In the hours after the vice presidential debate, the TV pundits have been busy debating who "won." Obama's surrogates say it was Biden. Romney's surrogates say it was Ryan. A CBS News flash poll of "undecided voters" says that Biden won by 50 percent to 31 percent. A CNN flash poll of voters who watched the debate say it was essentially a tie with Ryan at 48 percent and Biden at 44 percent, within the margin of error.
But who "won" is the wrong question. The real question is, given the pre-debate dynamics of the campaign, who did what they needed to do? The answer to that question is Joltin' Joe Biden.
Biden's job was to stop the bleeding. And he succeeded.
Before President Obama's near comatose performance in the first debate, President Obama was leading by 4-5 percent in most national polls and, more importantly, was leading in most of the swing states. In the 9 days since the first Presidential debate, all of the momentum has been in Romney's favor with Romney now leading nationally by 0.7 percent in the Real Clear Politics average but Obama hanging onto just enough of an advantage in most swing states to eke out an Electoral College victory if the election were held today. However, with a few more days of the polls swinging in Romney's direction, it's likely that he would take an Electoral College lead as well.
Biden's job was to stop Romney's momentum, energize the Democratic base, and stop low information "undecided" voters from continuing to swing in Romney's direction. My bet is that he succeeded.
To use a football analogy: Before the first Presidential debate, it was the middle of the third quarter with Obama holding a comfortable 17-point lead. Obama inexplicably went into a pre-vent defense ("the only thing a pre-vent defense does is keep you from winning"). In the span of a few minutes, he gave up a long touchdown, threw an interception for another Romney touchdown, and got sacked in the end zone for a safety, whittling his lead to 1 point at the beginning of the 4th quarter
With Romney threatening to score again to take a commanding lead, Joe Biden lead a heroic goal line defense and blocked a Republican field goal attempt.
Now Biden's sterling defense has put the ball back in Obama's hands. The question is, can President Obama rise to the occasion -- like Eli Manning in the 2012 Super Bowl -- and lead a winning 4th quarter touchdown drive?
To do so, we will have to unmask Romney's fake math that Romney can cut income taxes on the rich by $5 trillion, increase the defense budget by $2 trillion that the military hasn't asked for, and balance the budget without cutting deeply into programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and student loans that the middle class depends on, and without eliminating deductions like home mortgages and health care on the middle class; convince voters that the Romney/Ryan plan would destory Medicare replace it with vouchers that will increase their costs, while privatizing social security; and lead America into new wars in the Middle East.
For this progressive Democrat, Obama would have an easier time making the argument if he had fought for a bigger stimulus that created more jobs; broken up too big to fail banks that caused the Great Recession; done more to help struggling homeowners stay in their houses; and led a serious effort to limit the role of big money and lobbyists on our democracy. But whatever Obama's failings, the danger of government by the most right-wing Republican party in history that would undo 100 years of social and economic progress going back to Teddy Roosevelt's Square Deal, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's New Deal, and even Richard Nixon's environmental protections, is enough to make me pray that Obama has it in himself to pick himself off the bench and lead a winning touchdown drive.
Joe Biden gave Obama the chance. Now it's Obama's turn to seize it.