If the Romney-Obama debate reminded me of a lost chapter from Atlas Shrugged, the Ryan-Biden debate felt more like watching a rerun of "Back to the Future".
A good nerdy kid, Marty McFly, is on a noble mission to improve everyone's future by fixing a few problems in the past. He gets bullied by a boorish jock, Biff Tannen, who only cares about dominating the nerd at any cost. In the end, the bully loses and the nerd speeds off to the new, exciting world.
Biff giving George McFly a "noogie" as his son Marty
The "nerd vs. bully" conflict has been part of the human narrative since David defeated Goliath. A plethora of Hollywood movies, from "Weird Science" to "Revenge of the Nerds" have turned a nice penny by exploiting people's knee-jerk compassion for the underdog, coupled with their desire to see the bully creamed.
It takes a Joe Biden not to see the implications of casting himself as a bully in this cultural context.
Most viewers - some anxiously, others gleefully - anticipated a typical Biden's gaffe to come out of his mouth "not the right way." Biden gave them more than a sound bite.
The gaffe came in the form of his masterful re-enactment of classic nerd-bullying scenes, while playing the part of the archetypical jerk.
His act would seem normal only to those who take being a jerk for a norm. Everyone else was astonished by the Vice President's grotesque lack of judgment and self-awareness.
Self-awareness is essential to empathy and social intelligence. Lack thereof is essential to being a bully. Biden sensed a nerd in Ryan and the inner bully jumped out.
He just couldn't help himself: character is destiny.
Given the scale and complexity of the issues involved, the debate could have taken any unpredictable twist, tone, shape, or genre. Joe Biden's nature inevitably turned it into a "nerd vs. bully" story, in which Paul Ryan merely played himself. And that was all he needed to do. His character perfectly completed the picture.
As soon as Ryan uttered his first words, Biden began to smirk and giggle, baring his teeth at the most inappropriate moments. It was as though the substance he had sipped out of the flask while waiting backstage was beginning to kick in.
He might as well have been drunk on his own words - whatever it was, he didn't share it with Ryan. That contradicted Biden's expressed belief in "leveling the playing field": he got to speak longer than his Republican opponent.
The Vice President's behavior quickly became loutish, causing my friend to nickname him "Interrupting Joe." "Facts matter!" Biden shouted - but all we heard was, "shouting and interrupting matters!"
Talking over his opponent like a heckler in a comedy club may have worked at first; after a while it became just annoying.
In between the interruptions and giggles, Biden ridiculed Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin for bringing up the "death panels" in "every debate," even though neither of them did: the term originated more than a year after Sarah Palin had the misfortune to debate Joe Biden.
But dropping Sarah Palin's name was yet another tactic of a bully, implying that a woman bullied by him could no longer be credible and repeating her words was asking for more trouble.
As the name dropping continued, he made a Freudian slip of referring to Romney as "Ronald" - an unintended compliment he quickly corrected. As Ryan brought up Kennedy's tax cuts to support his own tax plan, Biden scoffed condescendingly: "So now you're Jack Kennedy?"
That remark later prompted Rush Limbaugh to broadcast Kennedy's 1962 speech on tax cuts, which sounded more like a Romney-Ryan campaign ad. The Republicans would do well to use it in the coming weeks.
Towards the end, whatever at first was making Biden hyperactive and giggly, apparently had worn off, turning him into a drowsy sloth. When asked about his Catholic faith, Biden was already pretty much subdued, hiding his eyes and looking like a habitual liar when he said, "my religion defines who I am."
During closing statements, the Vice President already seemed to be mentally getting into his pajamas, hugging a soft pillow, and finishing with a whisper: "it's gonna be OK…"
Later that night, Ryan's supporters decried their candidate's lack of aggressiveness; critics called his act "robotic." Both were correct - except for the fact that it played to his own advantage, casting Ryan as the archetypal nerd in a Biden-generated scenario of an attack by a loudmouth buffoon.
It appears that Ryan's character sealed his destiny in the debate as well. Only he wasn't asking for it. He didn't set the tone, nor overplay his part. Biden did all of that, with the unwitting help from Martha Raddatz.
Once again, I had to agree with my friend: Biden would be a better debater if he didn't have an opponent. But such is the curse of all sociopaths: having to deal with real live people always ruins their otherwise perfect plans and political careers, let alone their brilliant schemes of social engineering and redistribution of wealth.
My story must have insulted the bully community so much, they seemed on a verge of a riot, trying to bully and other commenters into believing that what Biden did, wasn't bullying. They were insulting, obscene, and demanded that I go back to Russia, even though technically I'm not from Russia. They might as well stage a protest under a sign "Bully those who say we are bullies."
Perhaps, the most polite representation of their views came via email from a New York professor of political science, whom I shall not name. I wrote him an answer, which was meant to cover most of the other negative comments.
New York professor of political scienceAre you sure you weren't referring to the first debate, in which Romney played Biff and Lehrer played McFly pere and Obama played McFly fils. I think it is closer casting, don't you? Especially given Romney's bully boy tactics as a privileged preppie. Way to use those scissors.
Adolph and Effie Ochs Professor
AuthorThank you for your comment.
If Romney debated like a bully, why didn't Obama feel or act like a victim of bullying? In fact, Obama left the stage thinking he had won the debate! Romney indeed was aggressive, but not insulting. He didn't cross the boundaries of decency and acted rather presidential.
In contrast, Biden was loutish and insulting, acting like a know-it-all bar room drunk, making up his own reality and shouting at those who disagreed. E.g., more than once he condescendingly accused Ryan of voting for the two wars and putting them on the credit card - but guess what - Biden's credit card bill is way bigger than Ryan's because Biden ALSO voted for those wars, and for a lot more to boot. Is that your idea of a truthful argument?
As a kid, I may have occasionally acted like a bully myself, and also was a victim of bullying a few times. Both experiences taught me something about life and compassion. We grow up by trial and error, often acting stupidly and irresponsibly. What matters in the end is who we are and how we act when we grow up.
I'm surprised that, as a professor, you don't recognize the archetypal bullying patterns. But, perhaps, a more academic term will explain it better. I call this behavior "ideological chauvinism." I observed it in the USSR and I also notice it in the US.
My commentary seems to have whipped a small storm of protests in the "bully community."Read the comment section and observe how those who defend Biden themselves often sound like bullies. They are boorish, insulting, and even tell me to go back to Russia, even though technically I'm not from Russia. Aren't you ashamed to be in such company?
Their denial of bullying by way of bullying is as illogical as the notorious sign "Slay those who say Islam is violent." Their failure to see the irony of it speaks of a glaring lack of self-awareness, which is also a trait of a bully. Or a chauvinist.
Quote:In contrast, Biden was loutish and insulting, acting like a know-it-all bar room drunk, making up his own reality and shouting at those who disagreed. Not to quibble here, but as enlightened, compassionate progressives, aren't we allowed and sometimes required to make up our own reality? And besides merely shouting at those who disagree, don't we, in an enlightened, compassionate manner; insult, degrade, harass, and if necessary cause physical harm to those knuckle-dragging neanderthals who disagree with our preferred reality, made up or otherwise?
Might I assume you have been to Russia? Therefor, the enlightened remarks to "go back to Russia" might be accurate as it is possible to go back to where you have been. If I am wrong in my assessment please feel free to call me out and tell me to "go back to China."
And I'll just stay mum about Siberia.
I KNEW there was something familiar that I liked about Paul Ryan!
Red SquareEl Presidente - I've also been to Uzbekistan, but please, please don't ask me to "go back to Uzbekistan!"
And I'll just stay mum about Siberia.
As I am sure you are aware, we have our version of Siberia in the USA, it's called Detroit.I won't ask about Uzbekistan...although my curiosity is high. I was planning my next vacation to be Uzbekistan.... guess Ill settle for Las Vegas.
Now he delivers on his promise.
Makes his coach look real bad too!!!
: "The POTUS will now tell a funny joke."Obama: "I really do care about all our ambassadors."Unfortunately I couldn't reach through the TV and punch the POTUS in the shnoz.
Obama: "Your powers are no match for the DARK SIDE!"Oh for a good old fashioned Sumner-style caning!The next presidential debate:
Moderate this, fool!