Politics & Policy

Two Men, Totally Different

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.

‐Biden, more than most people, talks about “the middle class” without cease. Increasingly, I’m coming to see this as one of the most phony-baloney phrases in our lexicon. I guess it means everyone who doesn’t wear a top hat and tails or sleep under a bridge.

‐Ryan says, “Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth. Ronald Reagan . . .” Biden interrupts, “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?”

I suppose people will think of that as a good debate line, particularly in light of 1988. But could there be a stupider, more nonsensical line? No, Ryan doesn’t think he’s Kennedy (I assume he’s an infinitely more upstanding man than Kennedy). He thinks that Kennedy lowered tax rates, thereby increasing growth, which is what happened.

That is a part of JFK’s legacy that Democrats don’t want to remember or honor.

‐Ryan, in a statement on deep cuts to our military, says, “This invites weakness.” He means “aggression.” Too bad. Heart in the right place, though.

‐Oh, sorry, meant to say something earlier. When Biden mentioned Ryan’s writing him to request stimulus money for Wisconsin? He got him good, I’m afraid. Especially with the concluding quip, the coup de grâce: “By the way, any letter you send me, I’ll entertain.”

Biden’s best line of the night, IMO. (Ryan could have said something like, “I thought the stimulus was a massive waste, but as long as those dollars were being spent, my constituents might as well have gotten a few of them.”)

‐What Ryan says about Afghanistan, I believe. It is exactly my view. Whatever we do, says Ryan, and say I, we must not reverse the gains our men have sacrificed to make. Vietnam, Vietnam.

No one likes to think about this — it is too horrible — but 52,000 of our guys died when the two Vietnams could have been united under Communism twelve years earlier, with zero American deaths.

‐One thing I like about Biden — he pronounces the Afghan capital “Ka-BUHL,” rather than “Cobble.” Good for you, Scranton Joe! (For a piece I wrote long ago on the pronunciation of place names, etc., go here.)

‐I don’t think Biden is very attractive when he says “Hear me.”

‐As I wrote during the convention, I don’t think he’s very attractive when he says, “Look, folks . . .”

‐I don’t think he’s very attractive when he says to the moderator, “You be a little straight with me here.”

‐By the way, she interrupts and argues with Ryan. I’m not sure she does it so much with Biden. A little. But less.

‐Repeatedly, Biden says, or suggests, that Republicans are for war. That we want another war. This is one of the most disgusting things he does all debate long.

I thought of some lines from Psalms, which I quote in my Nobel history — particularly, the essay on peace within that book: “My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.”

‐Biden is always shouting. Odd, when you’re sitting down at a desk with a couple of people. He sounds like Mussolini making sure the paesani hear him way in the back of the crowd.

‐Like many other people, I think, Biden says “verbage” when he means “verbiage.”

‐There was a very popular phrase in the 1990s — you heard it from the liberal media all the time — and Biden reminds me of it: “angry white man.”

‐Ryan quotes Hillary Clinton with approval: The Russians are “on the wrong side of history,” said HRC, when it comes to Syria.

Hmmm. Seeing as I’ve been linking to essays in this column, go here, to see my take on “wrong side of history” (and “right” side).

‐About abortion, the moderator says, “This is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country.” Yes. It is also a matter of reason.

‐Something to love about Ryan: When the moderator says, “What could you both give to this country as a man, as a human being, that no one else could?” Ryan says, in essence, Nothing. “There are plenty of fine people who could lead this country.”

A man, Ryan is.

‐I wonder: Has a decision been made, in the Romney-Ryan camp, to avoid the age-old question “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” ’Cause the answer, in 2012, for Americans at large, is no.

‐Look, I don’t know how the public will react to this debate. I often find myself at odds with the public. And I find them hard to read. For example, from 1992 on, I found Bill Clinton a repellent figure. A charlatan, a snake-oil salesman — a snake. How many terms would he have been elected to, but for the 22nd Amendment? Would he be president still, 20 years later?

I thought Biden was repellent, in this debate. Disgusting. Nasty. Disgraceful. All that smirking and sighing and eye-rolling and laughing (derisive laughing) and interrupting. He wasn’t aggressive. He was rude. He was an ass. I’m a conservative Republican, so what do I care? But if I were a liberal Democrat, I’d be mortified. “This is the guy representing us?”

But you never know what Americans will like. I think of the music they listen to. The movies and TV shows they think are great. This does not necessarily inspire confidence.

Ryan? On balance, I thought he was very good. Superb, even. Thoughtful, polite, informed, honest, sincere, smart, nimble, concerned, likable. I would have thought this if I were on the other side — if I were a liberal Democrat. I would have thought, “Oh, crap — their guy’s some kind of knight, and our guy’s a boor.”

I thought Ryan put conservative arguments, classical-liberal arguments, in ways that ought to be appealing to the non-ideological. Even to those who are inclined against conservatism.

But again, what do I know, when it comes to the public mind?

As for my own mind: I think Romney and Ryan would be very, very good, in executive office. We need them. I hope they get the chance.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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