Despite four decades of political experience, Vice President Joe Biden takes the stage in Kentucky tonight as the underdog in his debate against his Republican opponent Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Congressman who is 20 years Biden’s junior.
Conservatives have been eagerly awaiting this night since the moment Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Ryan as his running mate. To those on the right, the vice president has become a caricature of a liberal buffoon — a reputation Biden himself has perpetuated with his frequent gaffes and uniquely intimate brand of retail politics. He has become the biggest laugh line at Republican rallies this cycle, and the conservative blogosphere has even wasted a good amount of time and bandwidth speculating that Obama was going to boot the V.P. off the ticket.
But there are compelling reasons to believe that Biden has been seriously underestimated going into tonight’s debate. The vice president and former Senator is an experienced debater — and as New York magazine’s John Heilemann points out, he’s been outperformed expectations almost every time.
A quick spin through the Biden archives reveal that the vice president’s potential advantages go beyond experience. And even if he falters against Ryan, Biden’s unique political gifts basically guarantee that tonight’s matchup is going to be a wild ride.
Biden, then a Democratic Senator from Delaware, tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Secretary of State George Shultz that U.S. policy toward South Africa amounted to a shameful lack of backbone, July 23, 1986, on Capitol Hill. Biden, in a sharp exchange with Shultz, said 'blacks have tried everything available to them in the last 20 years,' and nothing has worked. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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