Political Animal


October 12, 2012 9:43 AM Leaving It All on the Field

By Ed Kilgore

Having slept on it, and read this morning’s ruminations from near and far, I haven’t had any blazing new insights on last night’s vice-presidential debate, but am convinced more than ever that Biden’s performance, whatever its effect on swing voters, dispelled a dark cloud over the Democratic tribe. And that’s not just because it might have interrupted Romney’s “momentum” or countered the president’s “loss” last week.

In retrospect, what dispirited an awful lot of Democrats about the first presidential debate was that it emblemized the fear that in an intense, high-stakes battle with an ascendant and radicalized conservative movement, progressive elected officials just didn’t have the willingness or ability to make a full and passionate case for their own cause. That was at the heart of criticisms not only of the president’s demeanor, but also of his many missed opportunities to rebut Romney and expose the rickety substructure of the mendacious self-presentation Moderate Mitt was attempting. And this is obviously a complaint that’s been just under the surface of mixed progressive attitudes towards Obama and many other Democratic leaders for years now.

There was none of that with Biden, although he in no way contradicted a single word Obama uttered last week. Josh Marshall probably best summed up the reaction from Democrats:

Biden made the whole Democratic argument — on policy and values and he hit Romney really everywhere Democrats wanted him to. He left nothing unsaid. You can agree with those points or not. But this was exceedingly important for recovering the damage from last week’s debate when many Obama supporters simply felt that Obama wasn’t willing or able or something to make the case Democrats around the country are hyped up to make. Why didn’t you say this? Why’d you let him get away with that?
Biden said it all. And for Democrats around the country that was extremely important….
I suspect Ryan’s equivocations and unwillingness to give details will be the day 2 and weekend stories. But the most critical point in terms of the trajectory of the debate was that Biden left it all on the field.

That was clearly the plan from the Obama campaign. But as Charlie Pierce noted in his prescient debate preview yesterday, it’s what Biden was born to do:

Joe Biden is not riven with self-doubt. Joe Biden is not exhausted by the hurly-burly of politics. Joe Biden is not burdened by the weight of events and laid low by the constant battle against know-nothing obstructionism. Joe Biden is not going to take the stage tonight and find himself wishing he were anywhere else. I mean, god be good to him, as my gran’ used to say, but Joe Biden actually likes all these silly performance pieces in which we insist he be engaged in order to stay vice-president. He revels in them. He would do ten of them a day, if he could. When I consider Joe Biden, and I look at the enthusiasm with which he throws himself into the various cataracts and torrents of hogwash that constitute our politics these days, I find myself looking at him the way I look at people who sky-dive or drive in demolition derbies. I have no idea why they do what they do, and I have absolutely no intention of doing it myself, ever, but, goddamn, do those people look like they’re having fun.
So tonight, when Biden takes the stage to debate Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from the state of Wisconsin, it is very unlikely that the debate will hinge on whether either man really wants to be there. Biden eats these kinds of things on toast, and Ryan is as ambitious as Satan.

In terms of Republican reactions to the debate, it’s important to remember that for many conservatives Paul Ryan is a long-term investment; he’s The Future. There are probably mixed feelings by now about him being on the ticket, not because it might lose, but because he’s having to hide his light under a bushel. So some solicitous observers from the Right may well be relieved that their Boy survived an important test, whether he “won” or not. It’s an added bonus that he can play the victim to the Bully Biden; self-pity is an important quality among conservatives these days, as Ryan’s predecessor as Republican vice presidential nominee can attest. Now he has a new and special bond with the underappreciated billionaire and the bishop whose flock ignores his instructions, victims as they all are.

But Biden “won” because he achieved an important objective for Democrats who were beginning to wonder if all the Romney-Ryan ticket had to do to achieve victory for the most radical major-party agenda in decades was simply to change the packaging and play the horse-race-expectations game to the hilt. Whatever ultimately happens, the dynamics have now changed, and Joe Biden deserves the credit.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on October 12, 2012 9:53 AM:

    Biden wiped the floor with boy scout Ryan. He dealt with reality, and the boy scout dealt with delusions, lies, and yet more deceptions.

    I thought it also very revealing that the instant polls by CBS showed a 51/31 drubbing of Ryan by Biden. Yet the ever corrupt CNN, within minutes of this, had their own instant poll that actually pretended that the boy scout won.

    That's because they already had the debate 'fixed' for the boy scout no matter what happened in the reality of the actual debate.

    If one ever needed more evidence as the actual corruption that is called CNN one need not look any further.

  • T2 on October 12, 2012 9:56 AM:

    I agree with much of Ed's words above, especially the part where the Conservatives got a first hand look at their "Future" in Paul Ryan and saw a pretty hollow suit. Which, by the way, is exactly what Paul Ryan is.
    Kevin Drum decided it was a draw, and I strongly disagree. I think Mr. Drum needs to watch it again. In a comment here after the debate last night, I said that my take-a-way was what I think a lot of voters saw - Joe Biden could step right in and be president if the need presented itself. Paul Ryan is nowhere near ready for that. Or the VP role either, for that matter. It may turn out that the comfort level with a second Obama/Biden term went up a good bit for most americans not wearing tri-cornered hats.

  • c u n d gulag on October 12, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Biden v. Ryan reminded me of Hawkeye v. Frank in M.A.S.H.

    Also too – Biden used the term “my friend here,” kind of like Southerners use “Well, bless your soul,” as the lead-in to the knife thrust through the heart.

    Biden killed Ryan so bady in the debates, that I suspect Mitt is gathering Mormons to start baptizing his running mate.

  • g on October 12, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Biden spoke to the American people. Are you really going to let yourself be fooled by these grifters?

  • stormskies on October 12, 2012 10:04 AM:

    Here is how the debate has been reported in Europe. This is very refreshing to read because it bypasses all the spin and agendas of the corporate media in our country. In short this article says that Biden destroyed Ryan. Here is the link:


  • Brownell on October 12, 2012 10:04 AM:

    Ed's piece was just right. Except for one thing. I don't think the Lyin' Ryan eyes are zombie. I see him as an undead replica of Alfred E. Neumann, the what-me-worry kid. Showing my age, I guess.

  • martin on October 12, 2012 10:05 AM:

    Much like I could never understand why Ronald Reagan was considered The Great Communicator when I could not bear to even watch his condescending old uncle schtick, I fail to understand to supposed appeal of Paul Ryan. His attempts to look sincere make him seem (as Charlie Pierce so aptly described) like Eddie Haskell. He oozes insincerity, just like Reagan. How does the fawning MSM, who much watch him on a daily basis, not see this and vomit.

    Oh well, I've never claimed to be in touch with the public.

  • T2 on October 12, 2012 10:07 AM:

    The exhange over the Stimulus, where Biden forced Ryan to admit he had written a letter asking for Stimulus money was/is priceless. If this had been a boxing match, the ref would have stopped the fight right there. And that was just one of several times Biden stopped Ryan dead in his tracks. Apparently you just can't run a campaign based on lies and get away with it.....at least not in Joe Biden's neighborhood.

  • martin on October 12, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Damn autocorrect:

    "I fail to understand the supposed appeal of Paul Ryan"

    "How does the fawning MSM, who must watch him on a daily basis..."

  • Th on October 12, 2012 10:15 AM:

    Obama and Biden have whiffed twice on the tax issue. Stop arguing numbers and studies. Reagan said he could do it and failed so miserably he doubled the debt. Bush said he could do it and we are still paying for his failure. Are you (Romney) really trying to peddle this nonsense a 3rd time? At some point it is pretty obvious you are only concerned about cutting taxes for the already wealthiest few at the expense of everyone else. That is not a magic elixir, it is poison.

  • berttheclock on October 12, 2012 10:17 AM:

    Ron Byers, who lives in the KCMO area, had a far better take on the debate than this morning's KC Star. The Star's comment was "Biden by a whisker". Yet, so many right wingers in that area continue to blast the Star as being nothing more than a Liberal mouthpiece.

  • CRA on October 12, 2012 10:24 AM:

    Biden inspired me to donate a little more, as did Elizabeth Warren earlier in the week.

    Of course the Right has broken out the smelling salts over Biden's aggressive treatment of Ryan.

    Lying to someone is one of the most disrespectful things you can do. Lying is abusive, and to expect to get away with it is to demand a privilege nobody deserves, certainly not Romney/Ryan. So it was nice to see Biden treat Ryan as he did. Ryan is a fake: a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-wonk, insincere, shallow hack who waves around a bullshit plan and furrows his brow alot.

  • James M on October 12, 2012 10:25 AM:

    @ T2 on October 12, 2012 9:56 AM:

    "I said that my take-a-way was what I think a lot of voters saw - Joe Biden could step right in and be president if the need presented itself. Paul Ryan is nowhere near ready for that. Or the VP role either, for that matter."

    Exactly. The current wave of Tea Partiers and conservative Republicans are just 'bomb throwers'. You don't need to bother yourself with the details of governing if you don't really intend to do it! I suspect that the term 'Banana Republic' is no longer politically correct, but that is exactly what the GOP wants to turn the U.S. into. A few super-rich oligarchs and their families/dynasties will rule and the rest of us will be their butlers and maids.

    I hope BO was playing some kind of 3 dimensional Chess in the 1st debate, but if not, V.P. Biden gave him a chance to save the day!

  • Solid Sid on October 12, 2012 10:25 AM:

    Biden showed that Ryan is not fit to be "a heartbeat away from being President." Just like he did 4 years ago to Sarah Palin, he showed that the Republican standard bearer's choice of a running mate calls into question their decision making ability.

    Congressman Ryan needs to return to Janesville and continue his mediocre political career. Your days on the national stage are numbered. That number being 26.

  • steve on October 12, 2012 10:29 AM:

    Re th's comment. Obama Biden should add at the end, the only result of the Repub's tax policies has been the dramatic increase on the share of national wealth owned by the 1%.

  • Bo on October 12, 2012 10:38 AM:

    And the most important thing that Joe "left on the field" last night -- little pieces of Doogie Hauser all over the place!

    That's what happens when you take your opponent down so effectively and field-dress him on the spot.

  • Kathryn on October 12, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Well Martin you're not alone. Ryan's puppy dog eyes and obvious insecerity are huge turn offs. IMO, he's been a poor performer whenever he has to go off message. This is a theme for me but Ryan has been treated like a young wiseman by his party, the media, etc. and he believes his press. He lives in the cosseted world of D.C. and has for years (16, I think). Talking heads bring up his challenging of Obama at the Baltimore GOP congressional meeting and while Obama was overly accommodating of Ryan's ideas, he demolished him when the actual conversation took place that day. Oh, and by the way Mr.President, it's way past time to quit the accommodating, agreeable crap with Romney/Ryan and show them for the lying grifters they are!

    I actually think Pres. Obama's chief weakness is also his greatest strength, his humanity. He is a normal person and normal people are repulsed by phony liars and discouraged by unrelenting back stabbing and the trivial being elevated to importance. Tough though, he signed on for this job and has to play the rotten game in order to win. It's crunch time.

    By the way, Charlie Perce writing is awe inspiring.

  • Patrick Star on October 12, 2012 10:52 AM:

    I remember when Joe Biden was considered the weak link of the ticket, and Obama having to put up with Old Joe's hijinks. Last night, Old Joe saved Obama's ass, and maybe even a second term.

  • bigtuna on October 12, 2012 11:47 AM:

    I will be curious to see what the measureable, and difficult to measure, impacts will be. I too donated again, and a performance like that can get some of the loyal following juices flowing - a few more calls, a few more canvases, a few more dollars, in key districts, could result from this amongst dems. It is interesting that Obama and Biden both went to madsion the day after. When I was there in 08, there was lots of energy generated when the big dogs came...

    If I were a rightie, I would not be highly motivated by baby boy paul. He seemed pathetic.

    BTw- for the next theaterical piece, which is a town hall format, who generates the questions? The audience? Are the questions screened?

  • Daddy Love on October 12, 2012 1:28 PM:

    Note to Paul Ryan:
    Failed VP candidates don't get the big nod next time around.

  • POed Lib on October 12, 2012 2:32 PM:

    Taking name: CHECK
    Landed Haymaker: CHECK
    Reduced Lyan to blubber: CHECK

    I'd say it was a fine job by Biden. He has the rep of being a gaffe-machine. He is not that. He is a fine and serious man, who occasionally puts his foot into it.

  • TCinLA on October 12, 2012 4:22 PM:

    ...achieve victory for the most radical major-party agenda in decades...

    ...achieve victory for the most radical major-party agenda in the history of the United States as a country...

    There. Fixed it. You're welcome, Ed.

    Let's bring the Designated Hitter rule to political debates and send "run up the white flag of surrender" Obummer to the showers. Let Joe step in the next two.

  • smartalek on October 13, 2012 2:19 AM:

    I love how we're supposed to be excited -- thrilled, even (not just acquiscent or resigned, let alone revolted) -- to have the privilege of voting for a team of corporate tools who are apparently more eager to embrace some of the most egregious and damaging of the manifold Publican lies (that "we're broke," that "we can't afford these 'entitlement' programs," that "social security and Medicare are in crisis, requiring major reforms," &c&c) than the Publicans' own candidates are.
    (Am I really the only one who remembers Biden's sobriquet as "D-MBNA?")
    Yes, of course I'll vote for them. I'd even donate, if I had any time or money with which to do so.
    But you'll have to forgive my utter inability to feign enthusiasm.