Last evening I walked away from the vice presidential debate unsettled, troubled, and angry. Mine was the sense that the American people had received the short end of the stick.  The embarrassing way in which this debate transpired was unprecedented, and I have been watching these debates since 1960. Never have I witnessed a spectacle like this one.  Vice President Joe Biden dishonored himself and the American people, behaving disrespectfully toward Congressman Paul Ryan, laughing and smirking inappropriately as issues of the gravest concern were addressed, and interrupting his opponent at will with scarcely the mildest reprimand from the moderator Martha Raddatz.

When a concerned citizen, who takes time to participate in democracy by listening to candidates discuss issues important to the nation and to the world, witnesses the Vice President of the United States comporting himself as if he were an emotionally troubled twelve-year old boy in a reformatory without any sense of acceptable social boundaries, be assured that the citizen is insulted whether he realizes it or not; and it makes no difference what, if any, worthy points Joe Biden may have otherwise made, his conduct was flagrant, offensive, boorish, and insolent. 

I guess that I should not have been as stunned as I was. Mr. Biden's history and reputation are those of  a loose cannon and an ebullient, long-winded half-wit. The American people, unfortunately, have been treated over the years to his glaring gaffes and deficits in sound judgment. Most memorable perhaps was his sophomoric interrogation of Judge Robert Bork regarding the constitutional "right of privacy." "Smokin' Joe" was clearly out of his element in that exchange. Then there was the matter of his allowing Anita Hill to testify in Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearing regarding the nominee's alleged sexual improprieties which, assuming even the slightest factual basis, had long since been barred by limitation.  Mr. Biden, as many are aware, styles himself a foreign policy expert, but some of his ideas, such as proposing to mitigate tensions within Iraq by dividing the country into three regions, still strikes many students of the subject as bizarre and unworkable.  In addition, there has been the ever-present issue of the man's character (or lack thereof), of how he plagiarized an assignment while at the University of Syracuse Law School and, then, after years in the Senate, plagiarized again, this time a speech by Britisher Neil Kinnock. That's intellectual thievery, is it not?  Not to be ignored either is the fact of Mr. Biden's unprincipled opportunism.  He desired, and had been willing, to be John McCain's running mate in 2008, but then became Barack Obama's instead, and vigorously campaigned against McCain. But, notwithstanding any or all of this, what happened last night exceeded even the lowest expectations for the Vice President.

This is a blog primarily about the man's debating style last night, and is not one about his substantive position on issues.  But, suffice to say, he made a number of incriminating statements in the debate, which demonstrate in spades that the administration of which he is part is either incompetent or lying.  He claimed, for example, that additional security was not requested of the administration by the American embassy in Benghazi prior to the attack upon it.  But that is false.  It is well documented that additional security had been requested, but refused, months before the attack.  If Obama and Biden say that they were not aware of the request, they were either out of the loop of crucial intelligence information -- a development which would have been their own fault -- or they have been lying to the American people about what they knew and when they knew it.

Mr. Biden also stated that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was conveying the best information the State Department had on the Benghazi attack when she repeatedly stated on nationwide television that the attack was a spontaneous uprising engendered by an anti-Muslim film. Yet the State Department has emphasized that it never concluded the attack was a spontaneous one. So, again, is this the administration's ineptitude or a cover-up? 

Denials by the Vice President in the face of overwhelming controvertible evidence will, I predict, be disastrous for Mr. Obama's re-election bid. They will have the same effect as the perpetuation of a defendant's incriminating testimony in an oral deposition.  At trial, the truth will surely be told.  When it's told by one's opponent, it is an unpleasant experience too. Take it from this old country lawyer. What I am saying is that the Vice President unwittingly set up Mr. Obama for a hard fall at one or both of the next two debates.

Vice Presidential debates have not always degenerated to this level.  I was impressed when Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman debated in 2000.  They, as I remember, sat together at a small table and discussed issues.  The manner in which they did it made me proud to be an American.  They were both exceedingly knowledgeable and articulate, and their points-of-view well reasoned, insightful, and impressive.  I remember thinking that both men were superior to their bosses. Last evening, Mr. Biden left a dark blight on their legacy.

A word about Congressman Ryan.  I thought that he did an extraordinary job engaging in the discussion despite his opponent's rude, interruptive demeanor.  The Congressman distinguished himself last night as one who is conversant not only with economics and domestic policy, but also with foreign affairs.  He spoke in a polite, courteous, and conversational manner, demonstrating that he is a class act, no matter how one may judge his political positions.

The Congressman was in Kentucky to engage in a thoughtful, respectful, and sober discussion of national and international issues with the Vice President.  That attitude was not in the least reciprocated.  The American people were accordingly short-changed, and the institution of the vice presidency dishonored.  What a sad reflection too upon President Barack Obama. I found myself wondering what calibre of man would, from all those available, choose Joe Biden as a running mate. The sooner the Vice President is retired to private life the better.  I hope the people of Delaware learn from their mistake. 

 October 12, 2012