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Biden v. Ryan: The Old Pro Takes On the Lying Kid

"That's a lot of malarkey," Biden said of Ryan's lies -- and then went on to slice and dice, smiling all the while.

Photo Credit: ABC News


In a lively contrast to last week’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, tonight’s match-up between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican rival Rep. Paul Ryan offered moments of riveting television as Biden used his populist persona to full effect against the wonkish and prevaricating Ryan.

In a discussion surprisingly heavy on foreign policy, the two also sparred over the federal budget, Medicare and reproductive rights -- with Ryan making the surprising claim that the courts should have no role in deciding the legality of abortion.

With the first few moments, it seemed that the whole mood of the liberal blogosphere turned from despair to elation amid a chorus of “Attaboy!” -- especially among those who gathered on Twitter and other social media. And unlike Obama, Biden held no fire on the subject of Romney's infamous comments about the 47 percent of the American people who he described as victim-conscious drags on the economy.

At one point, in an exchange in which Ryan conflated Iran's reported production of fissile material with what he said were its advances in actually weaponizing that material, Biden replied, addressing moderator Martha Raddatz, "Facts matter, Martha...Facts matter." Obama supporters, long frustrated by the Republicans' campaign of mendacity, quickly adopted the line as a theme. 

The debate pitted Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman with the earnest demeanor and a penchant for half-truths, against Biden, the former U.S. senator who has the smile of a used car salesman, but a reputation for calling it as he sees it.

Raddatz of ABC News proved to be a much more engaged and challenging moderator than PBS’s Jim Lehrer, who all but sat dumbfounded during the first presidential debate. In fact, appraisals of Raddatz’s performance no doubt benefited from the comparison.

The ghost of Jack Kennedy

Sitting across from Biden, Ryan sometimes looked like a kid sent to do a man’s job, wearing his father’s suit. But on the split screen that is now the standard in televised debates, Biden’s dismissive laughter and broad smile sometimes came across as a bit smarmy.

The contrast in the personalities of the two men seemed to put Ryan at a disadvantage. Biden, sometimes a bit too comfortable in his own skin, didn’t hesitate to interrupt when Ryan uttered a mischaracterization, or to mock his young opponent when he inadvertently left Biden an opening. 

During a tussle over taxes, Ryan, after fielding volley upon volley from Biden, sought to make his case for tax-cutting on the backs of past presidents.

“Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth,” Ryan said. “Ronald Reagan--

“Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?” Biden interjected, in a quick-footed move that brought to mind the famous exchange between Dan Quayle and Democratic vice presidential contender Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, when the much older and more seasoned senator responded to Quayle’s invocation of Kennedy by saying, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”

On the matter of a tax increase on people with incomes above $250,000, Ryan made the familiar argument that such an increase would hamper job creation, because many small businesses file their taxes as individuals. Biden made mincemeat of that claim by saying that 97 percent of small business owners earn less than $200,000, and that the kinds of small businesses Ryan was talking about were actually hedge funds.

Pressed by Raddatz on how he proposed to pay for his campaign's proposed 20 percent across-the-board tax cut, Ryan, as he has done on the campaign trail, demurred on providing details.

Ryan tried to lay the blame for the bad economy at Biden's feet, and even challenged the latest dip in unemployment numbers because jobless rates remain high in towns such as his native Janesville, Wis., and Biden's hometown of Scranton, Penn.

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