Political Animal


October 06, 2012 10:50 AM Biden to the Rescue?

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

After Obama’s downer performance in Denver, what could be worse for Chicago than a looming vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan? In one corner the goofy, irrepressible gaffemeister; in the other, the intellectual mitochondrion of the Republican Party.

The conventional wisdom on the Biden-Ryan debate seems to favor the Janesville Kid. Indeed, conservatives are generally as enamored with Ryan’s “seriousness” as they are dismissive of Biden’s mental acuity. But in this case, it bears mentioning that Biden embodies precisely the sort of limber, no-holds-barred partisan style that was missing from Obama on Wednesday. (And wasn’t really there in 2008 either; he was just facing a better opponent this time around.) While Obama held back on the obvious rabble-rousing talking points—no mention of the 47% video, the Cayman Islands, Bain Capital, income inequality, etc.—Biden is all but assured to frame the campaign in populist terms.

Dating back to his decision to let Biden sell the stimulus to the public in 2009, Obama has essentially conceded that his VP is a more effective populist policy wonk than he is. That’s continued this year on the campaign trail. From John Heilemann’s recent New York profile of Biden:

Far in advance of the president, and even before the GOP had settled on its nominee, it was Biden who began the process of framing the argument against the Republicans with a series of major policy speeches in the spring and then in ripping Romney as a rapacious, secretive plutocrat devoid of empathy for ordinary people. “Chicago has been eager from the very beginning,” a top Biden adviser tells me, “for him to be the sharp tip of the spear.”

That vigor—or “bluntness and ebullience”—as David Axelrod puts it, is precisely what was lacking from Obama, who appeared “presidential” at best and listless at worst. There’s little risk Biden suddenly develops the urge to act vice-presidential, after four years of unpredictability.

What’s more, Biden’s blue-collar shtick—recall his recent canoodle with an affectionate motorcycle biker—is geared specifically at Obama’s weakest constituency: working-class white and elderly voters. Who happen to be, as Biden likes to frame it, some of the people who would be most imperiled by a Romney/Ryan presidency. Speaking to a Durham audience about Mitt Romney’s tendentious claims about the difference between offshoring and outsourcing, Biden mused this summer: “You can just hear the conversation; two guys on the unemployment line, one guy turns and says, ‘Were you outsourced or offshored?’”

Heilemann frames the importance of this sort of appeal to the “blue-collar, silver-domed” crowd:

At a moment of pervasive economic anxiety and roiling ire at the one percent and its political enablers, Biden is the only person on either party’s ticket genuinely fluent in the language of populism. And at a juncture at which the Romney-Ryan operation has concluded that running up its margins with working-class and elderly white voters is its sole path to victory, Biden is the only one who can, you know, go there and not seem like a big fat fraud.

One of Obama’s biggest missed opportunities Wednesday night occurred when moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about their respective plans for Social Security. Obama, rather than point out that his opponent’s running mate proposed privatizing it in 2010, said he suspected he and Romney mostly agreed. Biden is unlikely to let a similar opportunity slip.

Finally, in the red corner, Ryan’s own debating prowess shouldn’t be overestimated. To be sure, he’s a terrific public speaker, and he can oscillate between dewey-eyed and jackhammer at will. That said, he’s thin-skinned, and when pushed, he can come across as petulant and snide. Take this painfully awkward mini-debate with DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz from 2010, in which Ryan takes eye-rolling dismissiveness to the next level. More recently, after Obama pilloried his budget plan in front of him last April, Ryan didn’t take it well. Noting with incredulity that the president was a mere twelve feet away from him during the speech, Ryan told a radio host that he had “never seen a president give a speech like this before. I’ve never seen a president stoop to this level of distortion, demagoguery, partisanship.”

With Biden frothing at the mouth, it doesn’t seem obvious that Ryan, so accustomed to being feted by his party, will deal well with adversity this Thursday.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • John B. on October 06, 2012 11:00 AM:

    "One of Obama’s biggest missed opportunities Thursday night occurred when moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about their respective plans for Social Security. Obama, rather than point out that his opponent’s running mate proposed privatizing it in 2010, said he suspected he and Romney mostly agreed."

    That was the exact moment I threw a shoe at the TV screen. I would have rushed outside and tried to vote for whoever was running against Obama... but then I realized Obama said in effect ALL of them want to privatize Social Security.

    It was as if Obama wanted to leave me with no one to vote for.

  • c u n d gulag on October 06, 2012 11:02 AM:

    If Chris Wallace (Chris Wallace? CHRIS WALLACE!), gets under Ryan's skin, wait until the Grey Panther's new hero gets a denture-lock on Paulie's femur - he'll be BEGGING for Obamacare!!!

  • Josef K on October 06, 2012 11:22 AM:

    Um, wasn't President Obama also supposed to leave Romney a smear on the stage?

    I'm going to suspend expectations until the curtain drops.

  • Diane Rodriguez on October 06, 2012 11:28 AM:

    Ryan is a self satisfied prick with not near the intellectual heft that he advertises. He may be engaging to older people who forgot their glasses, but Biden makes the genuine connection.

    Ryan's personal tragedy in losing his father resulted in government support through Social Security. I'm pretty sure Biden can flip that to his advantage while acknowledging Ryan's loss. I am hopeful that Biden pins him down on his "my plan is too complicated for you people to understand" B.S. while pointing out that he demeans Americans by assuming they are too stupid to get it.

    In the town where he grew up, he was likely the biggest fish in a very small pond and he carries that forward with a breathtaking lack of self awareness into the larger world. Small towns in the Midwest are very good at producing this type of asswipe. I speak as someone who fled one as soon as possible.

  • Danp on October 06, 2012 11:29 AM:

    Ryan's strategy will be the same as Romney's. Throw out lies, misleading statements and unfounded accusations and challenge his opponent to dispute a few.

    As for me, I don't want to hear who won or lost the debate. I want to hear what people learned from the candidates. Otherwise, there are baseball playoffs to watch, and a scoring system we can all agree on.

  • square1 on October 06, 2012 12:05 PM:

    Obama's problem is that he just doesn't have much of a populist streak. Sure, Obama will take the help if liberal partisans want to do the heavy lifting -- whether it is Mother Jones unearthing the 47% video or liberal pundits and bloggers going after Romney's tax records and 401k. And, of course, Obama will sign off on populist TV ads that test well in focus group. But don't ask Obama to stand at a podium and show a visceral, emotional dislike for a vulture capitalist like Romney.
    Obama LIKES guys like Romney. If Romney hadn't been a potential competitor, Obama probably would have found a way to add him to some business and economic advisory group in the past 4 years. Romney just isn't a whole lot different on economic issues from Judd Gregg, Jeffrey Immeldt, UBS' Robert Wolf, Jamie Diamond, or Lloyd Blankfein. Those are guys whom Obama has defended, praised, appointed, and hung out with.
    Sorry, but I don't buy that Obama gives a flying fuck how much Romney has in his 401k. If Obama feels any emotion, it is most likely envy.

  • Peter C on October 06, 2012 12:23 PM:

    Obama has an inherent strategic weakness: he mustn't show anger. He cannot afford to be seen as an 'angry black man'. He may be 'resolute', but he cannot show 'outrage'. So, when confronted with outrageous things (either the viciously cruel Ryan budget or just the stunning policy reversals of Romney during the debate) he many not show outrage. He's 'No-drama Obama' and that's one of things that makes him a reassuring national candidate; he's unflappable. But, in the face of such stunning dishonesty, mere 'bemusement' is too tepid.

    Romney used that to his advantage during the debate. Obama described the only specifics offered in Romney's economic plan, and Romney categorically denied them. Obama correctly stated that Romney's plan would give a gigantic tax break to the super-rich by cutting tax rates 20% (as Romney had been stating for the past year), and rather than defend that idea, Romney just denied it. Obama pointed out that there were not loop-holes and deductions large enough to make the enormous tax break revenue neutral, and Romney just denied that too and lied about studies that he said supported him. Then Romney said he loved regulations which he saw as vital in every market when he'd been saying that they were the primary reason for the sluggishness of our economy. So, Romney was STUNNINGLY DECEITFUL (and that made me outraged), but Obama could not do more than calmly point it out. He could not afford to show outrage, and that was disappointing, because outrage is the expected and effective answer to bald-faced lying.

    Biden, however, is not a black man; he's a loveable galoot who is genuinely and passionately concerned with the fate of middle class and poor people. He IS allowed to be outraged. He CAN express outrage effectively. He CAN dress-down a smirking know-it-all rich-kid whose plans cruelly target the down-trodden. He CAN blast the upper-class robber barron who lies to your face as he out-sources your job and reneges on all of the bargains you made with the owners he bought-out using your pension fund as collateral. I hope he does. It is what is needed.

  • jjm on October 06, 2012 12:52 PM:

    Just remember, it was Biden's speech that more people tuned into for the DNC convention than ANY ONE ELSE.

    Why? Because the man is TRUSTWORTHY. He has heart and a very astute mind, and he simply tells it like it is -- which, of course, is why his 'truths are called 'gaffes.'

    He coined the Giuliani put-down ("What is he? A noun and a verb and 9/11") and the "GM is Alive and Bin Laden is Dead." How much cleverer and accurate can one be?

    Obama was not trying for zingers. He made his case clearly. Romney looked like a hyper-salesman trying to get his foot in the door.

  • Kathryn on October 06, 2012 1:02 PM:

    Agree with Diane Rodriquez characterization of Paul Ryan. He believes his own hype, all the fawning in which he's basked. From what I 've seen, he is pretty shaky when challenged so think Biden will be able to dent his armor. My only concern is a "Joe gaffe" which is always way too possible. Ryan has been very unimpressive IMHO in interviews, the baby blues and physique take him only so far. I'm his Mother's age and he seems like a snot to me, absolutely no charm is detectable.

  • Dave in Austin on October 06, 2012 1:02 PM:

    Release the Biden!!!

  • Elie on October 06, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Honestly. Some of you are showing your true feelings about the President. It's pretty disgusting. Someone actually said they wanted to run out and vote against Obama. Seriously. Good to see that Sad for you

  • hells littlest angel on October 06, 2012 1:59 PM:

    I don't think this debate is going to be serious policy wonk vs. populist firebrand, or ideologue vs. glad-hander. It's going to be smug, entitled jerkoff vs. decent, likeable human being.
    Advantage Biden.

  • rick on October 06, 2012 1:59 PM:

    Biden will roast the little weasel. Lyin Ryin stands no chance.

  • JR on October 06, 2012 3:49 PM:

    @Diane Rodriguez got it mostly right. Paul Ryan is indeed a big fish in a relatively small pond. Southcentral Wisconsin was struggling long before the economy tanked. For well over a decade, it's been plagued by plant closures. Over a decade ago, a PBS documentary on the impact of Wal-Mart on local economies focused on the Janesville area, and the number of longtime mom-&-pop businesses that went under as a result.

    As for Ryan's appeal to seniors, maybe it's because she always wears glasses, but my 78-year-old mother despises him more than anyone I know. It got to the point that, if he came on TV, she turned it off. Mom says she's known too many like him in her lifetime - guys who look all innocent but would as surely slit your throat. On the other hand, she's long adored Biden. He was her Dem boyfriend; her GOP boyfriend, Chuck Hagel. What she most appreciated about her "boyfriends" is that she never felt that they were BSing her.

    For all the criticism of the Vice President, he always steps up to the plate. Another striking point in Heileman's piece - Biden is 150% behind the President. Even though he may harbor 2016 aspirations, Obama's agenda is his agenda. I've no doubt that he knows that Thursday's debate, like the ACA, is a big f***ing deal.

  • Maureen on October 06, 2012 5:33 PM:

    I am so tired of those who try to portray VP Biden as "gaffe prone" - his most recent supposed gaffe was NOT a gaffe - unfortunately no one bothered to play the entire statement he made. Within the context it was given, it made absolute sense! The press is so quick to jump on a few words instead of looking at the "Big Picture"/the actual framework in which something is said.

  • Gingerpye on October 06, 2012 6:20 PM:

    There's no better description of Paul Ryan than Charlie Pierce's "zombie-eyed granny-starver." I see nothing attractive about the man.

  • Doug on October 06, 2012 7:28 PM:

    Sorry square1, but I don't buy that you have the ability read President Obama's mind and are privy to his real feeling.
    Your first paragraph alone shows you have little, more likely no, understanding of how President Obama views politics. Mr. Obama has demonstrated, time and again, that he believes what is necessary in politics is getting people involved. Can't get much more "populist" than that. Oh, maybe you meant a particular agenda? One that YOU believe in, but possibly the President has never vocally, defiantly and uselessly shouted from the rooftops?
    As for Mr. Obama allowing the 47% video to build up steam before he commented! Oh noes! Or, from the way you phrased it, perhaps you're suggesting that he subsidize thousands of caterers in the hope ONE of them will be in a position to provide such a video? Really?
    The same applies to Romney's taxes/401k. There's no law that requires Presidential candidates to release their tax returns, so President Obama can't "demand" Romney do so. What he and his surrogates CAN do, however, is keep the pot boiling. Which they have.
    And because President Obama doesn't publicly show a "visceral" dislike of Romney, you conclude the President actually LIKES Romney? I thought we made fun of Republicans for acting like five-year olds?
    President Obama feeling envious of Romney's 401k? How about posters with unresolved problems with their own, previous projections?

    (Didn't we go through this four years ago?)

  • yellowdog on October 06, 2012 7:58 PM:

    Paul Ryan still emits the Eddie Haskell vibe. Biden, in Joe from Scranton mode, will do just fine against him.
    Question is, will the media let Ryan get away with one misstatement of fact after another? Will the moderator show up? Will the post-debate spin focus on how blue Ryan's eyes were and how much vigor he had? Or will the real consequences of Ryan's Rand-Falwell policies actually get a hearing? Come on, Martha Raddatz and company: Hold Ryan accountable for his own ideas.

  • Michael on October 07, 2012 4:02 AM:

    As I stated last time, I think this was the strategy Obama had, Let romney throw his cards on the table, while not allowing any you tube moments.Then let Biden eviscerate Ryan and his lyin ryans.

    Obama has two more debates to eviscerate romney, and with all cards laid out, there won't be much red meat for the retard twins to chew on...

  • jhm on October 07, 2012 7:22 AM:

    In the final analysis, yellowdog might be right. In the shorter term, if both participants don't make a major misstep, my biggest fear is the moderator. Ms. Raddatz personifies the vapid stenographer-as-reporter. She will have internalized whatever nonsense happens to be the current conventional wisdom and feel the need to be "tough" on anything that contradicts this most likely ill-named wisdom. This has given succor to Hon. Rep. Ryan in the past and is the major reason that he isn't considered on a par with the rest of the wingnuts, even as he says nearly the same things.

  • Bart Craver on October 07, 2012 4:43 PM:

    Funny thing how spin is, must be related to the conservation of angular momentum in that the same amount of spin must be used regardless of the target or even whether it is even remotely believable. But, if someone is hanging their hopes on Biden that perhaps he will do better than Obama for their cause, then they are crazy. CW would have said Obama would do well against Romney and hopefully Biden would either tie or not do anything stupid and damage the dems. I guess the only thing that can be said is that Obama left the bar very low for Biden, and, in contrast to him, Biden's effort will probably be judged much better than it would have been, as long as he doesn't pass out or gaffe himself in the leg.

  • jim aaron on October 07, 2012 4:45 PM:

    I think Joe Biden will have a hard time doing 90 minutes, from watching him he reminds me of seeing Ronald Reagan on the stump in 1986, he said "The American people are tired of the Republican party leading them down the road of distruction" and then just looked at the crowd, unaware of what he said, by 1990 Reagan was gone. Joe just seems to blurt things out these days, I've seen this before.

  • Brian on October 07, 2012 4:50 PM:

    Biden has a problem in that Ryan handed Obama his rear in the first and last open door meeting of Obama's most transparent.. if you can see through a door.. administration.

  • Howie on October 07, 2012 4:57 PM:

    Biden is an idiot who has been in the pocket of Credit Card companies for years. Check out this "populist" record on credit card reform.

  • howie on October 07, 2012 5:00 PM:

  • Budman on October 07, 2012 5:00 PM:

    Sounds like all the commenters here are from the Democrat convention.

  • Baal on October 07, 2012 5:42 PM:

    Listening to the lib punditariat speak out these things leaves me a bit confused. These seem to think that all Barry needed to do is trot out their red meat fodder and run with it; 47%, Bain, dogs on rooftops etc.

    They fail to realize that this isn't a one sided commercial or coffee club with the View. In a debate you get challenged on what you say. If you whipout the red meat the other guy is going to pul out his too.

    What is his is bigger? Do you think for one second that there aren't potentially fatal comebacks to any one of these tropes? Remember, this will be happening in front of America--not just in front of a democrat audience.

    If you think that, you need to pull it out of the echo chamber and understand that you're on planet earth, not Barryworld.

  • Ron on October 07, 2012 6:26 PM:

    I am really looking forward to Biden admitting he is really from another planet

  • GoBackToChicago on October 07, 2012 6:28 PM:

    Dear Diana Rodriguez,
    Your comment is childish and melodramatic. Typical Democrat. You would not last 3 minutes in a debate with Ryan about anything, and you know it. Your self awareness is non-existent. Perhaps you should not have mentioned you were from the midwest, as it is apparent that your statement is true... They produce a certain type of a**wipe. You are a prime example. It doesn't matter that you moved away. Romney Ryan 2012!!

  • Michael949 on October 07, 2012 6:50 PM:

    Your belief is that Ryan believes his own hype because he is so accustomed to being feted by his party. So what do you think of Obama? Remember when he said, "I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it.” Or, “We will be able to look back and tell our children that ... this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

  • Dale Wight on October 07, 2012 6:58 PM:

    I fully expect Joe Biden to do as well this time as he did in 2008.
    14 seconds --> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vJgdZUebDc

  • circleglider on October 07, 2012 7:02 PM:

    The only person who was “painfully awkward” is this 2010 CNN mini-debate on Social Security was Wasserman-Schultz.

    And at a time when her party — the Democratic Party — possessed total control of every branch of government, her response to overwhelming discontent about the nation's direction was to demagogue the powerless minority party.

    If Biden behaves like Wasserman-Schultz in the Vice Presidential debates, then expect to wake-up on November 7th to four years of Romney-Ryan, a Republican House and a Republican Senate.

  • MaineRep on October 07, 2012 7:05 PM:

    As I read these comments, it tells me that most of you are living in another reality. The sad part is that Obama has been dishonest in his attacks against Romney. You truly believe that Romney and Ryan are lying. Even Cutter has stated that they are lying about Romney's $5 trillion tax cut.

    Obama has stated that he would not raise taxes on those earning under $250,000. With the 43 new taxes in ObamaCare alone, plan on seeing the increase when it finally hits the books.

    Biden is a wild card as you can never tell what he is going to say. Last week he talked about the fact that Obama and he want to raise taxes by $1 trillion. Not sure how he is going to raise that amount without it also hitting the middle income families.

    Biden is a pitbull. He can be charming but he can also be dangerous. The only thing going for him is his age and Ryan may show more respect because of it.

    Ryan is an articulate young man and Romney has real experience. Both demonstrate the type of leadership and thoughtfulness that are typical of Americans.

  • Smokey on October 07, 2012 7:28 PM:

    A 90 minute debate is a marathon - it demands a steady pace. If either Biden or Ryan sprint in word or action too early, they'll be energy-deleted just when they need it most.
    My guess? Biden hits hard early and often. Ryan cleans his clock in the last 30 minutes or so. I tend to expect an emotional break from Biden, one that won't be pretty to watch.

  • Doug on October 07, 2012 7:47 PM:

    Romney MUST be worried! He's got the trolls working week-ends!

  • lmnop820 on October 07, 2012 7:54 PM:

    I think Durham, NC and Durham, NH are likely enough places for Biden to be speaking to warrant a state after the name of the city.

  • FanDaElis on October 07, 2012 8:25 PM:

    After reading the article above it seems that the author is missing a major ingredient: Paul Ryan.

    Yes, he described something on the beginning about what conservatives think would be a great advantage for Ryan but then went on to basically describe how a great asset Biden will be in the debate.

    Sure Ryan never participated in a national debate before, however, that does not take away his skills to handle data and push back on any attack. Has anyone watched him on the campaign?

    I also, a little while ago, watched Paul Ryan in one on one confrontations at different times. He is clearly not someone dependent on a "teleprompter."

    Furthermore, when it comes to the undecided voter my believing is that he will sound much more trustworthy than Biden is. One danger the Democrats have right now is that possibly both: Biden and Obama will exaggerate on the attacks and that may have a reversal of the desired results on their part.

  • FanDaElis on October 07, 2012 8:36 PM:

    By the way, I watched the one on one between Ryan and Wasserman-Schultz pointed out by Simon van Zuylen-Wood on his article.

    What to I think? If Biden comes out with stupid attacks like Wasswerman did, I pray God Ryan reacts and counter Biden the same way.

    What happens is usually liberals behave quite nasty if not in behaving in misstating facts. how should we react? The same way Ryan did on the exchange linked on the article.