Did Joe Biden achieve his true objective in the VP debate?

The rudeness of Joe Biden was obvious during the debate. The accomplishments of his bad manners are more subtle but very important.

SAN DIEGO, October 12, 2012 — Much is being made of Joe Biden’s laughter, smiles, and constant interrupting during the debate with GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Congressman Paul Ryan. There was plenty to smile about. Nuclear missiles in the hands of Iran can be pretty funny stuff. And when intelligence reports contradict the Obama narrative about four dead Americans in Libya, the conversation becomes downright hysterical! 

Yes, without a doubt, Biden came across ruder than an eccentric uncle who dominates your dinner table conversation once a year during those obligatory family Thanksgivings. We witnessed an absolute outrage last night but we must be careful not to quickly dismiss our Vice-President as a man coming unhinged. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Biden did not lose control of himself. Instead, he offered a cold, calculated performance.  It worked, even though personal popularity may have been a casualty. Although many were turned off by Biden’s gestures and expressions, that alone doesn’t hand the trophy to Congressman Ryan. A debate is won or lost on substance. It is not fair to say Biden lost the debate simply because people were irritated by his demeanor. 

On the other hand, if people were unable to follow Ryan’s points due to the distraction of Uncle Joe’s arrogant smiles and canned laughter, we can certainly call a foul. Bad manners alone may not disqualify an opponent, but when such manners violate debate rules, that is another matter altogether.

Unfortunately, the “keeper of the rules” ABC News correspondent, Martha Raddatz broke etiquette herself by also interrupting Ryan. It usually happened when Ryan was about to respond to one of Biden’s accusations. Before Ryan could defend himself, Raddatz, by an incredible coincidence, decided it was time to move on to a new subject.

Where as Biden’s obvious marching orders were to regain the control Obama lost last week with Romney, Raddatz apparently had an agenda of her own. She decided to take better charge than previous moderator, Jim Leher. Ironically, when Leher lost control, we accidentally witnessed something closer to a real debate. Romney and Obama had plenty of time to speak and respond to each other without being sidetracked by a three-way argument with their moderator.

Americans need to see that kind of exchange more often. The candidates alone should be deciding what to question each other about. A moderator is there to make sure both opponents stay within their time frame and not interrupt each other. Raddatz accomplished neither. For that reason, we did not witness a real debate. The evening was not supposed to be about Martha Raddatz. It was not her place to participate in the debate by sparring with the candidates under the guise of asking “objective questions” such as “Now, we’ve reached the recruiting goal for Afghan forces, we’ve degraded Al Qaida. So tell me, why not leave now? What more can we really accomplish? Is it worth more American lives?”

While Raddatz’s own behavior left much to be desired, she was also the enabler for Biden’s abuse. A real moderator would not have allowed him to interrupt. Laughing or making other weird gestures while Ryan talked should also have been included in the definition of interrupting.

In any event, since Raddatz failed to do her job, Biden fulfilled his role as a faithful attack dog. He may have lost in terms of personal favorability but the very fact that more people are remembering Biden smirks rather than Ryan points means his mission was accomplished.

Stealing attention away from Ryan was only part of the strategy. Biden’s flamboyant manner and fast paced draw also deflected his multiple lies. He wasn’t worried because he’s used to talking off the cuff and living within the moment. It usually works. Sure, the fact checkers always catch up with him, but most people don’t study post debate commentary. They form an impression during the debate itself and that is what remains in their minds. If a man expresses himself with passion, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

Still, for those interested in finding some truth beneath the performance, a whole litany of Biden flaws can be subjected to the microscope. The variety itself is quite stunning, from a willingness to throw our intelligence agency under the bus, to a down right lie about taxing only millionaires, unless 250,000 dollars a year is the new definition of “million.”

Two of the more subtle moments in the debate deserve special attention. When asked how his Catholic faith affects public policy, Biden offered the usual drivel about how he personally is against abortion but cannot turn such a conviction into a law:

 “My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But  I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the — the congressman.”

Nobody bothered to ask if obeying Catholic social doctrine about “taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves” through wealth redistribution or other government  policies was also wrong because the government, through taxation, is imposing its religious view on others. Only the protection of an unborn baby causes government intrusion in the view of our Vice-President. Can a case be made that unborn babies are also “people who can’t take care of themselves?” Yes, but who stops to notice when Biden is busy sucking all the oxygen out of the room?

Another interesting moment took place when Ryan said we could  “cut tax rates by 20 percent and still preserve these important preferences for middle-class taxpayers.”

Biden rebuked the congressman, saying his math didn’t add up.

 “It is mathematically possible,” Ryan insisted. “It’s been done before.”

 Biden replied by saying, “It’s never been done before.”

Ryan stood his ground. “It’s been done a couple of times, actually.”

Then for effect, Biden repeated himself. “It’s never been done before!”

When Ryan said it had been done by President Kennedy, Biden decided that it might be wise not to argue the point any longer. Instead, he offered a zinger: “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?”

It was a clever maneuver. Biden quickly changed the subject by making it look like he was staying on the subject. After all, he included Kennedy in his response. The line was more popular when Lloyd Bentsen used it on Dan Quayle but Biden’s objective was still accomplished. He avoided admitting that facts have little to do with his debating skills.

Those are only small samples from a much larger smorgasbord of lies. The fact checkers probably needed a few cans of Red Bull just to stay awake last night and catalogue them all. Every misstatement should be studied, even though the list looks longer than a doctoral dissertation.

Remembering only the rudeness itself let’s Biden off the hook. He should instead be remembered as a loud, lying, disingenuous blowhard who avoided being nailed only by sabotaging any semblance to an authentic debate and guessing (correctly) that a liberal “moderator” would let him get away with it.

Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.


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Bob Siegel

A graduate of Denver Seminary and San Jose State University, Bob Siegel is a radio talk show host and popular guest speaker at churches and college campuses across the country, using a variety of media including, seminars, formal debates, outdoor open forums, and one man drama presentations.

In addition to his own weekly radio show (KCBQ 1170, San Diego) Bob has been a guest on many other programs, including The 700 Club, Washington Times Radio's Inside the Story, The Rick Amato Show, KUSI Television's Good Morning San Diego, and the world popular Jonathan Park radio drama series, for which Bob guest starred in two episodes and wrote one episode, The Clue From Ninevah.

Bob is a regular contributor for San Diego Newsroom and San Diego Rostra. Bob does a good deal of playwriting as well (14 plays & 5 collaborations), including the award winning, Eternal Reach.  Bob has also published two books;  A Call To Radical Discipleship, and I'd Like to Believe In Jesus, But...

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