Q: I’d enjoy reading your thoughts on Vice President Joe Biden’s actions during the debate with Paul Ryan. His constant laughing, smirking, and interrupting. From a psychological perspective, what was going on there?
A: It’s hard to say for sure, of course. Psychological reactions are very personal, and we won’t necessarily ever know them. But my educated guess tells me that Biden’s smirking, etc. are the result of: Insecurity.
Smirks, smears, interruptions, exaggerations — what do these usually signify? Usually, somebody who does not have an answer to your complaints or criticisms. Usually, someone who’s seeking to intimidate or distract from the points being argued, for which you have no refutation.
Think of a couple having an argument. The spouse knows he has been cheating, or doing something similarly wrong. Instead of facing and owning up to this fact, he cajoles, smirks and intimidates. The spouse trying to reason with him may or may not suspect. The point is: Would you trust someone who’s always smirking and interrupting like that? Or does it lead you to suspect that this person has something to hide?
Perhaps Joe Biden is not hiding a secret from others, so much as from himself: That his boss and himself have failed miserably in addressing America’s serious and continuing economic problems. What you saw in this debate was revealing, not as an indication of what Biden knows so much as what he’s struggling NOT to know.
Joe Biden does come across as an idiot. I have called him the Court Jester for a reason. Like most politicians, many of his behaviors are self-evidently idiotic. But that’s because he’s in politics. Let’s get real. Politics is the business of lying to people for a living. In exchange for refusing to tell them the truth about things — for example, that government cannot provide something for nothing without ultimately dire consequences for everyone — politicians get lots of power, praise and ultimately money when they sell their life stories. Joe Biden is no more or less guilty in this regard than any other politician. Unless, of course, you’re up against a politician who at least sometimes tells the truth.
Paul Ryan is one of those politicians who at least sometimes tells the truth. He almost lost his career by telling Americans a year ago that, “Guess what, Medicare cannot sustain itself. We have to start planning now.” Even some in the Tea Party derided him for this. He has backed off this stance somewhat, but not totally. There are flaws and contradictions to be found in Paul Ryan’s words and actions, to be sure. He’s a politician, in the end. But he’s also known for telling more truth than career hacks like Joe Biden, and Joe Biden knows it.
It stands to reason that Biden may have been nervous going up against Paul Ryan, for that reason. The anxiety has to go somewhere, and come out somehow. Hence the exaggerated expressions and reactions you see.
Biden may be a fool, but he’s not stupid. He’s the one who keeps calling our economic calamity the Great Recession. This seems odd from someone who’s trying to defend the policies of his administration. The Great Recession, as Biden accurately labels it, goes on and on and on — despite the misleading or even deceitful numbers suggesting that it’s easing. For example, if you ignore the fact that millions of more Americans every year give up on employment and choose to live off the government or someone else (or savings) instead, then sure — unemployment is going down. But this is dishonest. Biden knows this.
Unlike Barack Obama, who does not display a conscience or consciousness about much of anything, Biden is older, wiser and perhaps a tiny bit more intellectually honest than the coddled and arrogant Obama who has rarely if ever been questioned, not in the circles in which he lives and travels. As a result, Biden has more to evade, twist, distort, and make comfortable in his own mind than his Boss, the president who never worked very hard to get where he is, and seems like he’s going to stay there even after having done a terrible job.
If you really want to probe the psychological, you have to wonder how Biden really feels — being second fiddle and defender to someone like Obama, who has never been let down in getting anything he wants. The man was given a Nobel Peace Prize for simply existing. He’s never held accountable for anything. Take the recent disaster in the Middle East on 9/11/12. Can you imagine any other Democratic or Republican President getting a free pass on that, as Obama has from the 50-55 percent of the population still prepared to reelect him Commander-in-Chief? Biden has failed time and again each time he ran for president. He was caught using someone else’s quotes as his own, and he was held accountable for it. Who knows what’s going on in that psyche of his? It’s probably not much different from what Hillary Clinton goes through, having to work for a man she sought to defeat. But Biden has been around national politics a lot longer than even Hillary Clinton.
In the end, a smirk is not an argument. People secure and comfortable with themselves and their positions do not do these kinds of things.
Paul Ryan’s defense of the right ideas was for the most part disappointing, and the questions presented during the debate — all facts, no general themes — were even more flawed. However, Paul Ryan came across as far more certain of what he was saying than Biden. Ryan showed more respect toward Biden than Biden did with him because (while not right about everything, such as abortion) Ryan seemed to enjoy a more comfortable relationship with the facts and arguments of the topics being discussed.
Confidence and inner security lead to strength, tolerance and a willingness to explain. Smirks betray an ignorance of — or unwillingness to face — what’s true. Judge for yourself who won the debate, based on those standards.
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