The Corner

First Post-Debate Impression: Biden Behaving Badly

This will be a tough debate for the partisans to evaluate objectively in large part because Biden’s derision grates so thoroughly on conservative nerves even as it invigorates liberals. “Blue collar” Joe Biden’s sneer reminded me of the form of argument by mockery that one so often encounters not in the streets of towns like Scranton but in the halls of academia.  

My best prediction is that independents won’t like Biden much, and that the pop-culture takeaway from the debate won’t have much at all to do with substance and will have everything to do with Joe Biden’s facial expressions. The YouTube mashups are already up and spreading like wildfire. Again and again people tell pollsters they don’t like disrespectful politics. It’s hard to believe they’ll like Biden. If I had to predict, I’d say the debate helps cheer Obama’s base but ends up making the ticket less likable, thus continuing to squander a key favorability advantage.

As for boring things like, you know, substance, Paul Ryan made his conservative case clearly and effectively (when he could talk) — most effectively when concisely laying out all of the Obama administration’s broken promises, but Biden also raised all the anti-Romney talking points that MSNBC begged Obama to raise. The political and philosophical contrast was quite clear. Additionally, the debate elevated foreign policy in public consciousness, and given the appalling Libyan scandal, that’s not good for the administration.

Bottom line: Even more than usual perceptions of style will trump substance. And Joe Biden behaved badly.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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