Biden's Liberal Arrogance and Condescension
What was most on display last night at the vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky? More than Joe Biden's pearly whites. What viewers saw was nearly ninety minutes of arrogance, condescension, and disdain displayed not just toward Paul Ryan but conservatives generally. Many liberals have deep contempt for conservatives, and Biden showed that in full living color last night - and for an audience in the tens of millions.
Of course, that's not how the mainstream media viewed Biden's florid, overwrought show of contempt for the congressman.
This from the reliably biased New York Times' coverage of the veep debate:
Lloyd Bentsen was a friend of Joe Biden's.
And the vice president made full use of his old Senate colleague's 1988 debate playbook, shaking his head and scoffing pityingly at Representative Paul D. Ryan, trying to paint his opponent as a latter-day Dan Quayle.
If you're old enough to recall the Bentsen-Quayle debate, you'll remember that Bentsen's patrician snootiness and evident disdain for Quayle was uncivil and off-putting. Most Americans who recall the debate do so for Bentsen's line about Quayle not being Jack Kennedy. The line scored points, but Bentsen's performance did next to nothing to save the hapless Michael Dukakis, who lost in a landslide to George H.W. Bush.
Last night, on the msnbc's post-debate analysis, Chris Matthews said that he thought former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt (another panelist) over-emphasized Biden's style versus Biden's substance. Matthews' take was predictable and downplays the importance of "nonverbal communications" in discourse.
A bland headline in The Washington Post simply reads: "Biden and Ryan spar on taxes, foreign policy." But four paragraphs into the story, the reporters allow:
Biden tried to dominate the debate and was a far more vigorous presence than the president last week. But he may have hurt his case by smiling sarcastically as Ryan made some of his points and interrupting repeatedly as the Wisconsin congressman defended his and Romney's policies.
The vice president "may have hurt his case?" As the succession of Biden smirks, eye-rolls, and various expressions of scorn are played over and over again across the internet and on television (at least on Fox News), Biden's stock will drop like Solyndra holdings.
The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty writes toward the end of her debate analysis:
And though Biden is a man with a reputation for making gaffes, his worst moments came when he wasn't talking but remained under the unblinking gaze of the camera.
As Ryan spoke, the split screen picked up Biden's grins and chortles, suggesting a dismissiveness and scorn for the views of an opponent he repeatedly called "my friend," and he appeared to make no attempt to suppress them.
Although Biden's frequent interruptions probably helped revive the spirits of the Democratic faithful, they may have been too much for less partisan viewers.
Biden's churlish display was the story peg; it should have led. That Post writers mention Biden's boorishness at all means that they're hedging their bets, uncertain how Biden's performance will play with voters over many subsequent days. Keep in mind that Mitt Romney's positive performance built momentum in the days following his debate with the president. Biden's performance is likely to sit poorly with voters the more they see it and think about it. Sink-in time isn't an ally for the vice president.
Biden may have been throwing red meat to his party's base to gin-up turnout. Keep in mind that elections boil down to voter intensity and turnout. So Biden's indecorous show may have done something to prime his party's voters. But there are opposite and equal reactions. The vice president's little show of pique also riled GOP base voters. And "less partisan" viewers (particularly women) aren't likely to find Biden charming or endearing.
First it was Barack Obama not doing Mitt Romney the courtesy of looking at him when he was speaking in last week's presidential debate. Last night, Biden, in the florid, overwrought style so typical to the buffoonish vice president, only helped elaborate the picture of a president and vice president too haughty and contemptuous to extend mere civility to their opponents.
As the old cliché goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." The picture of the president's and Biden's contempt for Romney, Ryan, and conservatives won't help the former win votes.