“I think it deserves to be laughed at. I think it deserves our scorn, and I think they should be ashamed of themselves.”
-- Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, head of the Democratic Governor’s Association, talking to reporters after the vice presidential debate, explaining that Vice President Joe Biden was right to laugh and jeer at Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan, which O’Malley called “crap.”
President Obama’s top political advisor, David Axelrod, jumped in and took over debate preparations for Vice President Joe Biden, according to a senior Democratic source who told FOX News colleague Ed Henry that Biden was “all over the place” in his early practice sessions.
Based on Biden’s performance, one wonders what Axelrod brought to the process. Perhaps a DVD of “The Shining.”
Biden’s cackling and grinning and constant interruptions have been compared to then-Vice President Al Gore’s sighs during a 2000 debate with George W. Bush. But while Gore’s sighs were passively aggressive, Biden was just plain old aggressive, rude even.
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Power Play warned on Thursday of the dangers of Biden swinging too hard in an effort to undo the shellacking Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivered to President Obama last week and Biden certainly fell into the trap.
Biden was trying to come across as a man bemused, an old campaigner who just had to laugh at the little whippersnapper who was spouting nonsense. Instead, Biden came across as an angry man who gave no fair hearing to his challenger and refused to listen.
Ryan was deferential to a fault, giving the 69-year-old incumbent a wide berth and speaking quietly and respectfully. But Biden showed no generosity to the younger man, and instead was dripping with mockery and scorn.
Rather than appearing genial and avuncular, as he obviously intended to be, Biden appeared angry and at times a bit unhinged. Rather than seeming humorously indulgent of youth, he seemed graceless.
The instant response to the debate was a wash. CBS News pollsters found undecided viewers thought the debate was a win for Biden by a large margin, while a CNN poll recorded a narrow win for Ryan.
The only real news nugget to come out of the debate was Biden’s assertion that the administration wasn’t “told they wanted more security” for the diplomatic outposts in Libya ahead of last month’s deadly raid by Islamist forces. That will worsen the tangle for Obama since it contradicts the testimony of top security officials.
But other than that, not much new was said. Ryan mounted an effective defense of his Medicare proposal and Biden did well when he talked directly to senior citizens and middle class families. On the whole, though, it was not an illuminating discussion.
Last week’s debate changed the race in the span of 90 minutes. This debate didn’t immediately change anything, but it will have some lingering consequences.
While Democrats acknowledge that Biden’s performance was weird, they claimed victory on the grounds that he had succeeding in making them feel better about the race in the wake of Romney’s drubbing of the president – that Biden had mirrored their disdain for Ryan and Romney and the Republican Party.
If that’s what Democrats wanted from Biden, they were being selfish and shortsighted.
Americans are reaching a point of desperation with their political process. The big issue in the election is the economy, but that misses the broader stakes. What is really at issue here is which candidate can make the government work again in a way that can repair the economy and all the other problems facing the republic: the debt, the rage growing in the Muslim world, the failing educational system, the crumbling culture, etc.
When Obama ran in 2008, he succeeded in large part because he showed himself as a fair-minded man and a leader who believed that there were good ideas to be had on both sides of the aisle.
But once in power and handed the largest Democratic majority in Congress in a generation, Obama went the other way. While he may claim that Republicans were obstructionist before he was dismissive, Obama misused his mandate and embraced partisanship and narrow victory on his stimulus packages and his 2010 health law.
In failing to show grace to the defeated, even if he thought them unworthy, Obama immediately placed himself in a corner. How voters would have delighted in his magnanimity. Instead, they saw revenge and partisanship.
The Obama Democrats may believe that the persuadable center – the governing third of the electorate – shares their rage at Republicans. But what most voters are feeling is a deepening desperation at a political process so unworthy of our founders and the people who died in its defense.
Whether Obama was reacting to this anger with his policies or whether he truly shares the contempt so prevalent in the base of his party we can’t fully know. But on Thursday we saw Biden not caving into the demands of an unreasonable base but wallowing in it, enjoying the rage and scorn. The Democratic line is that the policies of the Bush era have been so thoroughly repudiated that Bush’s party is no longer deserving of a voice in the national discussion. That is a dangerous degree of hubris.
Romney’s success last week came because he attacked but did not succumb to the Obama hatred of the far right. He showed respect and spoke as a man who would give a fair hearing to the ideas of the other side. He touted his bipartisanship and the unifying power of patriotism.
Biden, on the other hand, was rude and dismissive, telling the audience at home that the earnest, deferential younger man across from him had nothing to say worth hearing. He may have gotten more time and he may have dominated the debate, but Biden’s scorn and mockery will leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters, especially as his over-the-top performance becomes irresistible fodder for satirists.
Obama should hope that the Democratic bloodlust has finally been slaked by Biden’s wrath, because if the president cannot summon what Peggy Noonan calls “patriotic grace” for his next showdown with Romney on Tuesday, voters may write him off as a man unequal to the current crisis.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“We know there was no demonstration. It was all a fiction. The question is when Susan Rice went out, did the White House know what she was going to say? Did the secretary of state know? That I think is the ultimate question. Who told her to stay those fictions? I think in the end, that is what is going to unravel this. The Watergate scandal was about who knew up high and when. And I'll remind you that nobody died in Watergate.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.