Vice President Joe Biden was a whirlwind force at the vice presidential debate Thursday night, seeking to make up for President Obama's sleepy performance the previous week against Mitt Romney. Biden met Paul Ryan's parries with biting ripostes, and when the GOP candidate was speaking, viewers could see and hear Biden snorting, laughing, shaking his head, and throwing his arms up in the air. (See 19 of his most memorable gesticulations here, and an RNC video mocking Biden below.) The Romney campaign compared Biden's theatrics to Al Gore sighing and huffing at George W. Bush's responses in a 2000 presidential debate, which made Gore seem pedantic and rude. Indeed, Biden's laughter is "turning into one of the most memorable aspects of the first and only VP debate this cycle," says Alicia M. Cohn at The Hill. Were his chuckles over the top?
Yes. Biden was disrespectful: "For the second time in two weeks, the Democrat came out and defeated himself," says Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal. Biden "was weirdly aggressive, if that is the right word for someone who grimaces, laughs derisively, interrupts, hectors, rolls his eyes, browbeats, and attempts to bully." Biden "meant to dominate, to seem strong and no-nonsense," but he ended up looking "mean and second-rate." Biden was "so childishly manipulative that it will be surprising if independents and undecided liked what they saw."
"Confusing strength with aggression"
No. Biden's laughter served a purpose: "Many will criticize Biden's antics on the debate stage: Loud guffaws, grimaces, raising his arms and looking heavenward, interjecting with 'Oh, God,' and 'this is amazing,'" says Dana Milbank at The Washington Post. "But all of the scoffing and incredulity was to an end, and one that Obama would be wise to emulate: It indicated outrage." Outrage, for example, at Ryan slamming Obama's stimulus plan while quietly asking for stimulus money for his home state. In such cases, laughter is the most effective response.
"Biden rattles Ryan"
And it probably won't hurt Biden: Republicans were quick to compare Biden's laughter to Gore's "infamous sighs" in 2000, "which were enough to seriously hurt Gore's candidacy," says Emily Schultheis at Politico. But Biden's "smirking and laughing, while perhaps off-putting to some viewers, is unlikely to shift the race in such a dramatic fashion, especially when the vice president delivered on substance." Biden was fluent in "meaty topics such as Libya, Medicare, abortion rights, and taxes," and it's doubtful that "Biden's style will take precedence over substance."
"Is Joe Biden the new Al Gore?"
Check out the RNC's take on Biden's smiling: