Pundits are calling it "lively," but what last night's Vice Presidential debate really was — was hilarious. It had everything a political hatewatcher could want from a televised argument between two dudes — Joe Biden's incurable case of the giggleshouts, moderator Martha Raddatz's oh no she DIDN'T scimitar questions, Paul Ryan stumbling through answers about foreign policy like a frustrated Tracy Flick realizing he didn't study quite hard enough. It had yelling. It had nervous water sipping. It had malarkey.
Last night, Paul Ryan got schooled by a statesman older, wiser, and savvier than him. He was the know-it-all President of the College Republicans contesting his grade with the head of the Political Science Department. It was an aging basketball star refusing to let his cocky middle school son win a one-on-one game. It was that time when I was in 6th grade when I challenged my grandpa, who had been a formidable hockey player in his day, to a race on skates. He kicked my ass.
Anyway, Paul Ryan made this face a lot. Like a Fraggle who has failed to learn the lessons of sharing.
According to the Romney campaign, when Paul Ryan was preparing for last night's debate, he practiced dealing with Interrupting Joe Biden, with Gaffe-ing Joe Biden, Populist Champion Joe Biden... but not Laughing Joe Biden. Nearly every claim Ryan made with that crinkled Sincerity Forehead and Serious Eyebrows of his was met with the sound of Diamond Joe cracking up. Can you believe this guy? Get a loada this crap!
After the debate, some pundits criticized Biden for being unserious, and Republicans thought Biden acted like a mean old bully. Fox New's Brit Hume said that Biden looked like a cranky old man debating a polite young man. This, from the party who just last week was praising their candidate's "masterful" debate victory after Romney tried to fire the debate moderator during the debate and kept interrupting the nice black guy with whom he shared the stage. Others on the right accused Joe Biden of being unserious. These are the same people who thought Clint Eastwood yelling at a chair was brilliant satire. I'm so glad no one has taught the GOP about irony. This is fun.
Technically, Josephina McCarthy here didn't make an appearance during the debate, but she made sure to inform MSNBC's Chris Matthews in the run-up to the political theater event that Barack Obama is a communist, and if you want to know what a communist is, you just gotta "study it up!" Unfortunately, whatever it is she has "studied up," she has not mastered well enough to repeat to another person. So maybe more studying up is warranted. Her glasses kind of make me want to learn how to Moonwalk, though, for some reason.
Toward the very end of the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz threw both running mates a fetus-shaped curveball — a question on their personal stances on abortion. She asked,
This debate is, indeed, historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.
Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country. Please talk personally about this, if you could.
As Salon's Irin Carmon pointed out, the framing of the question left much to be desired. But it seemed to take Ryan by surprise, and he responded with a straightforward representation of his extreme views. Not that this is any new information, but it was nice to hear it from the source: Paul Ryan believes in Personhood (that life begins at conception). He believes that abortion should be illegal except in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother (so, just to review — Paul Ryan thinks fetuses are people, but people who can be legally murdered if their mom was raped. LOGIC!). No surprises there; at least he didn't Romney that question and just blatantly lie.
Biden, on the other hand, responded in a way that was much less Handmaid's Tale.
My religion defines who I am, and I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can't take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church's position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the — the congressman. I — I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor.
6. Paul Ryan's adorable story of how his daughter's ultrasound looked like a little bean was totally stolen from Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
Paul Ryan loves 90's cool guy music like Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana, even though he's the sort of whining sell-out suck-up douchebag that would make Kurt Cobain want to throw himself down some stairs. So it's oddly fitting that Paul Ryan's tale of his pro-life views — he and his wife went in for an ultrasound and his daughter, at only 7 weeks' gestation, looked like an adorable little bean and they still call her Bean to this very day D'awwwwww — is almost an exact copy of the story that Kurt Cobain used to tell about seeing his daughter Francis' ultrasound.
Kurt Cobain named his daughter after Frances McKee, the guitarist for The Vaselines, and gave her the middle named Bean because he thought she resembled a kidney bean on the ultrasound.
Also, did you hear the one about how Paul Ryan once bit the head off a live bat at the end of a stump speech?
This smells like something, but it's not Teen Spirit.
With TIME magazine's release of those hilarious Paul Ryan mugging at the gym photos, the pumps were primed for last night to become fodder for memes, memes, memes. And boy, did the internet-savvy masses deliver.
There's The Fresh Prince of Losing Debates meme. The gif of Joe Biden and Kal Penn, wearing sunglasses and fist pounding for some reason, with the word BIDEN'D emblazoned across the bottom. That picture of Joe Biden dramatically looking heavenward, arms open as if to ask God if he can believe the crap coming from this punk widow's peak kid. Paul Ryan nervously sipping water. And, my personal favorite, Mansplaining Ryan. An entire blog featuring gym pictures of Paul Ryan accompanied by condescending Paul Ryan quotes.
From the debate transcript:
BIDEN: And I love my friend here. I — I'm not allowed to show letters but go on our website, 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. You know...
RADDATZ: You did ask for stimulus money, correct?
BIDEN: Sure he did. By the way...
RYAN: On two occasions we — we — we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. That's what we do. We do that for all constituents who are...
BIDEN: I love that. 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.
Ryan asking for stimulus money because it creates jobs is the fiscal conservative equivalent of a virulently anti-gay pastor hiring a gay manservant to accompany him on a trip to the tropics. It's a pro-life family values Congressman pressuring his mistress to have an abortion. It's hypocrisy at its finest. It's kind of a thing of horrible beauty.
Joe Biden called Paul Ryan "my friend" 14 times last night. I think that they're probably frenemies now.
Malarky is a slang word of Irish grandpa origin that basically means "lies." Or "crap." And Joe Biden used it thrice as a way to describe things Paul Ryan was saying. Paul Ryan's assertions about the Obama administration's approach to Libya was malarkey. Paul Ryan's statements about Iran sanctions were double malarkey. When Ryan tried to talk about foreign policy, he seemed even more hapless than he did when he tried to talk about ... everything else.
At another point in the debate, he described Ryan's lies as "some stuff." When asked what "some stuff" meant, he said, "malarkey."
Joe Biden did a great job of firing up liberals and pissing off conservatives (which further fired up liberals) and did his darndest to convince America that Paul Ryan is just Eddie Haskel in his dad's suit kissing up to Mrs. Cleaver. Whether or not he was successful depends on who you talk to (Fox News, in their ongoing war against reality, has claimed that Paul Ryan's gulping and sipping and forehead wrinkling HANDILY defeated Biden; MSNBC feels the opposite way. Surprise). One one hand, sometimes the laughing seemed like a little much. But on the other hand, Biden knocked it out of the park with old people, who love nothing more than to watch a smart older man reduce a young whipper snapper who thinks he knows it all to stammers. My debatewatching partner remarked that Biden's performance contained traces of Judge Judy. Elderly gold. To really drive the knife into, uh, himself, Paul Ryan included Politifact's 2010 Lie of the Year in his closing statement. Just like his running mate did last week.
But the real winner? The moderator. Let's just get down to brass tacks here: Martha Raddatz is a stone cold journalism goddess, with no time for bullshit and no patience for flim flammery. From the first second of the debate, she made it clear to the participants that she meant business, and if they did not give her business then she would forcefully extract the business from them. Gaze with awe at how she opened the debate:
RADDATZ: ...we welcome Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.
OK, you got your little wave to the families in. It's great. Good evening, gentlemen. It really is an honor to be here with both of you. I would like to begin with Libya.
From there, shit just got realer. Unlike the floppy Jim Lehrer at last week's Presidential debate, Raddatz was not to be pushed around, and she did not accept non-specificity. Six times she pressed both Ryan and Biden on specifics, once even remarking after a talking point-filled Ryan answer that once again, he had failed to provide actual concrete details of a plan he was touting. But she also gave Biden hell, opening with a question that accused the administration of a "massive intelligence failure."
She was tough as nails, smarter than both of the candidates, and made the debate one of the most entertaining I've ever seen. I'm not a screen yeller, but at least half a dozen times, after she asked questions, I yelled OH YES SHE DID! at the screen.
Another great Martha Raddatz fact: when she was ABC's Chief White House Correspondant during the second term of the George W. Bush administration, her phone once went off in the middle of a press briefing. Her ringtone? Chamillionaire's Ridin'.
This year's actually been called "historic" in that for the first time, women are moderating two of the four debates held during the Presidential race. Raddatz ran the show last night, and on Tuesday night, CNN's Candy Crowley will be condescended to by Mitt Romney during the second Presidential debate.
Liberal pundits from Bill Maher to Glenn Greenwald praised her work, and even less partisan voices voiced their approval of her performance. Conservatives, though, were not big fans. "I miss Jim Lehrer," Tweeted Karl Rove.
Game, set, match. Raddatz.
Image via Twitter