By Paolo von Schirach
October 13, 2012
WASHINGTON – Much has been said about the almost compulsive laughs and smirks exhibited by incumbent Vice President Joe Biden during his feisty debate with Congressman Paul Ryan, the man who would take his place as Vice President in case of a Romney victory in November.
Deliberately offensive behavior
The Romney Ryan camp and their supporters, starting with Fox News commentators like Chris Wallace, called this unprecedented behavior deliberately offensive, condescending, patronizing, dismissive. In their interpretation, the elder statesman (Biden) wanted to prove his superiority through his open lack of civility. And so he laughed and smirked to drive home the point that the junior wannabe (Ryan) was making only silly and preposterous assertions.
Nothing to it
Of course, the Democrats and their supporters would dismiss the whole thing, and say that nothing special was meant with all those laughs and that this is just Biden’s style. In any event, they argue, the Vice President won the debate not on style but on substance, because of the obvious superiority of his well presented and cogent points.
Still, whatever your preference, the fact is that there does not seem any precedent of a nationally televised political debate of this caliber, that is right before a presidential election, in which when one contender talks, the other laughs and smirks, not once or twice, but constantly.
The ancient Romans had a saying about too much laughter
Beyond what the pundits have already said, is there any good explanation for this highly unusual behavior? Here is a suggestion. The ancient Romans, good students of human character, used to say: Risus abundat in ore stultorum“, “Laughs are plentiful in the mouth of the foolish“, which is to say that excessive laughter is out of place, and it is a synonym of lack of intelligence.