by Max Brantley
News that the European Union has won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping "transform Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace" is a reminder of last night's vice presidential debate.
Nate Silver termed it a "hold" for Vice President Joe Biden, neither a win nor a save nor a loss, but given Republican hopes for a gaffe-laden night to remember, I'd call that a win.
Paul Ryan's full-throated support for massive defense expenditures, against Biden's argument for a military-supported leaner budget as we withdraw from wars, was one of the specific points on which Biden showed well.
Ryan's repeated trope of an "unraveling" Obama foreign policy seemed particularly lame as he conceded time after time — Afghanistan, Iran — that he agreed with Obama policy.
Biden clobbered Ryan on the budget, including his leadership for a House vote that would have wrecked Medicare, Medicaid and other important programs for working people. Biden's explanation of Ryan tax policy was convincing, unless you are a multi-millionaire.
Ryan's laughable assertion that Romney was an auto guy was swatted out of the park by Biden as he noted Mitt Romney's happiness at seeing the U.S. carmaking industry go under. Ryan would not be pinned down on his tax plan, asking that voters take it on faith that the marathon man was telling the truth.
Biden nailed Ryan, too, after he derided the stimulus program with comments about the letters Ryan himself had written seeking stimulus money to create jobs in his congressional district.
The big question is whether the Republican talk machine will plant in the media the line that the debate was NOT about the many points of fact and policy substance on which Biden did well, but on the fact that he smiled indulgently at Ryan's prevarications and sophistry and was every bit the aggressor that Mitt Romney was in the first presidential debate. OK for Mitt, not for Joe, see.
It has happened before, as with the famous Al Gore "sigh," one of many Republican-invented themes that the media willingly beat Gore with because, well, they just didn't like Gore much. Biden is more likable. Were any working class swing voters watching last night, his ironclad commitment to get out of Afghanistan, to preserve Medicare and Social Security and to put middle class tax breaks and programs ahead of comfort for the wealthy should have scored Biden some points with them.
The Republican focus on Biden's manner tells you everything about facts. But they've said all along that their campaign would not be guided by fact-checking.