Following the first presidential debate, Jon Stewart joked that President Obama had managed to unite partisans with his horrific performance. Not so following the Vice-Presidential debate between Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan. Partisans on the left and the right couldn’t agree less about what they witnessed last night.
Democrats, who have been despondent since the President failed to show up in Denver last week, lauded the performance of Joe Biden. A blog post from Rolling Stone entitled, “Biden Right to Laugh at Sniveling Little Ryan,” praised the Vice President for laughing, smirking, gesticulating, and interrupting throughout the course of the night. Republicans, on the other hand, thought Biden was condescending, rude, and unserious. So much for no red or blue America.
In fact, last night’s debate represents everything that is wrong with our current political dialogue. Neither Biden nor Ryan could contain their disdain for one another. While Biden’s behavior was absolutely egregious, Ryan stooped to his level at times, smirking and giving snarky responses. Given that a sitting Vice President and a would-be VP could not manage to treat one another with civility, it is no surprise that their partisans are content to scream past one another rather than have a meaningful discussion.
And while Martha Raddatz performed admirably in steering the candidates towards policy, the debate was never really about anything of substance. It was about Biden scoring political points and attempting to undermine Ryan with his maniacal laughter. But as Tom Brokaw said, “I just don’t think you should be laughing during a discussion about thermonuclear war with Iran.” Of course Brokaw is right. Even if Biden was laughing because he thought Ryan was obfuscating or lying or whatever excuse the spin doctors cook-up, none of the issues facing are country are funny.
Furthermore, the fact that laughter is thought to be an appropriate response to differing points of view is another indication of the unthinking partisanship that pervades our politics. It is only natural in a free and open society that people have intense disagreements over the way they view the world and the policy prescriptions that follow from those views. While there are crazies out there who probably should be laughed at, it is just ignorant to dismiss serious disagreements in such a manner.
In a focus group following the debate, a voter told CNN that Biden was acting like a “buffoon.” She was absolutely right, but the real buffoons are the people out there praising his performance. Biden turned the debate into an unserious and ridiculous spectacle. The American people deserve better.