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VP Debate Review: Biden Runs the Table, for Better and Worse

It's the Joe Biden show as he lectures, interrupts, and lets nothing go. Why can't every debate be like this?

Joe Biden won.

You've had Thanksgiving dinners like Thursday's vice presidential debate: Biden, the 69-year-old elder who doesn't let any point slide, showed up prepared to run the table. He was confident enough in his experience and expertise to lecture, interrupt, make stunned faces and dismiss his opponent's points as "malarkey."

See also: Joe Biden's Best Facial Expressions

Rep. Paul Ryan, 42, eventually realized he had no hope of out-arguing a force as relentless as Biden. So he landed his major points, and then decided two-thirds of the way in to settle back and hope Biden would implode.

Biden didn't. But he came close. It was captivating.

If only every debate were like this.

Biden gave the bigger performance. He seemed as passionate as President Obama last week seemed bored. But he also seemed like a wild card.

And I'm sure he would be fine with that.

Ryan did well. He was more poised than Biden and seemed intelligent. It's very unlikely that anyone who liked him at the start of the debate didn't like him at the end. But he had a hard time landing any of his shots at the administration because Biden refused to let the slightest critique slide.

The danger? That as well as he did at the table, people will talk later, on the drive home, about how impossible it was for anyone else to get a word in edgewise.

But I think people will say, as they would of a booming uncle or grandparent: Well, that's Joe.

Biden can pull off the feisty curmudgeon approach in a way that the president can't. Obama tries to look constantly controlled and collected. In his faceoff with Mitt Romney, he had to look especially composed after conservatives dredged up a video that played into angry-black-man stereotypes, just before the debate.

Millions of Democrats came away from the weak Obama performance that resulted with a long list of things the president shoud have said. Biden said them all. He mentioned Osama bin Laden's death within five minutes of the debate beginning. In the first question about domestic policy, he mentioned Romney's infamous 47 percent comment. He said Republicans should sign a pledge to the middle class, instead of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

You could almost hear Democrats standing up and cheering. But Biden kept going. He cut off Ryan and moderator Martha Raddatz alike, and lectured both. He made a series of incredulous faces as Ryan repeatedly described what he called the "unraveling of the Obama foreign policy."

Biden can get away with these things because he's an older white man from working class roots, who's lived life and demands respect. Like the owner of that booming voice at the end of the table. Bring up his behavior on the car ride home, and you'll get that neither-here-nor-there reply: That's Joe.

Speaking of car rides: Ryan made the one stupid mistake of the night when he delivered a story about Romney helping a family victimized by a car crash.

Oh my God, Twitter collectively sighed. You do NOT bring up car crashes around Joe Biden.

The vice president's wife and daughter were killed in a horrible car accident soon after his election to the U.S. Senate. Ryan's anecdote gave Biden a chance to recount that experience, and to win some sympathy. Why does he have the right to smirk and talk down to people? Oh right: Because he's been through some serious shit.

Raddatz did an excellent job of keeping the discussion moving and informative. She asked detailed foreign policy questions and unusual ones, like how the two Catholic candidates' religious views informed their positions on abortion.

The result was the kind of debate the American people deserve every time. It was specific, vigorous, and occasionally personal, as when Ryan tried to catch Biden off his guard when he asked if he knew the unemployment rate in his hometown of Scranton, Pa.

"I sure do," Biden said.

It was 10 percent, the candidates agreed – up from 8.5 percent when Obama and Biden took office.

That's the way things were going all over the country, Ryan said.

"You don't read the statistics," Biden interrupted. "That's not how it's going. It's going down."

Later Ryan tried to walk back Romney's secretly recorded statement that 47 percent of voters support Obama because they rely on the government.

"I think the vice president very much knows that words don't always come out of your mouth exactly the right way," Ryan said, in a clever dig at Biden's propensity for gaffes.

"But I always say what I mean," retorted Biden. "And so does Romney."

He went on to say that if Romney's discussion of the 47 percent was a mere slip of the tongue, "I've got a bridge to sell ya."

Later he suggested that Ryan and Romney had no real solutions for the working class.

"Just get out of the way," he said. "Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me a policy."

Referring to Ryan, he said the country's economic crisis came from Republicans voting for war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card," he said, referring to Ryan.

When Ryan brought up the claim that panels would decide medical care for people under Obamacare, Biden seemed amused.

"I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin," he said, referring to his 2008 debate opponent.

By then Ryan was beginning to realize that his best bet was portraying Biden as off his rocker.

"Mr. Vice President, I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground," he said, as Biden laughed. "But I think people will be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other."

But there was still another blowup to be had, about whether American or Afghan troops should be battling the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.

"We're sending in more Afghans to do the job. Afghans to do the job," Biden intoned.

Ryan let his opponent's words just hang in the air, a testament to how aggressively he was behaving.

But I don't think undecided voters will mind. It was exciting to see someone finally refusing to treat the debates as a boring, scripted recitation of talking points.

It wasn't the most comfortable exchange to watch. But the ones you remember never are.