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The red-faced donkeys

I thought something was peculiar even before the first word was spoken in the vice-presidential debate last week: Vice President Biden’s big smile and really, really white teeth!

The wide camera shot showed the two candidates striding on-stage toward each other. For the viewer, the incumbent, Vice President Joe Biden, was on the left; the challenger, Rep. Paul Ryan, was on the right.

Because of the camera angle, Biden was walking toward the camera and the audience had a full shot of him. We really could only see a narrow profile of Ryan.

I was struck by Biden’s face. He was grinning as though he were about to be presented with an award – as though he had just won the game and had arrived for the victory celebration.

I suspect he was thinking just that.

I suspect he’d been so grilled and drilled during debate rehearsals that he felt absolutely certain the planned techniques for dealing with Paul Ryan were a cinch.

If ever a contender for anything had the look of a winner even before the competition began, Joe Biden’s face at that moment captured it.

Ah yes, the smile and those teeth.

It started as he walked onstage and never left until he started waxing romantic and fictitiously about his religion and abortion at the end of the event.

It’s really too bad the two sides didn’t get together before the (loosely speaking) “debate” began.

It would have been a kick to see the two men sparring on the field of comedy, exaggeration and flat-out lies on an equal basis.

The problem was that Paul Ryan was there to seriously debate, the purpose of which is to allow viewers – American citizens, American voters – to have the opportunity to listen to two candidates for the second-highest office in our government and to discuss and compare issues, policies and visions for the future.

Ryan may have been ready for that, but clearly Biden had a different agenda.

After Obama’s dreadful, diffident and bored performance in the first presidential debate the week before, apparently the campaign advisers decided Biden had to stir things up, challenge Ryan on everything, do whatever needed to get him off kilter (interrupting 84 times!) and hopefully goad him into making some serious mistakes – probably hoping he would lose his temper and step into a real mess.

Ryan didn’t do that – the man showed remarkable, intelligent restraint under the circumstances of his “debate” opponent making faces, laughing, talking over him, playing to the moderator and the audience, ridiculing, demeaning and insulting him and Mitt Romney, his running mate.

Who “won” the debate?

Paul Ryan. Without a doubt.

Even if you ignore all the attempts at discussion of policy issues and differences between the candidates, Ryan won the debate because he remained in control under stressful circumstances.

Comedians make light of the office of vice president, and historically politicians have done the same – most notably, FDR’s two-term vice president, John Nance Garner, a salty-tongued Texas.

He’s best remembered for having said the vice presidency “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Then again, some biographers said it was a “pitcher” of the warm fluid – and others said he wasn’t spit but a bodily fluid from the lower half of the body, a word ending in “–ss.”

Regardless, Garner’s words are not ones that lend themselves to the majesty of the Oval Office – but never forget, regardless of how stupidly, inanely, insultingly, derisively, sanctimoniously Joe Biden acted last Thursday night, if something happened to Barack Obama right now, Joe Biden would be president of the United States.

Just like that. That’s how it works.

Remember, when President Kennedy was assassinated, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president on the plane back to Washington.

The VP job may not be “worth much” in the eyes of many, but it is a critically important position when you look at the responsibility of the individual holding it.

As VP, he may not have many important duties, but actually he has the biggest of them all: He has to be ready to instantly step into the most important job in the country, if not the world.

And he’d better be ready for it.

Think about it. Who would you rather have as president – someone who can keep his cool under the most stressful of circumstances and stick to the important issues, or an old-fashioned pol who resorts to insults, jokes and laughter when the pressure is on?

Didn’t it bother you that as issues such as Medicare, Social Security, Afghanistan, nuclear threats, taxes, unemployment, education were discussed by Paul Ryan, Joe Biden smiled, laughed and mugged?

The message to the viewers was not, as I suspect Biden hoped, that Ryan and the Republicans are fools.

No, the message to the viewers was that Joseph Biden – the man who is literally a heartbeat away from the presidency and wants to be there for another four years – laughs at, and lies about, issues that are causing stress, grief and anguish for Americans.

It’s been revealing that even Democrats were unsettled by Biden. He acted like a winner, forgetting that the real battle has just begun.

The test will be in the next two presidential confrontations between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Romney has nowhere to go but up.

Obama will be constantly reminded that he represents the party of jackasses – and his running mate is the poster boy.

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