The first ever presidential televised presidential debate had mixed yet decisive results.
Those who listened to it on the radio thought Vice-President Richard Nixon had won yet people who watched it on the tube thought US Senator John Kennedy clearly outperformed his Republican opponent.
Kennedy won the battle on the tube by his healthy appearance while Nixon looked ill, partly because he was still recovering from the flu.
In the lone vice-presidential debate in the 2012 election cycle, a similar split decision could be made. People tuning in to the verbal skirmish via radio heard Vice-President Joseph Biden came off as assertive and strong while Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was too deferential for his own good.
Yet the view from the flatscreen painted a much different picture.
Biden must have been unaware of the splitscreen broadcast as he behaved petulantly throughout most of the debate. Between his smirks, pronounced facial expressions and at times wild body language, the vice-president displayed boorish conduct.
When Biden was not interrupting Ryan during his allotted time, the vice-president looked like a hyperactive college basketball coach. Biden was more frenetic at the debate table than Mark Cuban is courtside.
One could say Biden was “unvicepresidential”.
Ryan, almost three decades younger than his opponent, came off mature and with, under the circumstances, a commendable degree of self-control.
Ryan managed to get in a few solid jabs on Biden, starting off with Libya, the first topic discussed. Ryan can claim the line of the night with his “The words don’t always come out the right way. You know how that is, Joe,” retort to the vice-president mentioning Mitt Romney’s 47% comment.
Ryan succeeded in coming off as competent and capable of doing the job as president if circumstances were to call upon him to do so, which was the primary objective for Ryan on Thursday night.
The youthful Wisconsin politician would not be “Quayled” or “Palined”.
Ryan missed several opportunities. First, after checking his opponent early on for interrupting him, Ryan more or less allowed Biden to constantly barge into his comment time as the vice-president was at times simultaneously acting as participant, moderator and color commentary.
Secondly, Ryan failed to establish himself as unique as a national candidate as he was young enough to have to live with the consequences of the election. This would have been a strong play for the youth vote, which is trending to Obama, especially if he would have worked it in on his answer to the question about what special trait he would bring to the office.
Third, Ryan couldn’t help himself by talking at times like an economist and not a grocer. Fortunately for him he did not spend too much time in the fiscal jungle, though it served as a reminder that the names on the 2012 ticket are indeed listed in the correct order.
A CNN instapoll taken at the conclusion of the debate gave the nod to Ryan, 48% to 44%. That a sitting vice-president, especially one who was elected to the US Senate while his challenger was in the midst of his terrible-twos, was out pointed ought to be a point of embarrassment.
Had Biden toned down his zeal and kept his unruliness in check, he would have not just won the debate but done so comfortably as he was able to do the minimum task of forcefully getting out his party’s talking points, particularly in his enunciations that America’s involvement in Afghanistan was coming to an end. Period.
Regardless of your position about the wisdom of the termination of our involvement in the nation’s longest war, Biden’s position was popular and effectively delivered.
Biden was like bad cologne: odious while accomplishing the objective of making its wearer’s presence known. Had President Barack Obama did as much last week, the fallout from the debate would not have been as severe.
The vice-president succeeded in showing some fight, which no doubt fired up MSNBC liberals with his chutzpah while turning off CNN moderates with his poor manners and at times erratic behavior.
The Democratic base was pleased while undecided voters might have been troubled by the fact that Biden was not just a heartbeat away from the presidency but often the face of the nation when meeting with foreign dignitaries.
The worst that Biden did in the debate was abort any prospect of him one day being elected president, though he did not do any disservice to his party by playing hatchet man.
On Thursday night, Biden was too much Bob Dole and Ryan was too much Jack Kemp.
The vice-president acted like a DNC chairman preaching to the choir while Paul Ryan was Wisconsin nice, playing for swing voters.
And as more people watched Biden’s behavior on television than just listened to him on the radio, one must concede the debate to Ryan.
Though the gaffe-prone Delaware Blue Hen can take satisfaction in at least covering the spread.