A Battle of Intellects -- and Temperaments

Posted: Oct 11, 2012 10:48 PM

Everyone already knew Paul Ryan has a first-class intellect.  Tonight, he proved that he has a first-class temperament, too.  That's what was required to tolerate the histrionics trotted out by Joe Biden.  Granted, everyone's always known Biden's got something quite a bit dimmer than a first-class intellect; tonight, he tried to compensate by bringing heat where he can't shed light.  As a result, he was grinning, snorting, smirking, sighing, grimacing, interrupting -- and winding the whole thing up with a whine about Paul Ryan's time (when he himself had actually gotten more).  Perhaps the creepiest part was his mugging through the discussion of the Libyan debacle; does it suggest to anyone else that the guys in office just don't get the seriousness of the multiple crises America faces?

Obviously, Paul Ryan didn't wipe the floor with Joe Biden.  Frankly, it's not clear to me how he could have, given Biden's over-the-top behavior.  The whole thing would have degenerated into a food fight had Ryan tried to get more aggressive, and he would have risked coming off looking as disrespectful and contemptuous of his opponent, the debate (and by extension, the American voters) as Biden did.  By projecting calmness and balance -- sanity! -- Ryan certainly presented a sharp contrast with Biden, who obviously tried to take advantage of Ryan's youth and relative inexperience in his overt attempts to steamroller through the debate (it'll be interesting to see how this gambit plays with the women the Obama team is so desperate to win back).

No doubt Biden was aggressive (obnoxious!) enough to enspirit the left.  The question is whether he repelled everyone else; at some points, you couldn't even follow the thread of the conversation with all Biden's interruptions (like he was afraid to let Paul Ryan even articulate a point!), and his brashness with Martha Raddatz (really? a finger in her face?!) was inappropriate.

Clearly, Joe Biden was relishing his moment in the spotline.  After four long years of standing in Obama's shadow and being compared unfavorably with him in virtually every way, I guess you can't blame him savoring the fact that he's been called in to clean up Obama's mess.

The question is whether the unpleasantness of his demeanor helped or hurt.  For every point it scored with the base, I suspect that it did even more to help some wavering female voter feel better about her decision to try a new team.  Next to Ryan, Biden looked old, over-caffeinated, more than a little defensive and downright rude.

In the ultimate test, I doubt Joe Biden left anyone reassured or delighted that he's a mere heartbeat away from the presidency.  But I suspect many voters felt reassured and assured that Paul Ryan is fully qualified to be there.