Republicans love to mock Joe Biden for being an idiot. Hell, even most Democrats wouldn't put Biden in the top twenty intellects of the party. Paul Ryan, though, is admired by many Republican politicians as the brains of the Republican Party. Mitt Romney chose to elevate Ryan to the VP slot because Romney needed a serious Republican thinker to codify his weak control over the base. Republicans think of Ryan (and Ryan likes to think of himself) as the serious numbers guy, the guy who comes up with the plans that other Republicans follow. He's generally considered to be the smartest Republican in a national office today.
And Joe Biden creamed Paul Ryan. He laughed in Ryan's face and left him speechless. He shook Ryan's ideas until they fell apart like the crepe paper and chicken wire that they truly are. (It's important to note that Martha Raddatz's fine moderation held Ryan to the truth, too. Republicans are surely going to target Raddatz in the next few days, as they do all "uppity" women, but Raddatz should be proud of the fact that she reminded America what a great debate moderator is supposed to do.) Biden clearly stated his beliefs as a Democrat. He argued that America cares about Americans, and he fact-checked Ryan at every turn. (I was particularly moved by Biden's personal opposition as a Catholic to abortion, but his commitment to the fact that, as an elected official, it's not his job to impose his will on the American people.) Biden out-argued, out-spoke, and out-thought the smartest man the Republicans have to offer, and he did so armed with the courage of his convictions.
This was a very necessary win. Pundits will argue that the debate was a tie. Republicans will try to turn Biden back into a joke. (But they're going to have to struggle to twist reality to turn this debate into a Ryan win; here are some headlines on the conservative National Review's Corner blog: "The Jerk Won," "Joe the Bully," and the absolutely heartening "Ryan Did What Was Needed.") But Democrats (and, I'd argue, uncommitted voters) saw what really happened. A passionate, thoughtful, experienced advocate for the people went out there and reduced a highly esteemed Republican to the whinging punk kid he really is. This was a win for everyone who was disheartened by President Obama's overcautious debate performance, and it was a potent expression of how much life and fire there is in the Democratic Party. This wasn't a performance for the polls. It was more important than that. It was a mission statement for everyone working to get out the vote, a reminder of what the stakes are for Democrats, and a call to action for all the people who were beginning to lose hope. Because everyone was expecting a parody of Joe Biden, Joe Biden outsmarted everyone.