Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Debate coach: It's the Biden show!

By Todd Graham, Special to CNN
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Joe Biden dominated the vice presidential debate, even when wound up, says debate coach Todd Graham.
Joe Biden dominated the vice presidential debate, even when wound up, says debate coach Todd Graham.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thursday night's debate was the Joe Biden show, says debate coach Todd Graham
  • For the first half, the vice president was at his best, Graham says
  • Biden's strength was his approach to middle class and senior citizens, he says
  • Graham: For much of the second half though, Biden seemed out of control

Editor's note: Todd Graham is the director of debate at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He has coached his teams to national championships and has been honored with the Ross K. Smith national debate coach of the year award. Graham has analyzed presidential debates for five elections.

(CNN) -- Thursday night's debate was the Joe Biden show. And like many shows, the beginning was excellent, the middle was painful to watch, and the finish was what we expected.

The beginning: I'm calling it the first 45 minutes. The vice president was at his best. Yes, he had some smiles, but he had those four years ago. This time it was more obvious because the camera was always on him, and his teeth seemed so white as to make a dentist blush. Seriously, put the bleach tray down, Joe, or there won't be enough left over for washing the dirty clothes.

However, Biden followed those smiles (and laughs -- which I don't like and always recommend against) with indignation about what Paul Ryan was saying. He followed those smiles with arguments that Ryan was wrong on his facts, wrong on his history and wrong about President Barack Obama. Had it not been clear that Biden was smiling because he thought Ryan was saying something ridiculous, it would have bothered me more. But for me, the smiles didn't get in the way too much once I put my Ray-Bans on.

For the first 45 minutes, Biden dominated the discussion. The domination began with him telling Ryan, "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey." Biden never let up. He hammered away on the topic of Iran, arguing that the Republicans wouldn't have been successful at getting support for sanctions from either Russia or China.

Todd Graham
Todd Graham
Obama 'could not be prouder' of Biden
Did Biden, Ryan debate strategy work?
Amusing moments during VP debate

Opinion: Feisty Biden, wonky Ryan

Foreign policy is Biden's wheelhouse. So when the topic came to Israel and Ryan continued Mitt Romney's line that Obama doesn't consider Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a close ally, Biden had one of his best moments. He said "Bibi" Netanyahu has "been my friend 39 years." So he both reminded us of his experience in foreign policy and made clear that he considers Netanyahu such a friend that he calls him by his nickname. It was an excellent moment for Biden.

Biden's strength in this debate was his approach to the middle class and senior citizens. He never failed to take an opportunity to remind the American public that Romney is "a guy who says 47% of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives."

Biden tied Romney's "47%" comments (even saying, "If you heard that little soliloquy on 47% and you think he just made a mistake, then I got a bridge to sell you") into his best points of the evening. He looked right at the camera and said, "Folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this?" and "Folks, follow your instincts" on issues such as Medicare vouchers and Social Security privatization. At one point he spoke directly to seniors. It was a nice touch.

But then inertia took over. I'll call this the next 30 minutes. After running right over Ryan, with the Republican barely making headway for the first 45 minutes, Biden lost control of the car. The over-steering was perhaps due to excessive coaching after the president's lackluster debate. At any rate, once he had run over Ryan, it was a quick swerve in the other direction, and then Biden thumped the moderator, Martha Raddatz, with interrupting indignation. Then Biden accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake pedal. His runaway berating was now headed toward the townsfolk.

Biden kept pointing his finger menacingly. At first, only Ryan was the victim of the loose finger. But then Biden became trigger-happy with that finger-as-weapon. Raddatz couldn't duck fast enough and became the next target. Strafing the audience indiscriminately with his scolding, Biden was now pointing and shaking his index finger at anything that moved.

Opinion: Partisans are fired up on both sides

This was cringe-worthy. Biden was so wound up that he was like that family member you're warned about before the big Thanksgiving get-together. "Now, don't get Uncle Billy riled up, because once he gets going, nobody will enjoy their pumpkin pie." Yep. Biden turned into Uncle Billy. He simply didn't know, or didn't have the capability to turn his frustration and emotions off. He interrupted, pointed and scolded so often that I think he finished one point with the phrase, "You kids get out of my yard."

Yet he calmed down and was saved by a personal question about abortion. Yes, Biden's emotions were put back in check by talking about a woman's right to choose. You know it's a crazy debate when that happens. And for the rest of the debate, he was back to regular Joe. He still made emotional appeals, but they were more in check. He was very good again for the last 15 minutes.

By the way, who was that high school debater up on the stage with Biden? Ryan reminded me of so many debaters I've seen in the past. Youthful, with ideas -- but in a critical debate they get lost. I'm not sure Ryan demonstrated that he's what we need in these tough times. He lacked passion, and he seemed a bit wet behind the ears.

Did he do badly? By no means. He never lost his cool and he wasn't rude. But with his youthful appearance, and his taking a back seat to Biden, Ryan was overshadowed. Ryan did nothing to win or lose the debate. He just disappeared. Ryan underperformed to Biden's over-performance. One way or the other, good and bad, it was Joe Biden's show.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Todd Graham.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT