by Clarence Page

In the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger Rep. Paul Ryan, the real winner was off stage: President Barack Obama.

That's no swipe at Ryan. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's running mate admirably accomplished what normally is expected of aspiring vice presidents: He held his own, avoided tripping over the furniture and caused no apparent damage to the guy at the top of the ticket.

That was Biden's task four years ago. Still a senator from Delaware, he only had to appear statesmanlike and avoid any hint of condescension toward then-Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

This time, after Obama's lackluster debate performance a week earlier and a big surge in national polls for Romney, Vice President Biden's mission was elevated from Do-no-harm to Stop-the-bleeding.

Biden soon appeared to be accomplishing both missions. Partisan tweets across the Twitter-verse during the debate indicated a clear trend: Obama supporters were delighted and Romney backers were furious.

What a switch. After the presidential debate, Democrats were furious and Republicans were delighted by a performance that Obama seemed to phone in -- by carrier pigeon.

Biden did what debaters are supposed to do and that Obama had failed to do: Take the fight to their opponents with a passion, even when the passion tests the boundaries of politeness.

Oh, yes, many have criticized Biden's loud chuckles, scoffs, grimaces, raised arms, interjections ("Oh, God," "malarkey" and "bunch of stuff"), interruptions and other histrionics. But, compared to Obama's disengaged, head-down scribbling on his notepad, Biden at least looked like he was eager to be there, selling the Obama-Biden record with more energy than Obama did.

On issues that varied widely from Libya, Iran and Afghanistan to taxes, debt, Medicare and Social Security, Biden blunted the Romney-Ryan assault on the Obama-Biden record, point-for-point, spin-for-spin, and threw in some counterpunches of his own.

Among the highlights: Biden was at his most ferocious in defending Social Security and Medicare, partly to clean up some damage Obama did by sounding too conciliatory the previous week.

Obama, speaking of himself and Romney, said, "I suspect that on Social Security, we've got a somewhat similar position." Biden, responding to a question from moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News, highlighted the differences between the two campaigns on what may be the government's most popular program.

"With regard to Social Security, we will not -- we will not privatize it," Biden said, recalling President George W. Bush's unsuccessful attempt to offer future recipients the option of investing in the stock market in 2005. The more Bush promoted it the more unpopular it became. It never reached the floor of Congress.

"If we had listened to Romney, Governor Romney, and the congressman during the Bush years," Biden said, "imagine where all those seniors would be now if their money had been in the market." Ryan was compelled to assure viewers that his earlier support for Bush's changes in Social Security are "not what Mitt Romney's proposing."

Biden's most memorable moment may have been in his response to Ryan's use of a favorite Republican talking point, the failure of Obama's economic stimulus to produce more jobs. "I love my friend here," Biden said before announcing that Ryan had sent two letters requesting stimulus money for companies in his home state of Wisconsin, letters that said the stimulus would "create growth and jobs."

Ryan acknowledged the letters as part of "what we do" to service his constituents. This gave Biden a chance to extend a cordial assurance that "...any letter you send me I'll entertain."

To which Ryan replied just as cordially, "I appreciate that, Joe." See? We can all get along.

Obama has made a virtue of his No-Drama Obama cool, but some occasions call for passion, especially when your opponent says something that calls for a quick come-back.

Halfway through the debate, at least one liberal Twitter tweeter nominated Joe Biden to substitute for Obama in all future debates. That's not going to happen. But Obama could use a cupful of Joe in his own performance.

 

 

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