Had Vice President Joe Biden behaved toward Sarah Palin in their 2008 debate the way he behaved toward Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in their debate last Thursday, he might have been denounced as a patronizing misogynist.
In his debate with Ryan, the vice president was merely a jerk.
Interrupting while someone is trying to make a point is an old debate tactic intended to throw your opponent off-balance and distract observers from what is being said. By some counts, Biden interrupted Ryan more than 80 times and moderator Martha Raddatz broke in at least 50 times, mostly interrupting Ryan. At first I wanted Raddatz to tell Biden to stop behaving like a bully, but the longer the debate went on Biden revealed something about his character, which is, or ought to be, at the center of any campaign for high office.
On split screen, Biden's smirks, chuckles and head shaking revealed a man who was rude and disrespectful toward Ryan. He displayed an attitude that said, "Hey, I'm the one entitled to this office, buster. You are just an interloper who doesn't deserve it."
There was also a mighty generational gap. Biden, 69, represents an era and philosophy forged in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. That was a time when the notion of entitlement and government programs designed to "help" people began to replace living within one's means and personal responsibility. Before then, if your neighbor had a need, you helped him, Washington didn't.
This notion of the government being our keeper and a first resource, instead of a last resort, has created a culture of dependency, not only for those who receive the largesse, but for a country which is now in hock to China, a nation that bears America no good will and steals our military secrets and scientific knowledge.
At 42, Ryan represents a generation that must pay for all of these "entitlements." His generation will decide whether America continues on as we have without a day of reckoning and without ever having to live within our means. It's the old vs. the new.
During their debate, the gap in generations and the ability to pay for ever-growing, more controlling and costlier government was most pronounced. Biden focused on programs; Ryan emphasized economic growth and personal responsibility. Here was Ryan: "We want everybody to succeed. We want to get people out of poverty, in the middle class, onto a life of self-sufficiency. We believe in opportunity and upward mobility. That's what we're going to push for in a Romney administration."
Many of us have had a "we can't go on like this" moment at some point in our lives. For the biblical Prodigal Son, his moment came after he had wasted his inheritance and wound up in a hog pen eating pig food. The account says he "came to his senses" and returned to his father who welcomed him.
America needs to come to its senses and realize there is more power in an individual life than in the entire federal government. We know what works. We didn't just crawl out of a cave. The age gap and the philosophical chasm between Biden and Ryan and the two courses they represent for America's future could not be more divergent.
The question is whether most Americans are willing to "come to our senses" because we can't continue behaving and spending as if there is no tomorrow. If we do, there won't be. Our tomorrows will be owned by China. And that's nothing to chuckle about.
(Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.)