On Thursday night, two American politicians running for national office had a frank, fiery, relatively informal debate on live television. Seriously.
It’s not the kind of thing that happens very often in this country, though the British prime minister engages in something even more intimidating every week.
Joe Biden grinned like a Cheshire cat throughout Paul Ryan’s talking points, and yowled out interruptions whenever the conservative policy wonk had the nerve to talk for more than 45 seconds.
Those of us who snoozed off during the dreary presidential debate had a lot more to keep us on our toes as the “number twos” squared off. Liberals will say their horse crossed the finished line first; conservatives will say theirs was a full length ahead. Undecideds? Well, who knows what they really think?
In reality, it was most likely a draw.
Biden scored points on taxes and foreign policy, Ryan seemed to have an advantage on the national debt and the administration’s handling of the Libya crisis. The vice president simply had no answer to one of Ryan’s most direct questions: “Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him,” Ryan exclaimed. “Shouldn’t we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi?”
But the young congressman also seemed overly rehearsed and stiff in comparison to Biden’s loose and easy flow. And he was clearly taken aback when the vice president pointed out that Ryan had on two separate occasions demanded funding for his Wisconsin district from the Obama stimulus he so often derides.
The foreign press — generally more opinionated than America’s own, and with a tendency to favor Obama over Romney — mostly sided with Biden, though they gave Ryan points for hanging in there. Latitude News brings you a round-up of the globe’s best stories:
- Australia’s online journal The Conversation asked a Ph.D student in nonverbal communication to analyze the VP’s face-off. Jeff Thompson writes that Ryan’s default smirk was insincere and “robotic.” But he argues that Joe Biden’s performance — full of “laughing outbursts, smiling, fidgeting, and looking away” — was even worse. Final conclusion? “[Biden] laughed and lost.”
- “If there were no Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.,” writes Gregor Peter Schmitz of Germany’s Spiegel Online, “we journalists would just have to make one up. The American vice president’s verbal slipups simply can’t be beat.” Even so, Schmitz says the amped-up Biden came out of the debate with a distinct advantage. Where Obama was “listless,” the vice president was energetic and full of passion, if a little rude. Ryan, he says, had little chance against his salty, well-seasoned opponent.
- Meanwhile, Philippe Coste, a veteran French observer of the American political scene for the left-of-center French weekly L’Express, was impressed by the debate. In his blogpost “Biden to the rescue” he admits there is little chance that this debate will make a significant difference in the election, but he gave the VP points for getting down into the bull pit and “biting and banging.” His take on how the two men are different? Biden is “an old fox” who can sit down at a kitchen table and talk politics with blue collar workers while Ryan is more of a think tank bureaucrat.
- “Joe Biden was calm, relatively slow and measured, and deliberate in how he spoke. Not in what he said, but in how he spoke,” says John O’Sullivan writing for The Globe and Mail of Canada. “Paul Ryan, by contrast,” he continues, “spoke rapidly and hurriedly.” O’Sullivan argues Congressman Ryan rushed through his points and sort of mumbled, while Biden spoke more clearly, thereby making his points more effectively. But, O’Sullivan says, it probably doesn’t matter: Biden’s constant laughing and interrupting may have turned off some voters. “At best this was bad manners; at worst it was a deliberate attempt to be patronizing.”
- Forget the “Real Housewives of New Jersey.” The VP debate “was exciting reality television,” says J. Brooks Spector of South Africa’s Daily Maverick. Spector says the two men went at each other like prize fighters: “Bang, wham, smash, crash, pow, boom! Biden was like an old lion – standing ready to smack down his younger opponent, daring to challenge him and tackling Ryan point-by-point, assertion-by-assertion. No quarter given. None.” But will the debate swing the election? “In a word, No.” The attention, he says, is back on Romney and Obama — right where it should be.
- Finally, for those who read Polish — loads we’re sure — the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza characterized the debate as a “draw.”
Perhaps the evening’s clearest winner was its moderator, Martha Raddatz. Her specific questions and forceful time-keeping made for a welcome change from the much-mocked performance of PBS’s Jim Lehrer.