Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (left) and Vice President Joe Biden pause to chat after their debate Thurday night at Centre College in Danville, Ky. | Michael Reynolds~AFP/Getty Images
Updated: November 14, 2012 3:01PM
DANVILLE, Ky. — Whatever Joe Biden was drinking Thursday night, Barack Obama ought to order a case of it.
Biden took on Paul Ryan in the one and only vice presidential debate and did what Obama had failed to do last week in his debate with Mitt Romney: Biden not only won over the audience, but got under his opponent’s skin.
Biden smirked, sneered and openly laughed at many of Ryan’s responses. It could have looked rude, but Biden made it look tough.
After all, Biden was the 69-year-old defender, and Ryan was the 42-year-old challenger. But by the end of the evening, Joltin’ Joe had done real damage to his opponent.
In fact, as the 90 minutes flew by — it was the rare debate where one actually wanted it to go longer — Ryan began looking younger and younger. And not in a good way.
Both men have been in politics most of their adult lives, but Biden’s adult life has been longer. Biden was in the Senate so long, he knows a dozen ways of observing outward forms of politeness, while sticking a knife in your ribs and twisting it.
“With all due respect, that is a bunch of malarkey,” Biden said to Ryan at one point.
And how much respect is a bunch of malarkey due?
“This is a bunch of stuff,” Biden said of Ryan’s remarks at another point, leaving no doubt what word he meant instead of stuff.
“Romney said, ‘Aw, let Detroit go bankrupt,’ ” Biden said. “My friends and neighbors pay more than Gov. Romney in federal income tax! I’ve had it up to here!”
Ryan tried to dodge this right jab, but walked into a left hook instead. And it was of his own making. “He talks about Detroit?” Ryan said. “Mitt Romney is a car guy!”
Biden sat a few feet away from Ryan at the debate table and openly laughed in his face at this.
And one got the impression that Paul Ryan did not like to be laughed at. But did Biden care? He did not.
It was a very good evening for Biden, and he must have enjoyed the deliciousness of it: Barack Obama had easily knocked Biden out of the Democratic primaries four years ago, but here was Joe coming to Barack’s rescue now.
And instead of the score being Team Obama 0-2, it is now Team Obama 1-1.
Ryan was not knocked out. He had a few memorized zingers at his disposal. As to Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” statement, Ryan said, “Sometimes, as the vice president well knows, the words don’t always come out of your mouth the right way.”
The audience laughed at the reference to Biden’s past gaffes, but Biden didn’t make any gaffes Thursday night.
Instead, he not only stood his ground but advanced relentlessly on his opponent.
“Where did the recession come from?” Biden asked. “It came from this man’s voting!” And he stabbed his forefinger at Ryan like a dagger. “Their ideas are old, and their ideas are bad!”
Moderator Martha Raddatz did an admirable job of keeping the debate moving, even if she could not keep Biden from interrupting Ryan. Biden would interrupt the Devil himself, and one got the impression that Biden sometimes thought Ryan was the Devil himself.
Biden painted Ryan as a hypocrite by attacking the stimulus now, while begging for stimulus money in the past.
“He sent me two letters saying, by the way, ‘Can you send me stimulus money?’ ” Biden said. “ ‘It will create growth and jobs.’ Those are his words. And now, he’s sitting here looking at me?”
Ryan could only say weakly that, as a member of Congress, “that’s what we do.”
That’s what we do? Oh, my. That will never do.
“What would my friend do differently?” Biden said at one point. “My friend says 30 percent of people are takers.”
And by the end of the debate, Ryan had learned one thing: The only thing worse than being Joe Biden’s enemy is being called his friend.