Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Biden’s “So now you’re Jack Kennedy?” an Echoing of the 1988 VP Debate

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The verdict is still out on who “won” tonight’s Vice Presidential debate, however, there is no arguing that Joe Biden came out swinging. In an attempt to compensate for his running mate’s relatively aloof and lack-luster demeanor last week, Vice President Biden gave an aggressive and attack-dog style performance.

There were many instances tonight when the Vice President attempted to discredit Ryan’s policy positions, however, I would like to call the attention to one of the challenging quips Joe Biden directed at his opponent’s integrity.

In a heated back and forth about whether lowering tax rates and increasing growth was “mathematically possible”, Paul Ryan cited, among other politicians, Jack Kennedy as a president who “lowered tax rates and increased growth.” Not uncharacteristically, Joe Biden jumped on the opportunity to capitalize on this statement and immediately interrupted with a chuckle, “Oh, so now you’re Jack Kennedy?”

It seemed as though the world of American politics was experiencing a little déjà vu, as Biden’s retort proved strikingly similar to the famous comment made by democratic vice presidential nominee, Lloyd Bentsen, in the 1988 debate.

Bentsen’s genius remark made to his opponent, Dan Quayle, will forever be remembered as one of the most influential moments in debate history.  After Quayle plainly compared himself to the late John F. Kennedy, Bentsen so famously replied,  “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” In this one statement it was clear that Senator Lloyd Bentsen had won the debate and succeeded completely in discrediting the integrity of his opponent.

Tonight it looked like Vice President Biden tried to pull a similar move. There was little hesitation before he tried to capitalize on Paul Ryan’s citation of JFK’s successes in defense of his own policies, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that memories of that 1988 debate flashed into Biden’s head just prior to making the remark.

However, it didn’t work quite as well for Joe Biden as it did for Lloyd Bentsen.  According to data from a focus group of undecided voters conducted by CNN, there was virtually no response, positive or negative, to the comment among men, while women, in fact, responded more negatively to the comment.

Watch Biden and Ryan’s interaction yourself: how do you respond? Was Biden’s comment sharp and on point, or was it bombastic and rude?

Now compare it to the 1988 debate and see what you think! (Sidenote: notice how different Paul Ryan’s reaction was from Dan Quayle’s)

It will be interesting to see just how much of the public picks up on tonight’s quip as an attempted resurrection of the 1988 remark.


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