The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.
The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.
Hard-core Democrats would have been happy had Obama treated Romney the same way Biden did Ryan (some even falsely claim that Romney behaved in a similar manner to Biden), and there were plenty of signs that he shares his number two’s contempt for the opposition. But while a vice president, especially one who has often been treated as something of a national joke during his four years in office, might be allowed to get away with playing the buffoon, a president cannot. That means next week the president will have to again behave like a grown up. Given the town hall meeting format at the Hofstra University debate, it will be even more important for him to be as civil as Biden was rude. If, as is very likely, Romney again gives a strong performance and doesn’t allow himself to be run roughshod over (as perhaps Ryan did at times), then the odds are Democrats will again be unhappy with their leader’s showing.
The problem here is not just that presidents and would-be commanders-in-chief must appear presidential. It is that the liberal base of the president’s party is so filled with anger and contempt for Republicans that they can’t abide even a show of civility from their champions.
Though President Obama may decide to show up and demonstrate a bit more involvement and passion in the upcoming debates, he is unlikely to satisfy his supporters’ need to bash the GOP. Though liberals are saying Biden has stopped the bleeding begun last week in Denver, the president’s failure to misbehave in the same manner is bound to raise the same complaints next week.