Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Biden v. Ryan: Like a father-son brawl

By Alan Schroeder, Special to CNN
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan depart the stage following their debate on Thursday, October 11. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/11/politics/gallery/joe-biden-expressions/index.html' target='_blank'>See the many expressions of Vice President Joe Biden during the debate</a>. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan depart the stage following their debate on Thursday, October 11. See the many expressions of Vice President Joe Biden during the debate.
HIDE CAPTION
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
The Vice Presidential Debate
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alan Schroeder: Debate's most striking feature was the age gap between candidates
  • Schroeder: Biden managed to dominate the evening
  • He says Ryan came across as not quite seasoned enough for the office he seeks
  • Schroeder: Biden allows Obama to hit the reset button for his rematch with Romney

Editor's note: Alan Schroeder, a professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, is the author of "Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV."

(CNN) -- Add another chapter to the illustrious history of freewheeling vice presidential debates. At Centre College in Kentucky, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan engaged in what might euphemistically be described as a lively exchange of ideas. In reality it felt more like a testy verbal brawl between father and son. Consider these key 5 moments from the debate.

Ryan: No need to apologize

Ryan: Shouldn't apologize for our values

This is a well played moment by Ryan, one of his best of the debate. He has a specific argument to make, and he fleshes out that argument clearly and logically. Ryan also delivers the material in an effective way. You can see his face become more animated as he speaks, and he uses simple rhetoric to express his doubts about the Obama administration's handling of the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

Politics: Five things we learned from the VP debate

Biden's strategic anger

Biden: Main, Wall St. need same rules

In this clip, Biden delivers the attack everybody had expected President Obama to launch in the first debate. Biden is sharply critical of disparaging comments made by Mitt Romney and Ryan about Americans who, for one reason or another, do not pay income tax. This is classic Biden. He takes a large philosophical abstraction about the role of government in people's lives and personalizes it, citing his parents, his neighbors, the people he grew up with, seniors, veterans and soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. It's quite a list, and he delivers it convincingly and passionately.

Ryan pushes back on the 47% remark

Ryan: Romney cares about 100%

This represents an attempt by Ryan to use humor to deflect a negative, in this case Romney's now-famous comment about the 47% of Americans who don't pay taxes. Debate strategists plan these moments in advance, but it is impossible to predict how they will actually play. In joking about Biden's propensity for verbal gaffes, Ryan is suggesting that Romney mangled his words when referring to the 47%. Ryan does a decent job delivering the line that had been written for him, and he even gets a laugh from the audience. But in the final analysis there's not much Ryan or anyone else can do to counteract the damage caused by Romney's original comment.

Biden: Now you're Jack Kennedy?

Biden to Ryan: You're Jack Kennedy now?

In this exchange the two candidates struggle to dominate the conversation -- again, I am reminded of a father and son going at it over the dinner table. The look of feigned incredulity on Biden's face as Ryan speaks is priceless. For his part, Ryan can barely contain his exasperation at being talked over. Biden's line -- "Oh, and now you're Jack Kennedy" -- is a not too subtle allusion to the classic vice presidential debate putdown from 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Ryan attempts to laugh off the insult, but he seems a bit rattled here. Biden appears to have hit a nerve. Shouldn't candidates know by now that it's never safe to invoke John F. Kennedy in a presidential debate?

Politics: First two debates couldn't be more different

Ryan loses his cool

Biden, Ryan clash over Afghan withdrawal

Stylistically this is one of Ryan's low points in the debate. Unsure how to handle Biden's perturbed tone, Ryan loses his cool. He begins squirming in his chair and moving his neck like a bobblehead doll. At a couple of points he emits a strange, snort-like chuckle, a sound that does not exactly enhance his maturity. For the most part in this debate, Ryan did not let an overbearing Biden get under his skin, but not in this clip.

Let's give Ryan credit where credit is due. Before the debate he predicted that Biden would come at him "like a cannonball," and indeed he did. Though it wasn't always pretty, Biden managed to dominate the evening, an old lion who had no intention of being taken down by the young gun sitting across the table.

Like a master thespian on opening night, Biden conspicuously deployed pretty much his entire bag of performing tricks: dramatic line-readings, huge smiles, exaggerated laughter, asides to the audience. As over-the-top as some of this became, it got the job done. For much of the debate the super-charged veep kept his opponent in a defensive crouch. At times it looked as if Ryan was afraid Biden might ground him and take away the car keys.

Ryan did have his moments in this debate, but overall he came across as not quite seasoned enough for the office he seeks. Undergirding every vice presidential debate is the question of which candidate is ready to step into the Oval Office at a moment's notice. By this standard, Ryan failed to hit the mark.

Which is not to suggest that the man has no future in presidential politics. The years will obviously take him beyond the problem of immaturity. If Mitt Romney loses this election, it is not inconceivable that four years from now Ryan and Biden might even end up back onstage together, as co-stars in a presidential debate.

Opinion: Sports bar Biden vs. seminar Ryan

Overall, this debate's most striking characteristic was the age gap between candidates. In the optics of televised debates a generational difference can cut either way: the older candidate might look out of date and past his prime, or wise and experienced. The younger candidate might look fresh and energetic, or not ready for prime time. In this case, Biden's age tended to work in his favor; Ryan's youth worked against him.

Beyond the matter of gravitas, Biden won the debate for a second reason: he managed to put on the table most of the issues that President Obama failed to raise in Denver. This was a tricky maneuver, but for the most part Biden accomplished his mission. This allows Obama to hit the reset button for his rematch with Romney next week.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alan Schroeder.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT