In the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger Rep. Paul Ryan, the real winner was off stage: President Barack Obama.
That's no swipe at Ryan. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's running mate admirably accomplished what normally is expected of aspiring vice presidents: He held his own, avoided tripping over the furniture and caused no apparent damage to the guy at the top of the ticket.
That was Biden's task four years ago. Still a senator from Delaware, he only had to appear statesmanlike and avoid any hint of condescension toward then-Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.
This time, after Obama's lackluster debate performance a week earlier and a big surge in national polls for Romney, Vice President Biden's mission was elevated from Do-no-harm to Stop-the-bleeding.
Biden soon appeared to be accomplishing both missions. Partisan tweets across the Twitter-verse during the debate indicated a clear trend: Obama supporters were delighted and Romney backers were furious.
What a switch. After the presidential debate, Democrats were furious and Republicans were delighted by a performance that Obama seemed to phone in -- by carrier pigeon.
Biden did what debaters are supposed to do and that Obama had failed to do: Take the fight to their opponents with a passion, even when the passion tests the boundaries of politeness.
Oh, yes, many have criticized Biden's loud chuckles, scoffs, grimaces, raised arms, interjections ("Oh, God," "malarkey" and "bunch of stuff"), interruptions and other histrionics. But, compared to Obama's disengaged, head-down scribbling on his notepad, Biden at least looked like he was eager to be there, selling the Obama-Biden record with more energy than Obama did.
On issues that varied widely from Libya, Iran and Afghanistan to taxes, debt, Medicare and Social Security, Biden blunted the Romney-Ryan assault on the Obama-Biden record, point-for-point, spin-for-spin, and threw in some counterpunches of his own.
Among the highlights: Biden was at his most ferocious in defending Social Security and Medicare, partly to clean up some damage Obama did by sounding too conciliatory the previous week.
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