Biden's grins fuel the search for distraction: Last night, the Biden-Ryan debate ended shortly after 10:30.
By 10:40, the discussion on MSNBC had descended to what follows. This isn’t Rachel Maddow’s fault—and what Steve Schmidt says here isn’t wrong:
MADDOW (10/11/12): Let’s go now to Steve Schmidt, who’s a senior adviser to the McCain/Palin campaign in 2008.Schmidt wasn’t wrong in what he said. Since the networks started to air these debates in split screen, we have been saddled with the lunacy of these distractions-by-body language.
Watching this as a Republican, Steve—I will just say in the room here, us all watching together, we were all much more riveted than we were last week during the presidential debate. But, what’s your overall reaction…?
SCHMIDT: It’s a fiery debate. I don’t think I can’t remember a debate that’s been as fiery as this one at this level.
I think Republicans will watch this, they will say Paul Ryan won. They’ll be happy with this performance. I think Democrats who watched this will be fired up about Joe Biden’s performance. I think he did what he needed to do tonight which is to calm some of the panic in the Democratic base by having a fiery performance.
But I also think this— His smiling, the laughing, the grinning, if you look at the recent history of debates, whether it’s Al Gore sighing, president George Herbert Walker Bush looking at his watch, so many of these debates have come to be dominated by these personality quirks that manifested themselves over the course of the debate as opposed to the substance of the answers in the debate. It will be interesting to see—
I think Democrats are going to love that. I think Republicans will hate it. But the small middle of the electorate, how will they react to it and how will that be covered over the next couple hours?
(For the record, George Bush stealing a glance at his watch was captured before split screen.)
Later last night, the Charlie Rose panel was very concerned about the extent of Biden’s grinning. Can someone tell us why Katty Kay isn’t deported immediately? Do we really have to import the British to drive this kind of crap? Have we no fools of our own?
Let’s be candid. The split screen represents the latest in the press corps’ endless search for distraction. Our journalistic culture operates on a constant search for ways to avoid real discussions.
The split screen gives us one last way to avoid talking about whatever the candidates said.
This syndrome started with Gore’s alleged sighs. Now it has spread to Biden’s grins. Last week, it gave us the specter of Obama looking down too much.
(Obama may have over-applied a precept from 2004 or 2008. At that time, candidates began to be told that they should pretend to be taking notes while the other guy talks. This was invented as a way to avoid looking bad in split-screen presentation.)
Why do the networks give us split-screen? It’s done so millionaire journalists will have even more silly shit they can discuss—in some instances, so they will be able to drive the narratives they and their cohort prefer.
So they can have brainless discussions in which they pretend to talk about "character."
Schmidt was right in what he said—although he may have been reacting to texts from the RNC or other such source. But good grief! Adding possible injury to insult, Maddow of course said this:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Do you think the smiling and laughing—For me, the way I read that was Biden saying this guy right now is lying, like, “Come on, people, do you believe this guy? Look at this clown!” I thought that’s what he meant by his smiling.Just a guess: That is precisely what the RNC hoped some big liberal would say. They want to be able to say that Biden was being rude when he did that.
Our view? On the substance, that’s a clueless interpretation of Biden’s grinning. (Biden isn't like that.) On the politics, it may give the RNC a tool made for the use.
Biden was calling Ryan a liar! That’s what he was trying to signal! Will the RNC use this talking-point? We don’t know, but Maddow can’t seem to get her political brain out of the pseudo-liberal ghettoes of western Massachusetts. From her famous Week of Dick Jokes forward, she has betrayed an uncanny failure to grasp the way national politics works.
Where will Biden’s grinning take the debate? We don’t have the slightest idea! Absent the tyranny of the split screen, no one would have to find out.