EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this article first appeared at The American Spectator.
Joe Biden’s antics against Paul Ryan have taken a few days to sink in, and should take longer still.
For starters, try to imagine being Paul Ryan last Thursday: a young politician in the hot seat, the eyes of the world upon him, as he tries to make succinct statements in a most-intense environment, while all along, literally nearly every minute – Biden interrupted Ryan 80-plus times – his opponent smirks, scoffs, laughs uncontrollably, flaps his arms, and, generally, behaves extremely rudely. I ask readers: Could you have endured what Paul Ryan handled? Given what he was up against, Paul Ryan’s debate performance was truly remarkable.
As for Joe Biden, his disrespectfulness was of historic proportions. Only the blindest partisan Democrats, or really angry liberals, liked what Biden did.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a debate where one candidate was as openly disrespectful … and openly contemptuous,” observed a stunned Chris Wallace, a veteran reporter who has watched every presidential and vice-presidential debate since Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960.
Wallace’s observation brings me to this thought: I can’t help but think of the historic dimensions of what happened. Consider:
As for Paul Ryan, imagine if he someday rises to the rank of not just vice president but president. Imagine if this young man in his early 40s becomes a dominant face on the American scene for the next 40 years. And then imagine Paul Ryan at, say, age 80-something, withdrawing from the public stage after a long, accomplished, heralded career. If that indeed transpires, then the world will look back at that moment with Joe Biden as historic. The Biden-Ryan footage will be played again and again, rebroadcast on TVs, computer screens, perhaps even presidential libraries: the young-looking, politically green Ryan vs. the scoffing senior pol, with Ryan calmly holding his own. Those watching the video in, say, the year 2052, born after the 2012 political season, will look at the young Ryan and smile in nostalgic appreciation, and will look at Joe Biden and say, “Who’s that guy? Wow, was he obnoxious!”
As I grapple for historical parallel, here is an analogy:
In October 1947, a young and green Ronald Reagan appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was president of the Screen Actors Guild. His youth was not lost on Newsweek, which said that Reagan looked so boyish that when he stood to speak that the room was filled with “oohs and ahs,” especially from the contingent of star-struck girls who came to ogle him.
Reagan did remarkably well under the lights, cameras, and intense pressure. In fact, Chairman J. Parnell Thomas immediately followed Reagan’s closing by conceding: “We agree with that. Thank you very much.” At the other end of the spectrum, among liberals, James Loeb, executive secretary of Americans for Democratic Action, dubbed Reagan’s testimony “by all odds, the most honest and forthright,” saying he was “really magnificent.”
We watch the footage in every documentary on Reagan – as we will Paul Ryan’s trial with Joe Biden.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Value.