Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Debate coach: It's the Biden show!

By Todd Graham, Special to CNN
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Joe Biden dominated the vice presidential debate, even when wound up, says debate coach Todd Graham.
Joe Biden dominated the vice presidential debate, even when wound up, says debate coach Todd Graham.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thursday night's debate was the Joe Biden show, says debate coach Todd Graham
  • For the first half, the vice president was at his best, Graham says
  • Biden's strength was his approach to middle class and senior citizens, he says
  • Graham: For much of the second half though, Biden seemed out of control

Editor's note: Todd Graham is the director of debate at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He has coached his teams to national championships and has been honored with the Ross K. Smith national debate coach of the year award. Graham has analyzed presidential debates for five elections.

(CNN) -- Thursday night's debate was the Joe Biden show. And like many shows, the beginning was excellent, the middle was painful to watch, and the finish was what we expected.

The beginning: I'm calling it the first 45 minutes. The vice president was at his best. Yes, he had some smiles, but he had those four years ago. This time it was more obvious because the camera was always on him, and his teeth seemed so white as to make a dentist blush. Seriously, put the bleach tray down, Joe, or there won't be enough left over for washing the dirty clothes.

However, Biden followed those smiles (and laughs -- which I don't like and always recommend against) with indignation about what Paul Ryan was saying. He followed those smiles with arguments that Ryan was wrong on his facts, wrong on his history and wrong about President Barack Obama. Had it not been clear that Biden was smiling because he thought Ryan was saying something ridiculous, it would have bothered me more. But for me, the smiles didn't get in the way too much once I put my Ray-Bans on.

For the first 45 minutes, Biden dominated the discussion. The domination began with him telling Ryan, "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey." Biden never let up. He hammered away on the topic of Iran, arguing that the Republicans wouldn't have been successful at getting support for sanctions from either Russia or China.

Todd Graham
Todd Graham
Obama 'could not be prouder' of Biden
Did Biden, Ryan debate strategy work?
Amusing moments during VP debate

Opinion: Feisty Biden, wonky Ryan

Foreign policy is Biden's wheelhouse. So when the topic came to Israel and Ryan continued Mitt Romney's line that Obama doesn't consider Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a close ally, Biden had one of his best moments. He said "Bibi" Netanyahu has "been my friend 39 years." So he both reminded us of his experience in foreign policy and made clear that he considers Netanyahu such a friend that he calls him by his nickname. It was an excellent moment for Biden.

Biden's strength in this debate was his approach to the middle class and senior citizens. He never failed to take an opportunity to remind the American public that Romney is "a guy who says 47% of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives."

Biden tied Romney's "47%" comments (even saying, "If you heard that little soliloquy on 47% and you think he just made a mistake, then I got a bridge to sell you") into his best points of the evening. He looked right at the camera and said, "Folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this?" and "Folks, follow your instincts" on issues such as Medicare vouchers and Social Security privatization. At one point he spoke directly to seniors. It was a nice touch.

But then inertia took over. I'll call this the next 30 minutes. After running right over Ryan, with the Republican barely making headway for the first 45 minutes, Biden lost control of the car. The over-steering was perhaps due to excessive coaching after the president's lackluster debate. At any rate, once he had run over Ryan, it was a quick swerve in the other direction, and then Biden thumped the moderator, Martha Raddatz, with interrupting indignation. Then Biden accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake pedal. His runaway berating was now headed toward the townsfolk.

Biden kept pointing his finger menacingly. At first, only Ryan was the victim of the loose finger. But then Biden became trigger-happy with that finger-as-weapon. Raddatz couldn't duck fast enough and became the next target. Strafing the audience indiscriminately with his scolding, Biden was now pointing and shaking his index finger at anything that moved.

Opinion: Partisans are fired up on both sides

This was cringe-worthy. Biden was so wound up that he was like that family member you're warned about before the big Thanksgiving get-together. "Now, don't get Uncle Billy riled up, because once he gets going, nobody will enjoy their pumpkin pie." Yep. Biden turned into Uncle Billy. He simply didn't know, or didn't have the capability to turn his frustration and emotions off. He interrupted, pointed and scolded so often that I think he finished one point with the phrase, "You kids get out of my yard."

Yet he calmed down and was saved by a personal question about abortion. Yes, Biden's emotions were put back in check by talking about a woman's right to choose. You know it's a crazy debate when that happens. And for the rest of the debate, he was back to regular Joe. He still made emotional appeals, but they were more in check. He was very good again for the last 15 minutes.

By the way, who was that high school debater up on the stage with Biden? Ryan reminded me of so many debaters I've seen in the past. Youthful, with ideas -- but in a critical debate they get lost. I'm not sure Ryan demonstrated that he's what we need in these tough times. He lacked passion, and he seemed a bit wet behind the ears.

Did he do badly? By no means. He never lost his cool and he wasn't rude. But with his youthful appearance, and his taking a back seat to Biden, Ryan was overshadowed. Ryan did nothing to win or lose the debate. He just disappeared. Ryan underperformed to Biden's over-performance. One way or the other, good and bad, it was Joe Biden's show.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Todd Graham.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT