Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Debate coach: It's the Biden show!

By Todd Graham, Special to CNN
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
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
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT