"I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, quote, 'The ads are so negative, and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country.' What would you say to that American hero about this campaign, and at the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone?"
The answers given by Joe Biden and Paul Ryan -- serious in tenor -- were not as stirring as the question itself, because unless you are a professional political operative whose job it is to attack the other side, you recognize the wisdom in that soldier's words. Raddatz did not mention what the soldier's political allegiance was, and it would have been beside the point. What mattered is that he is an American, and he believes that much of the tone of the campaign has been beneath the dignity of what Americans should expect.
Biden repeatedly referred to Ryan as "my friend"; Ryan, at the end of the proceedings, thanked Biden -- he referred to him as "Joe" -- and said it had been an honor to debate him.
People tend to accord each other that kind of courtesy when they have to look each other in the eye. Friday morning, though, the ad wars will resume, like bombing raids conducted from two miles in the air. The truth of that is undebatable.
Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story," "Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War," and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."
Donna Brazile: Who says VP debates don't matter?
Joe Biden proved tonight that vice presidential debates can -- and should - matter. And Martha Raddatz proved that moderators can -- and should -- moderate. Paul Ryan showed that talking points, an engaging personality and a few personal anecdotes can't mask bad policy, misinformation and ignorance.
Paul Ryan attempted to dominate the conversation -- a bullying tactic he took from Romney's playbook and that clearly irritated Biden. He rattled off misleading information, half-truths and cooked-up numbers. He made unsubstantiated claims about President Obama, the effects of his policies, both here and abroad, and ignored the context of the last four years: the "Great Recession" and Republican congressional obstructionism. Biden successfully challenged them all.
Raddatz pressed both candidates for specifics and would not be bulldozed. She kept the debate moving, didn't let it deteriorate (too much), and asked hard questions. At various points, both candidates were uncomfortable; both Biden and Ryan had "I don't want to answer that" moments. That's a sign the moderator was doing her job. For the most part, she let them debate, but acted as guide and, well, moderator. It's a tough line moderators have to walk, but Martha Raddatz did it as well as anybody.
Joe Biden came prepared to argue, to debate and to be Joe. He didn't allow the "less than candid" Republican claims to go unchallenged. When Ryan brought up "values," Biden brought up "responsibility," and the disdain Romney and Ryan have for 47% (or 30%) of the American people. He even countered Ryan's reference to his "gaffes," replying, "I always say what I mean."
Ryan was salesman smooth and knew his talking points. Biden was passionate and "fired up." Ryan talked; Biden shared experience. Both men could argue, but only Biden was intense -- because he spoke -- and frowned and gestured and smiled - from his heart as well as his mind.
A young woman, in her early twenties, wrote me after the debate that Joe Biden inspired her with his fervor and honesty to register and to vote.
Yes, this debate mattered. A lot.
Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.
Margaret Hoover: Ryan ahead on style and substance
Bottom line -- this debate will amount to a draw.
Biden, who needed to stop the hemorrhaging of momentum from the Obama-Biden campaign, performed strongly, but was overly aggressive. If he was downright rude, according to many in the Twitterverse, he got a pass from the president's supporters, who can only hope they see this offense from the commander-in-chief next week. Biden tried to dominate the debate, lost on style and stumbled on substance.
Ryan seemed less confident on foreign policy at the beginning, but recovered on Afghanistan, where he's visited twice and had a personal anecdote to illustrate his time in Helmand Province. I wish he'd called Biden out when he accused Ryan of voting to "to put two wars on a credit card." Biden, too, voted for both wars. The high water mark of the performance was Ryan's fancy footwork early that took 47%-gate off the table in quipping, "I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way." Even Biden had to chuckle.
This split screen captured the contrast in visions of the two vice presidential candidates on fiscal policy. Appropriately on the left, older Joe Biden, defending big government and modern liberalism's spending and fiscal denial with a grinning fresh face offering new ideas for fiscal reform and longevity from the right.
Ryan was classy to thank the vice president for the debate, even after having been smirked at for the previous 90 minutes. But Biden's graciousness to Ryan's mother once the microphones were cut portrayed his interpersonal warmth that plays so well on the campaign trail.
I think Ryan had the advantage on substance and style. In a national race where both guys are second runner-up, this is effectively a draw for how it plays into the larger campaign narratives.
Margaret Hoover is the author of "American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party."
William Howell: Ryan's challenge was bigger, and he met it
No great surprise, Joe Biden delivered tonight. On the heels of his boss' withering performance last week, the vice president demonstrated his deep knowledge of domestic and foreign policy issues, fluidly maneuvering between minutiae about tax policy and the draw-down in Afghanistan on the one hand and meta-arguments about the stakes involved in this election on the other. He also scored his share of style points.
Though all that laughing through those big pearly whites proved a bit unnerving at times, Biden exhibited his relish for a good debate and his conviction in essential liberal principles. The Democratic base is surely pleased.
It was Paul Ryan, though, who faced the bigger challenge. Ryan had to prove his commitment to ideas and principles that are not entirely of his choosing. During the primaries, when Romney was brandishing his conservative credentials, this task would have been easily met. But going into this debate, it was not clear that the darling among the conservative right would be able to square his views with those of the more moderate incarnation of the former governor of deep-blue Massachusetts. But well he did.
Disciplined, substantive and on point, Ryan effectively thwarted efforts by Biden to drive a wedge between the congressman's former voting record and the policy positions of the Romney-Ryan ticket. He performed as well as his party could possibly have hoped.
This debate is not likely to move the polls much at all. But that is not to say that it is entirely inconsequential. For at least the coming week, Democrats can now talk about something other than their president's detachment. And Republicans generally, but Romney in particular, can rest assured that the GOP presidential ticket is in order as they settle on a consistent message to push through Election Day.
William Howell is the Sydney Stein professor in American politics at the University of Chicago.
Maria Cardona: Pressure is on the next two debates