I watched the entire debate. Twice in fact; the second time more concerned with listening to what the candidates actually said than sharing on-line barbs with my Facebook friends. Yet for me, the one moment that epitomized the evening wasn't any of the words they spoke, but a Joe Biden breathy, two second audible inhale - a snort of sorts - after hearing Sarah Palin state how she was "so encouraged to know that we both love Israel."
It was a snort of both anger and control, like one a bull might emit before the eight foot high gate opens and it can begin to buck the rodeo cowboy off his back. Last night, it was the snort of a man who was more likely caged by an eight point lead: a Team Obama feeling that chastising Gov. Palin, no matter how much she deserved it or opened the door was just not worth the risk.
Biden's huff - he was able to stop before he even puffed - was the only show of spontaneous frustration the entire night. Yes, his best moment was near the end when he intensely dismissed McCain's maverick-osity, but that moment felt clearly scripted.
When Palin started by talking about how "it was John McCain who pushed so hard" to get banking reforms, Biden just smiled.
When she said that the answer to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown was to "commit ourselves just everyday people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again," he didn't even raise an eyebrow of incredulousness.
Just once after she ridiculed an Obama opinion or vote, I wanted him to say, "Just what qualification or experience do you have to understand the context or rationale he considered when he made that choice," but he stood stoic.
As much as he had to be dying to say the answer to the health care question is not for Palin to "respond about the tax increases," he just nodded instead.
As much as he must have wanted to shout, "The question was about what programs from your proposed budget will you have to cut because of the current economic crisis" after she answered that "the nice thing about running with" McCain is that "he doesn't tell one thing to one group and then turns around and tells something else to another group," he just looked at her and grinned.
A well-regarded fact-wonk, it must have killed Biden inside not to chide his opponent for confusing a Civil War general with one in the Afghan crisis. But outside, cool as a cucumber. Anyway, now that there's been a chance to think about it, do you really think that she knew there was a Union general named McClellan? She could have easily confused General McKiernan with McCallans or McSorley's, as I've been known to do on my second or third glass of the night.
Biden may have been peeved at moderator Gwen Ifill, too. Why would this unabashedly pro-Obama shill put him in a corner about gay marriage, making him give the politically expedient answer virtually no one believes he means. Who the hell does she think she is, a journalist? But still, cool as a cucumber.
Nah, no matter how evasive, how Huey Long 'I'm one of you hicks' Gov. Palin got, the Senator continued to stick to the strategy: "show them what you know, not what she doesn't."
But then came that moment, when the Republican candidate subtly but condescendingly told the long time member and current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee how encouraged she was to learn that he, like her, loved Israel and how she thought it was "a good thing to get to agree on, Sen. Biden. I respect your position on that."
Had it been the primary Joe Biden, the one polling 4%, oh, that would have been fun to watch. That Joe Biden would have skewered her from St. Louis to Schenectady. This Joe Biden, knowing this battle wasn't worth risking the war over, he just snorted. Didn't even exhale.
I just sighed.