The vice presidential debate provided a test case about the way Americans think about civility. In terms of substance, both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their moments of strength. Ryan was strong on foreign policy, while Biden squirmed and threw the intelligence community under the bus about administration lies about the Benghazi attack. Biden delivered class warfare body blows about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.
But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive. But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.