At Thursday’s vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, Vice President Joe Biden went all in, playing the traditional role of a vice presidential candidate: the attack dog. At times his answers played a little loose with the facts, as when he claimed that personnel at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi hadn’t asked for increased security, but he hewed far closer to the truth than Ryan, who once again trotted out the false claim that that administration is cutting Medicare and again offered no details for how he would pay for the 20 percent across-the-board tax cut that the Republican campaign is proposing. Biden, however, had his facts and figures at the ready, as well with an evident disdain for the arguments of his opponent, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
During one exchange between the candidates over how close Iran was to obtaining a nuclear weapon, Biden took issue with Ryan's claim that Tehran closer to having an operable bomb than it was four years ago. After a tussle over the distinction between having fissile material and an actual bomb, moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News pushed back on Biden, who then served up what for Obama supporters would become the theme of the night. "But facts matter, Martha ... Facts matter."
In a campaign that has been marked by a relentless torrent of mendacity, as evidenced in Ryan's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer, Biden's assertion quickly became a catch phrase and hashtag.
But if last week’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney disappointed for its lack of promised “zingers,” Biden more than made up for it, having entered the hall with his pockets clanking with rhetorical weaponry.
Here we offer his top 10.
1. “A bunch of malarkey.” Moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News opened the debate with a question about last month’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, to which Ryan responded with a claim that the Obama administration was cutting defense spending to dangerous levels and that it had put the Benghazi consulate in danger by failing to provide enough security.
“With all due respect,” Biden replied, “that’s a bunch of malarkey ...
“I will be very specific,” Biden said. “Number one, this lecture on embassy security -- the congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for, number one. So much for the embassy security piece.
“Number two, Governor Romney, before he knew the facts, before he even knew that our ambassador was killed, he was out making a political statement, which was panned by the media around the world. And this talk about this weakness. I don't understand what my friend's talking about here.”
2. “Betting against America.” Pivoting on Ryan’s claim that the U.S. is signaling weakness through defense cuts, Biden added: “Look, I just -- I mean, these guys bet against America all the time."
3. Dissing Grover the Great. It has long been the case that in order to ensure the goodwill of right-wing donors, Republican candidates for Congress have felt compelled to sign, under pressure from Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, a pledge that they will not raise taxes under virtually any circumstances. Ryan is no exception. During a discussion of tax policy, Biden invoked Norquist’s name.
“[I]nstead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class,” Biden said, “they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class we're going to level the playing field; we're going to give you a fair shot again; we are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the super wealthy.”
4. “Stop talking about how you care about people.” As part of the tax policy discussion, Biden let loose with a riff that painted Republican resistance to taxing the wealthiest as a form of disregard for the rest of the country, telling Ryan that if Republicans would “just get out of the way” of passing a jobs bill, things would get better for the middle class.
“Stop talking about how you care about people,” Biden said. “Show me something. Show me a policy. Show me a policy where you take responsibility."
He continued: “And, by the way, they talk about this Great Recession as if it fell out of the sky, like, 'Oh, my goodness, where did it come from?' It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card, to -- at the same time -- put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion-dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. I voted against them. I said, no, we can't afford that. And now, all of a sudden, these guys are so seized with concern about the debt that they created.”
5. The 47 percent and a bridge for sale. About this time last week, liberals and progressives were scratching their heads, wondering why Obama, in his debate with Romney, never mentioned the governor’s infamous comments, made in secretly recorded video obtained by Mother Jones, suggesting that 47 percent of the American people are moochers who “believe that they are victims” and feel “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” Biden was all too happy to pick up the slack.
After Obama deprived Romney the opportunity to apologize for those remarks during the presidential debate, Romney appeared on Fox News Channel’s Hannity show to say he had been wrong to say what he did -- that it had been a big mistake.
Biden was having none of it. “The idea, if you heard that that little soliloquy on 47 percent and you think he just made a mistake, then I think you're -- I think I've got a bridge to sell you,” he said.
It was the capper to Biden’s comments about Romney and about Ryan and the middle class, viewed through the prism of Romney’s opposition to bailout loans for the auto industry and mortgage refinancing for people who are about to lose their homes. Throughout the debate, Biden referred to Ryan as “my friend.”
“Romney said: ‘No, let Detroit go bankrupt,’” Biden said. “We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said: ‘No, let foreclosures hit the bottom.’ But it shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently in a speech in Washington said 30 percent of the American people are takers.
“These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors,” Biden went on. “They pay more effective tax than Gov. Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who, in fact, are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, ‘not paying any tax.’"
6. “A bunch of stuff” -- and more malarkey. In an exchange on Iran’s efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon, Ryan took Biden to task, alleging that the administration has not been tough enough and that it sought to weaken the economic sanctions against Tehran that are currently in place. What followed is priceless enough that a bit of transcript is required to appreciate the full effect:
BIDEN: This is a bunch of stuff. Look, here's the deal.
RADDATZ: What does that mean, "a bunch of stuff"?
BIDEN: Well, it means it's simply inaccurate.
RYAN: It's Irish.
BIDEN: It is. We Irish call it "malarkey."
RADDATZ: Thanks for the translation. OK ...
BIDEN: I don't know what world this guy's living in.
RYAN: Thank heavens we had these sanctions in place. It's in spite of their opposition.
BIDEN: Oh, God.
7. “By the way, can you send me some stimulus money?” Ryan’s opposition to the Obama administration’s stimulus spending is legendary; he even termed it “crony capitalism” in the debate. Biden was ready for him, citing two letters sent by Ryan to the Department of Energy requesting a share of stimulus dollars for companies in his district in Wisconsin.
“And I love my friend here,” Biden said, with a flash of teeth. “I'm not allowed to show letters, but go on our Web site -- he sent me two letters saying: ‘By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?’ We sent millions of dollars ...
“I love that,” Biden went on. “I love that. This was such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying -- writes the Department of Energy a letter saying: ‘The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.’ His words. And now he's sitting here looking at me.”
8. Forcible rape. As the debate drew to a close, the candidates were asked to articulate their positions on abortion in the context of their shared Catholic faith -- a rather inappropriate way to do so, but, whatever. Biden quickly pivoted from his own position (personally opposed to abortion, but believes it should be legal) to Ryan’s most extreme articulation of his own, which puts him in a league with Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin, with whom Ryan co-sponsored anti-abortion legislation that would have redefined rape to a narrower definition for the purpose of closing the exception to the ban on Medicaid-funded abortions for women whose pregnancies are the result of sexual assault.
Without ever mentioning Akin’s name, Biden implicitly tied Ryan to Akin’s notorious remarks about “legitimate rape.”
“[M]y friend says that he -- well, I guess he accepts Governor Romney's position now, because in the past he has argued that there was ... there's rape and forcible rape,” Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act, said. “He's argued that in the case of rape or incest ... it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend.”
9. You’re no Jack Kennedy. In the 1988 vice presidential debate between the seasoned Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, and the callow Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., Quayle made the fatal mistake of comparing his tenure in the Senate to that of the late President John F. Kennedy. “Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen retorted. “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. And, Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
In the 2012 debate, the seasoned Biden subtly invoked the memory of that line when his much younger opponent wandered into the same territory as had Quayle. From the transcript:
RYAN: You can cut tax rates by 20 percent and still preserve these important preferences for middle class taxpayers ...
BIDEN: Not mathematically possible.
RYAN: It is mathematically possible. It's been done before. It's precisely what we're proposing.
BIDEN: It has never been done before.
RYAN: It's been done a couple of times, actually.
BIDEN: It has never been done before.
RYAN: Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth. Ronald Reagan--
BIDEN: Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy?
10. But you may be Sarah Palin. During a discussion of the Obama administration’s changes to Medicare via the Affordable Care Act, Ryan tried to paint a commision established by the bill as a panel created to ration health care.
“You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin,” Biden replied. “It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels.”
Yes, that big, steaming pile of stuff again. And with those two sentences, Biden established that he’s an experienced vice president and equated his opponent with a figure who was not known for her expertise in much other than getting attention.
And that, young man, is how it’s done.