Joe Biden has been widely criticized for his smirks, interruptions, and contemptuous rhetoric during the vice presidential debate — and deservedly so. He looked and sounded like a jerk much of the time. But I would submit that viewers and listeners who took in the entire debate got a very different picture of Biden from those who watched the first 30 to 45 minutes and then bailed.
Biden was obviously told to be aggressive. Democrats concluded that the president’s poor showing last week was entirely attributable to style, to a lack of energy and assertiveness, not to substance. They wanted Biden to come out swinging, and to dominate Paul Ryan like a schoolyard bully. (Remember that schoolyard bullies often do what they do because it draws an appreciative audience. Human nature isn’t always pretty.)
But Biden isn’t just some empty vessel into which Democratic handlers can pour whatever they want. He is a longtime senator, a windbag, and 69 years old. I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer to notice that a little past the halfway point of the debate, his energy began to flag. His attention and sentences began to wander. His voice even softened, and his eyes narrowed. It was as if just before the debate someone had inflated Joe Biden like a balloon (that this rhymes with buffoon is merely a coincidence), and about an hour later it sprang a leak.
Ryan, on the other hand, was a bit off-balance at first but clearly won the final half of the debate. If you watched the whole thing, he came across better than Biden — calm, informed, earnest. But if you caught the vice president before the balloon deflated, you might have concluded he looked strong and confident.