For Democrats, the Biden-Ryan debate was plainly balm to the gaping wound in confidence ripped open by Obama's performance last week. My feelings, until I checked others' responses, were more in tune with this right-wing spin sampled on the Dish -- no doubt sincerely felt, since of course we partisans feel hostile to the opposition:
Michael Medved argues that Biden's rudeness will turn off voters:
The debate became queasy, unpleasant, uncomfortable to watch, not because Biden overpowered his opponent on substance (he emphatically did not), but because the normal, reassuring, ritualized sense of congeniality and decorum seemed altogether lacking. When TV professionals analyze the viewing audience in detail, I’d be surprised if a huge number of debate watchers didn’t tune out the broadcast in disgust or at least uneasiness after the first half hour.Ponnuru's related point:
I feared that Biden was making a laughing stock of himself. It seems I projected onto undecided voters the reaction of the right, and so, in a sense, made it my own. At the same time, as Biden shouted in an impassioned jumble about tax policy and Medicare, my anxiety about his tone and delivery may have blurred my ability to notice substantive points he was scoring.I think Biden’s manner is the story of the debate, and the public reaction to it will end up determining who won. I thought he was fine, at first: feisty, ready to mix it up, happy to be there, unlike President Barack Obama last week in Denver. Pretty soon, though, the yelling, the giggling, and the constant interruptions became unpleasant. He started reminding me why I don’t watch Bill O’Reilly. Ryan clearly didn’t want to do anything in response that could be construed as losing his cool, but I wonder if he didn’t go too far in the other direction by thanking Biden at the end.
My reaction may have been driven by all that commentary about how Obama hurt himself by looking peeved as Romney spoke. According to John Sides, though, I needn't have worried about more combative responses on the non-speaker side:
One notion was that ordinary voters would get turned off by the combat and go watch baseball. Here’s some breaking news: the kind of people who choose to watch a vice-presidential debate instead of baseball or football or a cooking show are not sensitive souls who curl up into a ball at the first sign of disagreement between politicians. People who choose to watch political conflict can deal with it. Those who can’t—or just aren’t interested in the first place—are watching something else. Research by political scientists Kevin Arceneaux and Martin Johnson shows this.My first reaction to this was: I choose to watch political conflict, and I was put off by the theatrics. But then I clicked through to the referenced paper, and it deals mainly with people's affinity for combat on political talk shows. And in fact I have no appetite for that. Maybe I'm an anomaly: politically engaged, but not liking political combat.
My reaction to the veep debate was a kind of inverse of my response to the Obama-Romney debate. Through the first half, at least, I thought Obama was scoring reasonably well in what I was primed for, debunking Romney's policy frauds and dishonest attacks on administration policy -- though I was frustrated that some points went unanswered. I did think that things broke down a bit for Obama in the second half, but to nowhere near the extent of the consensus that emerged.
It seems that in one debate, I was blind to the nonverbal drama or combat, focused mainly verbal content, while in the other, uneasiness about the nonverbal combat somewhat obscured my response to content.
Sides, btw, is the chief proponent of the media-determines-public-response school:
I also found it a bit rich that media commentators wondered how the debate would “play” with voters. The answer to that question, of course, is how it “played” with the news media. The media supplies the interpretation of events like debates, and that helps shape how voters understand them too. As Justin Wolfers put it:Ironically, though (to me), Sides' own close look at the longer-term fallout in voter perceptions from the Obama-Romney debate pretty much convinced me that I was wrong (at least in part) to argue that the hugely lopsided polling response was driven mainly by media hysteria. The damage to perceptions of Obama's personal qualities seems so deep that I thought it must stem from personal perception more than from media interpretation.
Columnists writing about what columnists will write about the debate, and it’s turtles all the way down.
But maybe I'm wrong about that too.