10/12/2012 08:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points: Biden's Big Night

We come to you live from the arena, the day after the vice-presidential debate. The lights are being removed, the podiums are gone, and the cleanup crew is sweeping up the tiny, tiny pieces of Paul Ryan that were left all over the stage last night.

Heh. Well, maybe not really, but it certainly seems that way, doesn't it?

Bill Maher definitely had the best tweet of the night, which summed up what we were watching very nicely (if not very grammatically): "Hello 9 1 1? There s an old man beating a child on my tv."

The Republican spin afterwards was priceless as well. Here's a quick rule of thumb: When you're complaining about stylistic points, your guy lost. A commenter on my own site reacted to my "snap judgment" column on the debate and so succinctly defined what was going on, I find I cannot improve upon the language:

1 week ago: President Obama is calm, unflustered, respectful and solid. Conservatives pan his performance, he was "destroyed" in the debate! Romney was aggressive, confident, energetic, forceful -- he showed true leadership!

1 week later: Paul Ryan was calm, unflustered, respectful and solid. Conservatives say this is just what we need in a leader! Biden was far too aggressive, far too confident, too energetic and too forceful -- not what America needs in a leader!

This falls into the category: "It's funny because it's true."

Conservative doublethink aside, though, we're going to spend the entire column focusing on Joe Biden's debate performance, so we'd better get on with it (I feel a rather longish column coming on, just to warn everyone).


Last week, the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week was pretty obvious to one and all. This week, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is likewise crystal clear. Vice President Joe Biden is the only possible nominee this week.

In fact, we'd like to go right ahead and forge a new award for him -- Most Impressive Democrat Of The Campaign. Yes, Joe Biden's performance last night was even better than Bill Clinton's at the Democratic National Convention. It was that good. For the entire 2012 campaign season, Joe wins our new MIDOTC.

Way to go, Joe!

[Congratulate Vice President Joe Biden on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Strangely enough, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is also debate-related. California is trying a bizarre (to me, at least) experiment this election, where no third parties are on the general election ballot. Are you a Green voter, or a Libertarian? Tough luck -- your guy or gal will not be found on the ballot. It's called "top two" and what it means is that only the top two vote-getters in the primary election appear on the general election (except for the president and vice president, where voters still have multiple options).

What this has led to in a few races is a Democrat running against another Democrat. Not even the Republican Party is on the ballot in these races -- which is why I used the word "bizarre" earlier.

Enough set-up. In one of these races, the two Democratic candidates debated each other, and things got a little physical. Brad Sherman grabbed his opponent's shoulders in a rather menacing fashion, and shouted, "You want to get into this?" to his face.

Now, we like a spirited debate as well as the next guy, and we also love metaphors about fighting (see: the entire rest of this column, Bill Maher's tweet in particular), but there are lines which you should really not cross. Grabbing your opponent and trying to pick a fight is definitely on the wrong side of the line.

For crossing this line from metaphor to physicality, Brad Sherman wins this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Take a chill pill, Brad.

[Contact California Representative Brad Sherman on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 230 (10/12/12)

Where to begin?

I guess malarkey is as good a place as any. Now, the sources I consulted tell me that malarkey (or malarky) isn't really an Irish term. If anything, it's Irish-American, and made its way into the lexicon in the early 20th century. The real Irish term for what Joe Biden called "stuff" is actually "shite" (rhymes with "kite"). My sources could be wrong, of course, but I've never actually heard an Irish person use the word "malarkey," while I literally cannot count the number of times I've heard them say "shite." Just a personal observation.

Enough blarney, though. Let's get to the meat of the debate. First, a few random thoughts and phrases to point out, and then we'll spotlight seven quotes that rise to the level of damn fine talking points for Democrats to use.

Paul Ryan had three "unforced errors" last night. The first was bringing up the subject of a car crash. Many years ago, Joe Biden lost his wife and baby daughter in a car crash, so you'd think someone would have warned Ryan against giving Biden an easy way to generate some sympathy.

The second Ryan misstep was to mention the name "Jack Kennedy," which was like painting a target on himself. What is the most famous moment from any previous vice-presidential debate? "You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy." Biden saw this opportunity and immediately responded with "Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy." A completely avoidable mistake on Ryan's part.

There was a third unforced error from Ryan, but we're saving it for the talking points.

Biden hit so many high points during the debate that we're just going to whip through some of them, quickly.

On foreign policy, Biden's repeated refrain of "loose talk" from Mitt Romney was particularly effective, I thought.

Biden's most devastating moment against Ryan was when he brought up the two letters Ryan had sent him, begging for some of that nasty old stimulus money. So much for principles, eh, Paul? The hypocrisy was there for all to see.

Biden's repeating Ryan's "30 percent" and Romney's "47 percent" was expected, and was used to particularly good effect, but again, we'll get to that in the talking points.

Biden's best smackdown of Ryan was a back-and-forth on whether Ryan's Medicare plan was "bipartisan" or not. Biden crushed Ryan on this, stating "not one Democrat" had signed the plan, and the one Ryan was using for political cover no longer supports it.

Ryan had two odd moments, one where he condescendingly explained what the "fighting season" in Afghanistan was, and one where he made a joke about Canada being "overseas" because it was across Lake Superior. Must be some species of Wisconsin humor with which I am unfamiliar.

Biden had one moment that almost devolved into a line the comedians would have had a field day with. This, at least to my ears, was the only near-gaffe of the entire evening for the supposedly gaffe-prone Biden. Toward the end, Biden was making the point that everyone knows what he stands for, and he said: "I never say anything I don't mean. Everybody knows whatever I say, I do." As I said, this was rather uncomfortably close to the Dr. Seuss character Horton the Elephant's trademark line: "I mean what I say, and I say what I mean." Thankfully, Biden didn't use exactly the same phrasing.

Biden's funniest moment was when he brought up his previous vice-presidential foe: "You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems that every vice-presidential debate, I hear this kind of stuff about panels." This also harkened back to his earlier "stuff" malarkey.

More seriously, Biden's best debate tactic was to occasionally look straight into the camera and address the viewers at home. Biden asked, in more than one way, "Who do you trust? Them or us?" on all sorts of issues that Democrats usually have a natural-born edge on, like Medicare and Social Security. This was absolutely brilliant, and put the cap on his whole "you cannot trust anything these guys say" theme of the entire evening.

Okay, enough random thoughts. Let's enumerate the biggest and best talking points of the night. The entire debate transcript is worth reading, if you've got the time (it is rather long), but if not, here are our choices for the best bits.


   Stuff and nonsense

Okay, this isn't really a talking point, but it was the funniest part of the entire debate, hands down, so we're providing it as a public service. Biden, earlier, had answered Ryan with: "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey," and then explained why, when asked: "Because not a single thing he said was accurate."

This led to a later exchange, where Biden paused a little too long before saying the word "stuff" -- almost as if considering a different word beginning with "S"...

BIDEN: This is a bunch of -- stuff. Look, here's the deal...

MODERATOR: What does that mean, "a bunch of stuff"?

BIDEN: Well, it means it's simply inaccurate.

RYAN: It's Irish. (Chuckles.)

BIDEN: It is. (Laughter.) We Irish call it malarkey.

MODERATOR: Thanks for the translation. Okay.

BIDEN: No, we Irish call it malarkey. (Laughter.)


   Forty-seven percent

This one is long, but Biden packs a lot into it. Not only does he hinge the whole thing on Romney's "47 percent" and Ryan's "30 percent," he also manages to humanize it and present the entire Democratic case in stark contrast to Republican ideals. Toward the end of the debate, Biden managed to repeat the whole charge, and hinged it on how it was disgusting that some people think of active-duty soldiers as part of that "47 percent," which was also brilliant. Why should you vote Democratic instead of Republican? Here's Joe's explanation -- which should be made into a stand-alone television ad, because it really is that good.

"We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that -- and when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, "No, let Detroit go bankrupt." We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, "No, let foreclosures hit the bottom."

But it shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently, in a speech in Washington, said 30% of the American people are "takers." These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, not paying any taxes.

I've had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent -- it's about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we're going to level the playing field. We're going to give you a fair shot again. We are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the superwealthy.

They're pushing the continuation of a tax cut that will give an additional $500 billion in tax cuts to 120,000 families. And they're holding hostage the middle-class tax cut because they say, we won't pass -- we won't continue the middle-class tax cut unless you give the tax cut for the superwealthy. It's about time they take some responsibility.


   Get out of the way

Joe Biden was superb at directing the public's attention to the real reason there has been no bipartisanship in Washington -- the extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives (which is germane, since Ryan is one of their leaders). This was phrased, repeatedly, as "if you'd just get out of the way..."

I have never met two guys who are more down on America across the board. We're told everything is going bad. We have 5.2 million new jobs, private sector jobs. We need more, but 5.2 million -- if they'd get out of the way, if they get out of the way and let us pass the tax cut for the middle class, make it permanent, if they get out of the way and pass the -- pass the jobs bill, if they get out of the way and let us allow 14 million people who are struggling to stay in their homes because their mortgages are upside-down, but they never missed a mortgage payment -- just get out of the way. Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me a policy. Show me a policy where you take responsibility."


   I knew Ronald Reagan, sir

This was Ryan's third unforced error. Even though the following quote preceded it, Ryan still had to bring up Ronald Reagan's big dealmaking on Social Security. Did nobody on his prep team realize that Biden was one of the participants in that deal? I certainly didn't know that, but then I'm not paid a bunch of money to do opposition research on Democrats or anything. This was the flip side of the Bentsen/Quayle coin for Biden -- the part where he trotted out his own experience versus Paul Ryan's fuzzy history. Here's how Biden took Ryan to school on the subject of Ronald Reagan:

"I was there when we did that with Social Security, in 1983. I was one of eight people sitting in the room that included Tip O'Neill negotiating with President Reagan. We all got together, and everybody said, as long as everybody's in the deal, everybody's in the deal, and everybody is making some sacrifice, we can find a way. We made the system solvent to 2033."


   What's fair is fair

This one really needs to be pushed harder by Obama and Biden in the future. They might helpfully point out that if Ryan's budget had gone through, Mitt would be paying less than 1 percent, while they're at it.

"Governor Romney, on 60 Minutes, I guess it's about 10 days ago, was asked, 'Governor, you pay 14 percent on $20 million. Someone making $50,000 pays more than that. Do you think that's fair?' He said, 'Oh, yes, that's fair; that's fair.'"


   Between a woman and her doctor

Biden's answer to the abortion question framed the issue perfectly. It's not about what a politician believes on religion, it's about whether they're forcing that belief on others or not (this is the only quote I slightly edited for clarity and length, I should mention).

"With regard to abortion, I accept my church's position on abortion... I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and -- I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women, they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor, in my view."


   Not exactly a favorite son

We saved this one for last, for two reasons. One, it's downright snarktastic. Two, we've actually been suggesting using this line for quite a while now (including in last week's column), and we're pleased to see that Joe Biden has apparently been paying attention. Ahem. Joe Biden is speaking here about Mitt Romney ("he"), after Paul Ryan tried to extol Romney's governorship.

"If he did such a great job in Massachusetts, why isn't he even contesting Massachusetts?"


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