Democrats' happy sigh

Vice President Joe Biden was rude. He was inappropriate, erratic, immature and overbearing – all at the same time. But he survived a moment that could have swallowed him whole and taken President Obama’s reelection campaign down with him.

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Biden’s performance in the vice presidential debate against Rep. Paul Ryan Thursday night will long be remembered for his obnoxious and manic grin, his 96 interruptions and those unnervingly white teeth. It will join former Vice President Al Gore’s orange makeup, sigh-fest in 2000 in the annals of debate don’ts. Yet this time a collective, happy sigh went out from Democrats who know a true error, not just in style, but something potentially fatal was averted by the skin of Biden’s pearly whites. He could have said anything, because he often does, and amidst a surge for Mitt Romney in the key battleground states that has following a disastrous debate last week by the president himself, a Biden implosion would have boiled the new narrative down to two words in less than two hours: game over.

It should be noted that Ryan had a terrific night. He was prepared, he was fluent in every policy matter and made no mistakes – crossing the credibility threshold for vice president and, potentially one day, for president. But he didn’t leave Biden bleeding, and therefore Biden has likely stopped the bleeding, at least until Tuesday when Obama faces Romney again at their second debate. As Obama prepares, aware that he cannot afford to fail again, someone should tell him that Biden mounted a far better defense of the administration’s record than the president has.

Of course, passionate and emphatic as he was, Biden may also have abandoned facts or left the reservation once again. He said firmly, when asked about the administration’s conflicting responses about the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, that he – “we” – never knew they had asked for more security there. His answer technically throws the intelligence community under the proverbial bus or, should what he said be proven wrong, he lied. When asked who would pay more in taxes under the next Obama term Biden said those making $1 million a year or more – despite Obama’s pledge to raise taxes on anyone making more than $250,000. Though the $1 million threshold is preferred by numerous party leaders and divided Democrats, Obama has stuck with the lower cut off anyway. Whoops, Joe.

For those all-important “uncommitted voters” it is hard to see why Biden’s performance could possibly appeal to them. But anyone who is still undecided, and wasn’t sold by Romney ‘s stellar debate last week, clearly doesn’t like any of these guys and were likely finished with Biden and his antics years ago. If they still won’t support Romney, Ryan’s debate wasn’t likely to change their minds.

But even ten days ago, when Romney was written off as the sure loser, GOP enthusiasm was still significantly higher than that of Democrats. Indeed, Obama’s September lead in the swing states resulted from an uptick in Democratic enthusiasm that followed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The polls rose as the donations flowed in, and if Democrats can’t keep it up they will surely lose.

It was too much to ask Biden to clean up President Obama’s debate mess from last week – but he brought the fight Democrats pine for, the passion victory requires, and he provided reassurance to the party that this campaign is not, in fact, already over. But there’s not much left Biden – or Bill Clinton – can do for Obama and if he doesn’t become as convincing as they are, then it will be over.