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.
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?