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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, OCT. 12, 2012
FIELD OF VEEPS
BY BOB FRANKEN
TV Twinkie that I am, I must begin by lauding Martha Raddatz, who did such a good, professional job of handling the vice-presidential debate. She was in control from the start, and was so fair with her persistence that only those who favor unfairness complained about her. Sean Hannity, of Fox, called her the “worst moderator ever,” which she should wear as a badge of honor. Her professionalism, knowledge and particularly control of the event were a sharp contrast to the preside-from-the-crypt performance by stodgy Jim Lehrer. This is inside baseball, I know, but humor me.
Speaking of which, thank heaven for DVRs. We didn’t have to choose between playoffs in baseball and debateball. The latter was so exciting, because the Democrat didn’t forfeit this time. Joe Biden, with his disdainful smiles and frequent interruptions, sometimes threw Paul Ryan off his game. At one point when Ryan was trying to justify his budget plans by using President John F. Kennedy as an example, Biden jumped in with “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy.”
That, of course, was a blatant reminder of the legendary line from the 1988 VP encounter when Democrat Lloyd Bentsen quipped to Dan Quayle, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”
It is fair to say, however, that Ryan showed he was no Dan Quayle. He was in command of his arguments even when they were misleading. No “deer in the headlights” look here, except perhaps when he gave his closing statement, which he delivered with the sincere look of a local TV anchorman.
What is so amazing is how important this vice-presidential debate was, considering how the office, for so long, was thought to be so removed from the action, occupied by someone whose only role was to be a “heartbeat away.” That’s not the case anymore, but the post is still defined by John Nance Garner, who was FDR’s No. 2 from 1933 to 1941 and famously said his duties were “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Actually, that’s not exactly how he put it
The vice-presidency certainly has stepped out of the Garner bucket. The No. 2 spot means something these days, and the debate stakes were really high for the Democrats in particular, after Barack Obama’s sleep talk with Mitt Romney.
Ryan was ready as Biden kept stepping on his words. “Mr. Vice President,” he retorted, “I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don’t keep interrupting each other.” The polls actually showed that Biden and his party were well-served by his pestering. A CBS News survey of “uncommitted voters” taken immediately after the event, while recollections were still fresh, had Biden as the winner 50 percent to 31 percent.
Of course, the GOP spokespeople had a different take. One of their favorite words afterward was “unhinged,” as in, that’s what Biden was. Honestly, could we just get rid of these people, the partisan sycophants who swoop into the media space and offer their pre-written post-mortem analyses? Each side has a huge group of background singers knows as The Spinners, and their reactions are, well, not worth a bucket of warm spit, and I hope they don’t get spitted off at me for saying so.
All of this sets up next Tuesday’s confrontation at Hofstra University in New York, when the big guys go at it for a second time. My friend Candy Crowley will be running things. We can expect it to be much more hostile at Hofstra, since this time President Barack Obama surely recognizes he has to play this game. In baseball parlance, he took strike one, didn’t even swing. There are two more to go, and if he doesn’t connect, he will be out.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.