I Watched the Vice Presidential Debate With Sound Off. Here's What I Saw

National Journal

You might have watched the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan. But you haven’t heard this version of events, heard being the operative word. This is what happened in the debate as viewed without the volume and without the aid of Twitter. Here’s the vice presidential debate boiled down to only the guffaws, grimaces, and finger-pointing.

These guys wanted to be there, they enjoyed their time under that Giant Eagle. If President Obama hurt himself in the first debate by looking bored or put out, Ryan and Biden got the memo. They were engaged. They jabbed, crossed, and flashed broad smiles, Biden nearly always showing his super-white teeth. Their experience in Congress showed. These were two candidates used to persuading people, used to bringing people around to their way of thinking.

Ryan was at his strongest in the beginning and at the end of the debate when he was the guy explaining that the Wizard of Oz was just a guy hiding behind a big mask. (Not sure who the flying monkeys are in this scenario.) He seemed to pile point on top of point. It was like watching someone do simple addition. It seemed to make sense.

Biden, who frequently looked like he was measuring the height, width and length of things, was at his strongest in the middle, when the gesticulating died down. He hit his stride and he was Edward R. Murrow, a trusted figure delivering a serious newscast.

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The gestures and the broad smiles were more of a crutch for Biden’s arguments than an aid to them. The waving and finger-pointing distracts from, well, whatever he was saying, and Ryan’s smirking during the most gesture-filled answers gave the impression that the answer was more street magician sleight-of-hand than vice presidential pronouncement.

Ryan lost points toward the end when he got snarky. You could tell it was snark because he made an owl-like movement with his head that he made earlier in the debate, only now it was more exaggerated. Turns out that a slight owl-like head movement means you’re making a good point. But get too much into it, and it’s snark. It was not a good look—like he thought he had the moral high ground. But righteousness did not suit him, at least not without the volume.

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Overall, both debaters smiled frequently, listened calmly, and looked indignantly at one another about six times. Some cross-talk happened in the middle of the debate, but that died down toward the end. Biden squinted more but Ryan furrowed his brow quite a bit. Fisticuffs were not had.

Ryan drank a lot of water. He took at least nine sips to Biden’s zero. Biden struck a prayerful pose at least twice—think hands folded at Thanksgiving dinner. Hands were shaken, and elbows were grasped at the start and finish of the debate.

Oh, and Ryan had the bigger flag pin on his lapel.

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Joe Biden and Paul Ryan wanted to be there. If President Obama hurt himself in the first debate by looking bored or put out, Ryan and Biden got the memo. They were engaged.

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Paul Ryan, right, listens as Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the vice presidential debate at Centre College.

PHOTO: AP Photo/Eric Gay

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They were engaged. They jabbed, crossed, and flashed broad smiles, Biden nearly always showing his super-white teeth.

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Biden and Ryan talked over each other at certain points in the debate.

PHOTO: (AP Photo/Pool-Rick Wilking)

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Overall, both debaters smiled frequently, listened calmly, and looked indignantly at one another about six times. Some cross-talk happened in the middle of the debate, but that died down toward the end.

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Ryan watches as Biden speaks. He gesticulated quite a bit.

PHOTO: AP Photo/David Goldman

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Biden, left, and Ryan face off with dueling gestures.

PHOTO: AP Photo/David Goldman

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Ryan gesticulates during the debate. He used his hands less than the vice president.

PHOTO: (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Biden used his hands throughout debate.

PHOTO: (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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