The Superior Man

Last night’s vice presidential debate appears to have been a Rorschach test. If you went into the debate favoring the Obama ticket, you came out favoring the Obama ticket. If you went into the debate favoring the Romney ticket, that’s how you left. From Talking Points Memo, always a good gauge of the Democratic party line:

DANVILLE, KY — Democrats wanted an aggressive Joe Biden at the vice presidential debate here, and they got one. In stark contrast to President Obama’s listless performance against Mitt Romney in Denver on Oct. 3, Biden came out of the gate on the attack against Paul Ryan and stayed on offense throughout the 90-minute debate.

Biden’s central message to the audience watching: you can’t trust what the Romney-Ryan ticket says. On issue after issue, Biden told viewers to compare the two teams running for president and trust their instincts when it comes to who will look out for the middle class.

“Look, folks, use your common sense,” Biden said during a discussion of entitlements.

while Power Line equally good at expressing the solid Republican view had it:

Score this for Ryan: I’m certain that it was Biden’s plan to try to get under Ryan’s skin, drive Ryan off his core strength (his passionate wonkiness), cause him to make a mistake, lose his composure, or look too young and unready for high office. Biden utterly failed to do this. Ryan kept his cool throughout. I hate ever to agree with David Gergen, but Ryan won on style points. And style points count for a lot in these things.

Despite the obvious asymmetries between the two men that had conservative hearts palpitating that Ryan would crush the egregious Biden, I never saw it that way for a simple reason: the format of these debates is not congenial to Ryan’s strength as a wonk and an intellectual. If this was a formal Lincoln-Douglas style debate with set piece opening arguments and extended substantive rebuttals, it would be a different matter. Add to it the dynamic of last week’s debate face plant by Obama, and it was a sure thing that Biden would be at his egregious worst and that the media would run with the narrative that Biden had “turned things around” no matter how it went. As such, there were high risks in attempting to match Biden’s aggressiveness. Ryan was well-served by “staying within himself,” as they say in sports contexts.

The overnight polls suggest a draw.

True to my word I did not watch the debate. If you have any interest in it at all, I recommend, as I have before, listening to it with the sound off.

Peggy Noonan’s column has a number of good observations about the debate viz. here:

Last week Mr. Obama was weirdly passive. Last night Mr. Biden was weirdly aggressive, if that is the right word for someone who grimaces, laughs derisively, interrupts, hectors, rolls his eyes, browbeats and attempts to bully. He meant to dominate, to seem strong and no-nonsense. Sometimes he did—he had his moments. But he was also disrespectful and full of bluster. “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy!” he snapped at one point. It was an echo of Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle, in 1988. But Mr. Quayle, who had compared himself to Kennedy, had invited the insult. Mr. Ryan had not. It came from nowhere.

Coaching. We call someone who “grimaces, laughs derisively, interrupts, hectors, etc.” and is disrespectful and full of bluster “Senator”. But the most incisive, I think, was this:

In terms of content—the seriousness and strength of one’s positions and the ability to argue for them—the debate was probably a draw, with both candidates having strong moments. But in terms of style, Mr. Biden was so childishly manipulative that it will be surprising if independents and undecideds liked what they saw.

National Democrats keep confusing strength with aggression and command with sarcasm. Even the latter didn’t work for Mr. Biden. The things he said had the rhythm and smirk of sarcasm without the cutting substance.

And so the Romney-Ryan ticket emerged ahead. Its momentum was neither stopped nor slowed and likely was pushed forward.

I think that’s right but why would Democrats, particularly those in the political class, identify aggression with strength or command with sarcasm? I think she’s right but I genuinely don’t know why that should be the case.

Confucius said:

When there is a preponderance of native substance over acquired refinement, the result will be churlishness. When there is a preponderance of acquired refinement over native substance, the result will be pedantry. Only a well-balanced admixture of these two will result in gentle manliness.

and IMO that’s what we had in the debate last night. Must we have a choice between churlishness and pedantry? Where is the balance?

14 comments… add one
  • Icepick

    I recorded the debate and then tried to watch it last night. It was unwatchable, largely because of Biden’s clownishness. He frequently flashed a smile (I fast forwarded parts of it) that looked a lot like the Grinch smiling at little Cindy Lou Who. Bleech. It would have probably been boring as Hell without it, but I gotta say Dave that you win for not even bothering.

    I had originally intended to skip all the debates this year, but Kim wanted to see the first Presidential Debate and then I wanted to see what would happen with Shut-the-Fuck-Up-Joey. Just hideous. The good news is that while the debate was going I finished off Yojimbo and then a documentary (9.79*) about the 1988 Men’s 100M finals from the Seoul Olympics. So that got a bunch of stuff cleared off the DVR at least.

    On the sign front, I had occasion to drive around a few random parts of Winter Park and College Park today. Romney leads 14-9, and the small businesses in particular are coming out in his favor. This wasn’t the route I took the other day. I don’t remember McCain ever having a clear advantage in that area four years ago. The polls are also stating that Romney is surging in the Tampa Bay area. I don’t have the certainty about Florida that I did in 2004 (when it was a joke to suggest that Kerry EVER had a chance down here, despite what the media types kept saying), but it is starting to feel like Obama’s chances are drying up quick down here.

    Incidentally, I have now seen four yard signs for Obama here in Pine Hills. I even saw one in the neighborhood today! Finally seeing some Obama support here in the ‘hood, but it still seems like a lot less than four years ago. (I’ll have to check my archives to see if I wrote anything about it back then to be certain.)

    Aesthetically the Romney yard signs are generally better. R has one bland sign with a dark blue background. But the rest are at least fairly attractive. I’ve only seen one Obama yard sign that looked really good AND effective this time around. Mostly they’ve just been blah. And the worst of them is disappointing because it ought to be better. It’s a sign with a pleasant light blue background. It says “Obama @ Biden”, and only that. (I used the ‘@’ to signify their “Forward O” logo.) The problem is that the font size for the “Obama @ Biden” is very small, so you’ve got to really look hard or get close to know what it says. I’ve seen enough of them at this point to know what they are, but I still have to squint to be certain it isn’t some other candidate’s sign. It really ought to be their best yard sign and instead it’s their worst.

    This concludes my Ann Althouse-like digression into how it looks!

    Finally, on an only semi-related note, Firefox wins!

  • Icepick

    I have seen some of the ‘highlights’. I can’t believe that Biden accused State Department officials of perjury, but he did it. And in yet another effort to clean up their shit, the Admin today claimed that Biden meant something different than what he said, and in doing so shifted all blame from the President to some anonymous staffers. The buck stops somewhere else, anywhere else. Add to that the President claiming (through his flacks) that the only reason the assassination of a US Ambassador is news is because of his opponents making a big deal out of a few “bumps in the road” is simply disgusting. I can’t tell if they’re this disconnected from reality or just don’t care.

    This Benghazi thing is getting so bad I may actually have to choke down the bile and vote for Romney. Even thinking about it is making me sick.

  • Icepick

    And I must say, time spent at a playground today with my two year-old was a much more satisfying experience. You know what you see at the playground? You see a lot of people that are happy to be there. The children are thrilled to be out and creatin’ a ruckus, the parents are thrilled the children are creatin’ a ruckus somewhere other than the living room, and the grandparents just couldn’t be happier to spend time with the newer members of the family, content in the knowledge that they will get all the good times and will leave the children to create a ruckus in someone else’s house most of the time. Ah, life is sweet on the playground….

  • The good news is that while the debate was going I finished off Yojimbo….

    Finished off? That movie is one of the best sword fight movies I’ve ever seen. None of that drawn out boring ass crap that passes for sword fighting in movies. You can totally see how that first fight with Toshiro Mfune influenced the fight scene with Obi Wan in Star Wars.

    You should have just stuck with that…and finish it off? Dude it is awesome all the way through, no need to make it a two parter…well unless you are prolonging the awesomeness of it.

  • PD Shaw

    I watched the Dunwich Horror, which was weird and tentacly and Sandra Dee was a very odd casting choice. When the movie was over, there appeared Biden’s glowing white teeth, mesmerizing and haunting. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I turned off the t.v., but the after-image of his teeth still glowed on the darkened screen, still moving as if alive . . .

  • Icepick

    Steve V, I think I watched it in four parts. That’s the kind of thing I watch after everyone has gone to bed. For example, I don’t want to watch it in the afternoon and have the dog run by with the hand in its mouth and have the Daughter Unit see that and get all creeped out. The Missus usually isn’t up for anything that long or heavy after the DU finally succumbs to sleep. And the DU’s naps are when I turn off all noise makers.

    So I watch it late at night and have trouble staying awake for the whole thing. (Foreign films are especially soothing because of the subtitles.) Thus a four-parter.

  • Andy

    Lol PD!

    Didn’t watch it, but I was subjected to some “analysis” via Fox News at work today. The “analysis” was predictable.

    In other news, yes the federal government finally hired me. It only took 11 months despite the fact it was a by-name request.

  • Congratulations, Andy!

  • Drew

    I watched it. It was abundantly clear that should Biden have livestock 2000 years ago Mary could have ridden him into Bethlehem.

  • jan

    Ricochet is a conservative blog which is echoing this by-line for the bottom-line takeaway from yesterday’s VP debate: The edge of panic.

    Biden aimed to throw the Obama base a lifeline. He fed the Kos Kidz desperate need to see some fight, but at the cost of his remaining (and mostly notional) dignity. If you want a gibbering, snorting, mumbling clown with a rictus-grin locked on his mug a heartbeat away from controlling America’s nuclear arsenal, Joe Biden’s your guy.

    Ryan aimed to meet the standard of gravitas and presence, to demonstrate to the fabled female/suburban/swing/moderate voters that he’s not a scary granny-killing Terminator sent from the future to throw seniors into the snowbank. He had to demonstrate steadiness, stature and knowledge. Done and done.

  • jan

    As a follow-up to what some consider to be Joe Biden’s strange behavior last night, here is an aricle written in Forbes, last August suggesting that Joe Biden’s gaffes call for a thorough neurological examination.

  • Well, at least he didn’t backhand Ryan, which is always my first impulse when I see him.

  • Icepick

    jan, I don’t see any reason for a neuro-exam for Biden. Joey Plugs has been an idiot and the biggest horse’s ass in DC since way back when he was still just Joey Skins. Obama could note have found a worse person to put a heartbeat from the Presidency if he had chosen Charles Manson. (Manson would be better – if he were ever to become President no one would do a damned thing he said.)

    But I think it is too early to know how that debate turned out. Republicans and conservatives hated Biden’s performance, but Dems and liberals loved it. We’ll have to wait and see how the people in the middle viewed it. (Early reactions were rather mixed, with both sides citing the results that suited their egos best.)

    I have a feeling that it will be a few more days before we know how that debate is really being viewed. It may well be that the real reaction won’t matter, but a narrative will be crafted after the election. In that case the narrative will be crafted solely to meet the outcome of the election and damn any facts to the contrary.

    Saw another Obama sign in Pine Hills today – in front of a church. Hmm. But I saw a Romney shirt at Sea World. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Presidential candidate tee-shirt** at a theme park* before, but I may be suffering from a faulty memory. (I go to Sea World fairly frequently because we got an awesome deal for annual passes through my wife’s company. The Sea World annual pass is the best tourist deal in Orlando anyway, and we got a big mark-down under that. And the daughter is so young that she won’t need her own ticket until next summer. But in the meantime she has become very familiar with dolphins and seals and sea lions and polar bears. Yay for her!)

    * I can’t even guess how much time I’ve spent at theme parks in Orlando. My dad helped build Disney World, my sister performed in opening weekend festivities (at one of which my mother shared a smoke with Walt’s son-in-law), I was at the Magic Kingdom on opening day, my mom worked there for twenty years before retiring and I worked there for several years before my ‘retirement’. I remember that during the summer of either 1981 or 1982 I went to the Magic Kingdom every other Saturday all summer long. Yowza! (Mom was working Tuesday to Saturday for Convention Entertainment, then located in the Contemporary Hotel – score!) I mean I’ve been to local theme parks a LOT.

    ** I am not counting the time Reagan had his 1984 Inaugural Parade at EPCOT. The Parade in DC was cancelled due to weather and Disney staged it at EPCOT later in the year. I was there that day (by then mom had transferred to EPCOT Entertainment) and while I don’t REMEMBER any such tee-shirts I imagine they HAD to be there. Come on, it was Morning in America and Reagan was right there! But the shirts technically wouldn’t have been for a candidate since he had already won re-election. But that’s weasel wording, I’m just not counting it because The Man was there. Surely that should be counted separately!

  • Andy

    Thanks Dave!

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