both of them. Then again, it might have come from the candidate himself.)

Biden makes the standard charge that Romney didn’t care about the car industry — was downright happy for it to die. Ryan doesn’t really get a chance to answer this, or doesn’t insist on the chance. Too bad. There is a very good answer. Ryan manages to get out “He’s a car guy,” and that’s it.

Mitt must take this on in one of the next two debates, I think.

Okay, this is touchy — maybe I shouldn’t touch it. But I will. I have written about it in the last few weeks. Twice, in fact.

Biden always talks about his dead wife and daughter. He did so in the 2008 debates (which I recently reviewed). He did so at this year’s Democratic convention — or rather, this matter appeared in the introductory video about him, which I imagine Biden approved. And he does so again tonight. It is his standard practice.

Fine. We all make choices. Everyone’s got a right. But the men I have admired in my life would rather slit their throats than talk about something like this. In private, I mean. Much less in public, while campaigning.

This is a matter of taste, of course. A chacun son goût, I suppose.

By the way — lest readers think I’m a partisan on these matters, let me paste something I wrote at this year’s Republican convention:

A word about the Romney film — the biographical film. I thought, “If you have to talk about illness, and if you have to talk about how much you love your wife — is it really worth running for president?”

Oprah’s America, which is to say, modern America, is not for everyone.

I’m glad Ryan has a chance to knock the “stimulus,” which I don’t think Romney had in the last debate. But I wish Ryan had mentioned “shovel-ready jobs” — those jobs that were utterly fictitious (and that Obama joked about, eventually).

Biden says, “You know, I heard that death-panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice-presidential debate, I hear this kind of stuff about panels.”

Didn’t Palin talk about death panels while Obamacare was being debated, during the Obama presidency itself, after the 2008 election and the 2009 swearing-in?

Biden says, “All the studies show . . .” Of course, all the studies show different things, on almost every subject! That’s the nature of studies. Clinton had this tic, this trick: “All the studies show . . .” “Every single solitary study that has ever been done on this shows . . .”


A quick assessment, mid-debate: If you like Biden — like him in general — you like his performance. If you like Ryan — and Republicanism in general — you like Ryan.

Boy, do I like Ryan. And dislike the other guy.