Before giving my opinion – and that is all that it is, one guy's opinion – let’s first understand that these VP debates are kind of like the old NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.
You had the two teams that won in that semifinal round and went on the finals – those are the presidential candidates.
And then you had the two teams that lost those first games that weekend, and used to play for third and fourth places.
Those are the vice presidential candidates.
Yes, a vice presidential candidate debated can be interesting.
Yes, in the past they have given us some memorable quotes – like: “Senator, you are no John Kennedy.”
But in the end, like the third/fourth basketball games, they don’t matter much.
Bragging rights, perhaps. But little more.
That said, I believe that Vice President Joe Biden really did a good job Thursday.
Yes, he interrupted Mitt Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a number of times. And that may have been a bit rude.
But it was no ruder than Romney’s interruption of President Barack Obama several times in their first debate.
What I found interesting about Biden’s performance is that he seemed so involved, even to the point of shaking his head, smiling, and/or even looking at the ceiling a few times in disbelief.
Some say rolling your eyes, or shaking your head and smiling, are “too hot” kind of actions – inappropriate.
I say have a little passion – he didn’t take off his shoe and bang in on the desk (a little test here, what Cold War leader did just that one time?)
Biden hit Ryan on very specific points. He even grilled him. And when Ryan repeated talking points, Biden was there to say that the Romney/Ryan ticket didn’t have any answers.
In looking over my notes, I find that I give Ryan one fine moment, toward the very end of the 90 minute debate, when Ryan really ticked off areas where Obama has failed, in his eyes:
“When you don’t have a good record, you paint someone as one you want to run from.” And that’s all that Obama is doing this campaign.
There is a long list of broken promises, Ryan said, and he ticked them off. No real budget from Obama dealing with deficits. A failed foreign policy, and so on.
“Leaders run to problems and fix them.” Obama gives speeches, not solutions, said Ryan.
But aside from that specific moment, it seemed to me that Biden had answers for a number of Ryan complaints.
And the vice president had some style in his answers, too.
“You want to send Americans to war in Syria?” Biden charged Ryan several times. When Ryan complained about what Obama and his foreign policy “failures,” Biden kept asking what Romney would have done? Or what he would do in the immediate future? Biden didn’t get an answer that I saw.
Ryan did seem to make some points on what to do with Iran and nuclear weapons.
But Biden had a firm response there, as well: The Iranians may have enough material for a few nuclear bombs, but they don’t have any working bombs to put them in. And they won’t for some time. And when they get near, the U.S. will know it and an Obama administration, working with allies, won’t allow them to get such a bomb. Period.
I especially liked the way Biden kept referring to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu as “Bibi” – adding that he had known Netanyahu for 39 years and saying that Obama talked with “Bibi” for an hour on the telephone during the opening of the United Nations a few weeks ago, “And I know that because I was there.”
Thus clearly telling Ryan that he wasn’t in power, wasn’t in the room and didn’t know what he was talking about.
In fact, through various comments it seemed that Biden told Ryan that the congressman didn’t know what he was talking about a number of times Thursday night.
On Syria, Biden said of Ryan’s comments: “He never answers the question. What would you do differently?” – and then talked over Ryan again when the congressman tried to be more specific, but really wasn’t.
“You want American troops in eastern Afghanistan” to fight the incoming Taliban? Asked Biden pointedly.
“We don’t,” and that’s why the Obama plan is to train up the Afghan troops and make them do the fighting.
Finally, I thought it was great that ABC’s Martha Raddatz got to moderate this debate. She had some moments of faltering, but not many.
She was sure much better than the moderator of the first presidential debate, PBS’s Jim Lehrer.
For the really old Utah media watchers, Raddatz served a stint here as a local TV reporter in the 1980s before moving off to fame and fortune.
Just another colleague who earned a few stripes in good ‘ole Utah before making the big time.
Oh, and another VP debate comment about Jack Kennedy?
Biden actually got one in – after Ryan was talking about how Jack Kennedy had worked with Republicans on tax cuts.
Said Biden: “Now you are Jack Kennedy? This is amazing.”