My wife and I have a little joke. Whenever she uses the words “dear heart” at the beginning of a sentence, I am not about to receive much love in what follows. Joe Biden used the words “my friend” to similar effect in the vice-presidential debate. He may have set a record for the most consecutive off-putting uses of that well-worn phrase. The parliamentary wonks will quickly defend Mr. Biden by pointing out that such language is common in the United States Senate, but I suspect that most watchers outside of left-partisans recognized passive aggressiveness.
The bad news for the Romney-Ryan ticket is that Biden probably eked out a very slim victory. Not enough to move any polls, but enough to re-energize a base demoralized by the last debate. There were no slam dunks, but the vice president was more frequently on the attack and easily jumped over the low bar that was set for him in advance. Biden also managed to keep Ryan in a loop of answering specific charges and batting details back and forth. As a result, there was really never a point where Ryan successfully drew attention to the massive problems of sustainability our current system faces. Neither did he mount any larger philosophical assault that would have forced Biden to seriously address a fundamental issue such as freedom.
Liberals spent a lot of time bemoaning Jim Lehrer’s performance last week. After watching this debate, Ms. Raddatz will be cheered for tough moderating. In reality, she was a distraction. She cut off discussion at multiple points in such a way as to leave significant issues hanging completely unresolved. Worse, there were a few moments in the debate (during discussions of domestic policy) where Ryan appeared to be debating both Mr. Biden and Ms. Raddatz. Somewhat true to form, Republicans prefer Lehrer’s non-interventionist approach. Democrats prefer Raddatz’s constant efforts at interruption and re-adjustment.
It seemed clear that the campaign advised Paul Ryan to continue Romney’s strategy of incorporating stories of real Americans, but it didn’t work all that well for him. Debate by personal anecdote is annoying to those looking for incisive arguments. It is especially off-putting when the anecdotes issue forth from the man on the stage who has made a name for himself through outstanding command of policy facts and principles.
One final note: The Republicans have famously employed Rob Portman to play Obama in debates. I don’t know who played Joe Biden, but the campaign needs to think about people they provide for our own candidates to emulate. Mike Huckabee would have known exactly how to answer Biden at every turn. He is a master of the debate dynamic and the way an answer sounds to plain folks. He should be in the room for Romney’s next session as an observer who can offer major tips about substance and tone in responses.
— Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is associate professor of political science at Union University and the author of Political Thought: A Student’s Guide and The End of Secularism.