There was snark. There were guffaws. According to Fox News commentator Brit Hume there was “derisive sneering.”
In short, he said, it was a “cranky old man debating a polite young man.”
Chris Wallace said Vice President Joe Biden was “openly contemptuous” of the GOP candidate for his office, Rep. Paul Ryan, and said he’d never quite seen such a performance.
It all happened tonight at the vice presidential debate as Biden tried to make up ground in the presidential race that had been lost a week earlier by Barack Obama in his debate with GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
Analysts on site of the debate described Biden’s actions as “smirking” and “mugging.”
On one of the most controversial issues raised for debate, Ryan promised that a Romney-Ryan administration would be pro-life in its policy, unlike the Obama administration now that supports abortion at will “without reservation and with taxpayer funding.”
He also said he opposes the “assault” on religious rights being implemented by those installing Obamacare as a takeover of health care decision-making – citing the dozens of lawsuits brought by religious individuals against the government over its demand they fund abortifacients.
Vice President Joe Biden said he personally believes that life begins at conception, but wouldn’t do anything to stop others from taking the lives of the unborn.
The arguments came during the only meeting of the two candidates for the No. 2 office.
“Our faith informs us of everything we do,” Ryan said. He said his Catholic faith plays a role in his position, but reason and science complete his position.
“I believe life begins at conception. The policy of a Romney administration would be to oppose abortion except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother,” he said.
Biden also said he was “practicing Catholic” but he would “refuse to impose his beliefs on equally devout Christians…”
“Unlike my friend here, the congressman, I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can’t control their bodies. That’s a decision between them and their doctor,” Biden said.
Biden repeatedly laughed while Ryan was speaking, and interrupted and talked over the congressman, who remained largely serious on the issues under discussion, abortion, war, and national security, and waited for Biden to complete his statements before expressing his own comments.
On the issue of Syria, Biden said “the facts” are that Obama is working with people in the region to identify who would provide a government when Bashir al-Assad falls.
“We are doing it exactly right,” he said.
Ryan said the fact that Obama did not act sooner against Assad means that al-Qaida now has gained a foothold in Syria.
“Meanwhile, about 30,000 Syrians are dead,” he said.
On Benghazi, and the terror attack that killed four Americans, Biden blamed the intelligence network for telling the Obama administration the violence was sparked by a film project critical of Islam.
Ryan questioned why Obama spent two weeks defending that story, when intelligence sources at this point are saying they knew immediately it was a terror attack.
On the question of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Biden said the Obama administration was exactly right, working with other nations on sanctions.
He accused Ryan of wanting “to go do war.”
And Biden said although he could not talk about classified information, he “was confident” the U.S. “could deal a serious blow to the Iranians.”
Ryan said the red line is that Iran cannot be allowed to gain a nuclear weapon, and he explained when Iranian leaders see the U.S. as weak and undecided, they will not divert from their stated goal of having such weapons.
Biden called Ryan’s comments a “bunch of stuff.”
He said Iran doesn’t have a weapon to install fissile materials in, even if those materials were being developed.
But Ryan contended that Iran actually now is “four years closer to a nuclear weapon.”
On the economy, Biden boasted of rescuing General Motors, making sure of tax cuts for the middle class and trying to “level the playing field.”
He accused Ryan of holding hostage more tax cuts for the middle class.
Ryan pointed out that in Scranton, Pa., Biden’s hometown, when Obama took office the unemployment was 8.5 percent. But he said now it’s 10 percent.
He noted that the economic growth in the U.S. is far below where it should be, and is falling further. And he said Obamacare’s 21 taxes include 12 that hit directly at the middle class.
He defended Romney, who was criticized for stating that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income taxes.
“As the vice president knows,” Ryan said. “Sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
Ryan noted the billions of dollars Obama spent on cars in Finland, other projects in China and the like.
“I know you’re under duress,” Ryan told Biden.
They disagreed over each other’s plans, with Biden repeating the claim Romney wants a $5 trillion tax cut, something Ryan said was incorrect.
“Look, who do you want to trust on this?” Biden said, looking straight into the camera.
“This is what politicians do when they don’t have a record to run on,” Ryan said, explaining the strategy then was for them to make people afraid – and want to run away from someone.