The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 15, 2012

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Biden approaches debate like wrestling match

By Marta Mossburg
Globe Columnist

— President Barack Obama once said picking Joe Biden as his running mate was the “single best decision” he ever made. He might want to rethink that after the vice president’s Thursday debate performance in Kentucky against Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Biden acted as if he was in a World Wrestling Entertainment match instead of a debate with his Republican rival with the constant eye rolling, interruptions, loud sighs and Joker-esque blindingly white smiles. I kept waiting for him to body check Ryan and pound his chest. Thankfully, he stayed in his seat, but his demeanor made the white-haired Biden seem like the rash, young, untested guy, not the 42-year old Ryan always labeled by Democrats as an Ayn Rand extremist.

The content of his answers frequently didn’t help him, either. He would not admit the administration misled Americans about the nature of the Sept. 11 attack on the Libyan consulate, as we now know to be true. He went so far as to say the administration did not know about requests for more security in Libya before terrorists killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, contradicting State Department officials. He also implicated Ryan in Ambassador Stevens’ death by blaming him for cutting funds for embassy security — as if money were the issue, not a massive failure of leadership.

Ryan pushed hard on the issue. He said, “Look, if we’re hit by terrorists, we’re going to call it for what it is: a terrorist attack. Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him. Shouldn’t we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place we knew there was an al-Qaida cell with arms? This is becoming more troubling by the day.”

One of Biden’s more insincere strategies was calling Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname Bibi over and over again. I guess he wanted viewers to think that the administration was on intimate terms with Netanyahu, after a very public falling out in recent weeks. But it came off as calculatedly fake.

And then there was Biden’s claim that “this president doesn’t bluff” in regard to holding Iran responsible for building a nuclear weapon.

Maybe he didn’t remember Obama’s famous warning to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) during 2011 debt negotiations: “Don’t call my bluff,” when he stormed out of the room after not getting his way.

Biden’s aggression worked well when he talked about Medicare and Social Security. He made Democrats out to be the party people can trust, even if they don’t have the money to keep their promises on entitlements. And he knocked the Romney-Ryan ticket for being out of touch with the middle class and believing that almost half of Americans don’t pay taxes as Mitt Romney was famously filmed saying at a private fundraiser. Biden said, “These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Gov. Romney pays in his federal income tax.” He claimed the moral high ground in that part of the debate, and it worked.

But it would have worked better if he wasn’t always declaring “malarkey,” shaking his head and throwing his arms up in the air when Ryan spoke.

And ultimately, it couldn’t hide the bad story on the economy the administration so desperately tries to keep blaming on George W. Bush. Ryan scored big when he pointed out that the unemployment rate in Scranton, Pa., Biden’s hometown, was 8.5 percent when Obama took office and is now 10 percent. “That’s how things are going all across America,” he said.

Saying, as Joe Biden did, that he feels the pain of the middle class and wants the rich to pay more is one thing. And it sounds great, as does leveling the economic playing field. But empathy doesn’t pay a mortgage or college tuition. No amount of eye rolling and talking over his opponent can mask the fact that millions more people need federal food aid than when Obama took office or that the stimulus failed to stimulate anything.

For those reasons, Biden lost before he began.

Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and politics in Maryland, where she lives. Read her at Write her at