Why, then, did he decide to snicker, chuckle, grin, smirk and shake his head at the one GOP nominee for national office in the last 50 years that even partisan Democrats acknowledge as a serious, substantive, and formidable guy?
The rap on Paul Ryan has always been that he might prove too wonkish, numbers-driven and detail-oriented to connect with average Americans, not that he counted as some sort of laughing stock who’s beneath contempt.
It’s actually Biden himself who has inspired gales of bipartisan laughter with his potent parade of gaffes over the duration of his long political career. In fact, his strange strategy may have amounted to an attempt to take personal control of all the giggles in the room before they could be turned against him.
The oddest aspect of his patronizing performance involved the complete disconnect between his derisive laughter and anything that Paul Ryan actually said. Where, exactly, did the GOP nominee make some point so ridiculous, or express himself so clumsily, that the only appropriate response would be the uncontrollable urge to titter or chortle?
If the purpose was to rattle Ryan it clearly didn’t work: the GOP contender remained calm (perhaps too calm), smooth, polite, and self-possessed while the vice president of the United States rudely interrupted him more than two dozen times.
The debate became queasy, unpleasant, uncomfortable to watch, not because Biden overpowered his opponent on substance (he emphatically did not), but because the normal, reassuring, ritualized sense of congeniality and decorum seemed altogether lacking. When TV professionals analyze the viewing audience in detail, I’d be surprised if a huge number of debate watchers didn’t tune out the broadcast in disgust or at least uneasiness after the first half hour.
I watched the proceedings on a big screen together with 250 listeners from the Seattle flagship station for my radio show. In the discussion afterward, one of the women present said that Biden made her cringe by reminding her precisely of her abusive ex-husband. Another 23-year-old came up to me afterward and emphatically agreed, saying she had just left her own abusive relationship and that watching Biden’s antics gave her the creeps in the same way that her former boyfriend’s dismissive snickering always made her feel inadequate.
Admittedly, they watched the proceedings from a conservative perspective and wouldn’t have voted for Obama-Biden anyway, but will the vice president’s nasty star turn ultimately work well with undecided voters who are, after all, disproportionately female?
To this point, the Delaware doofus always seemed cloaked in an invincible air of likeability. Good Old Joe might say outrageous and stupid things but he could easily be forgiven because he seemed warm-hearted and well-intentioned, like an old-fashioned, back-slapping neighborhood pol. No one worried too much over silly stunts or ludicrous remarks because he was, after all, just Good Old Joe and nobody takes vice presidents seriously anyway.
But his visibly arrogant behavior on his biggest stage to date may dent that armor permanently. Why did he take the risk?
Perhaps, in overcompensation for President Obama’s lackadaisical performance in Denver, he resolved to rally the base with his angry, aggrieved, condescending demeanor. No, it wasn’t presidential (Ryan definitely won by that standard) but no one expects vice presidents to act presidential until the unthinkable occurs and new circumstances require it.
Eight days after Obama looked far more listless and weary than Romney despite the fact that he is 14 years younger, Biden seemed vastly more adolescent and immature than Ryan despite the fact that he is 27 years older.
Maybe this fulfilled some diabolical master plan, proving that Biden will remain youthful enough to win the presidential run he has repeatedly hinted he plans to make, regardless of reaching age 74 just days after the election of 2016. In pleasing loyal Democrats by going after the opposition with such sneering ferocity, he may have cemented his role as frontrunner for the next nomination, regardless of the outcome of this incurably close election.
The biggest winner of this encounter?
Neither Biden nor Ryan, but probably Mitt Romney. As one physician (and former political candidate himself) noted to our enthusiastic debate crowd, Biden mentioned Obama only in passing, scarcely touching on his achievements, his inspiring leadership, or any grand new plans (what new plans?) for the future. Instead, he emphasized his own dubious role in major events. Ryan, by contrast, repeatedly spoke of Romney, warmly praising his qualifications, his character, his vision, and his five-point platform for recovery.RELATED: ABC, NBC Morning Shows Decline to Fact Check Biden Whoppers