In a debate that focused surprisingly on foreign policy, Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was in his element against a rookie with virtually no foreign policy experience. For an administration that has succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden and taking the fight to al Qaeda, Biden was also on strong ground defending his boss.
On Israel and Iran, Biden schooled Ryan, reminding the young Ryan that he had developed an actual working relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Bibi, he’s been my friend for 39 years," Biden said. In fact, just last month, Biden disclosed he was on a conference call with the president and Netanyahu "for well over an hour."
On Afghanistan, Ryan appeared to have memorized a few talking points and details to make his argument, but Biden had actually lived it. "I’ve been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq 20 times — I’ve been up in the Kunar — I’ve been throughout that whole country, mostly in a helicopter and sometimes in a vehicle," he told moderator Martha Raddatz.
On Syria, all Ryan could do was to repeat over and over again a memorized line about not giving Russia veto power on U.S. policy. But when Biden pressed him to go beyond his canned talking points and explain how he would force regime change in that country without putting American boots on the ground or starting another war, Ryan couldn't do it. Biden leapt on him. "What would my friend do differently? If you notice, he never answers the question," Biden told Raddatz.
Biden came across as someone who had lived foreign policy his entire life. Ryan looked like a nice young man who had read about foreign policy the past few weeks but clearly couldn't keep up with the more informed statesman sitting beside him. After last night, could anyone seriously imagine Paul Ryan as commander-in-chief making life-or-death decisions about U.S. armed forces?
So when Ryan mentioned at one point that Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, Biden pounced again, delivering the most famous line of the night. "Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy," Biden said. It was a gut punch sure to remind political observers of the 1988 vice presidential debate when young Dan Quayle compared himself to Kennedy while standing on stage with the elder Lloyd Bentsen. "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy," Bentsen said. "I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
When Ryan told a pre-scripted story designed to humanize Mitt Romney by describing a visit Romney made to see the family of a car crash victim, Biden was ready again with his own much more personal anecdote. "Look, I don’t doubt his personal generosity, and I understand what it’s like. When I was a little younger than the congressman, my wife was in an accident, killed my daughter and my wife, and my two sons survived," Biden said.
But in true Biden genius, he pivoted from his personal story to an important policy disagreement with the Romney-Ryan ticket. "I don’t doubt his personal commitment to individuals," Biden said of Romney. "But you know what, I know he had no commitment to the automobile industry. He just said, let it go bankrupt, period."
Biden was everything President Obama was not in his first debate. He was tough, aggressive, and on the attack all night long. While Obama never mentioned Romney's infamous "47 percent" line, Biden brought it up five different times in the debate. And in so doing, he energized Democrats who had been worried about Romney's "bounce" from last week's debate performance.
All the Republicans could do to respond was to complain about Biden's facial expressions, his gestures, his smile and his laughter. If that's the only effective attack line the GOP could take out of the debate, it shows how effectively Biden eviscerated Ryan on substance. And for Biden to sit at the table for 90 minutes with a young congressman who clearly didn't know what he was talking about, laughter was actually a very polite response.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.
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