When on Thursday night the vice president had finished playing, by turns, Wile E. Coyote and a high school Lear, that part of the country's startled middle that had not changed the channel in disgust at his antics looked at each other and said: "He's the vice president?"
The Left cheered, of course. Like contestants emerging from the "Sound Proof Booth" during a quiz show who had not heard the proceedings, lefties climbed all over one another to proclaim Biden a debate Caesar. The online dancing and the cable show fist bumps were a second spectacle advertising the disconnect of Team Obama from the country that is filling up with $5 gas in California. The cheers over 7.8 percent unemployment had been the first clue that the president's legions had lost their way, but the celebration of this second debate disaster is an unmistakable message to the rest of the country to get out of the car.
Now, the tragedy of Libya and the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods -- and the attempted cover-up of the serial malfeasance that led to their slaughter -- is forcing the Manhattan-Beltway media elite to do their jobs vis-a-vis the president.
It is too much to expect a single, straightforward question of the president or vice president in four debates about Fast & Furious, the HHS regulations that will shutter Catholic hospitals and schools, or the president's promise that his signature legislation came with a guarantee that Americans could keep their doctors and heath plans if they liked them?
The electorate understands that much of the media is almost wholly committed to the president's re-election. For many mainstream journalists, such questions hint of professional suicide, of apparent allegiance to a vast right-wing conspiracy, as opposed to loyalty to long-vanished professional standards.
Knowing silence on the president's big vulnerabilities is thus to be expected, but the slaughter in Benghazi is a bridge too far for even the kept media of D.C. to cross.
Joe Biden led off the debate with a huge lie about Libya. His manic performance could have launched a thousand media ships for all the days left in the election, but it was this lie about Libya that surfaced from the wreckage of civility and taste he created. Not even the 90 percent of the White House press corps that stands down at the approach of the president will let this pass.
If Tuesday night's entire debate is given over to the murders in Libya, it will not be enough time to ask how such a thing could have happened, to press the president for an explanation of his repeated assertions about the YouTube video, and to demand of Mitt Romney commitments and plans about the security of Americans serving abroad. Imagine a presidential debate after 9/11 or Pearl Harbor that moved on quickly from the attacks to the concerns of the professional left that the subsidy for public broadcasting was imperiled. What a farce that would be!
But if the debate does move on from issues of war and the rise of powers dedicated to the eclipse (at best) or destruction (at worst) of the country, then, please, some focus on the president's record and his nonexistent plans for a second term. Never have so few questions been directed at such a vast failure. Never has a free media so completely failed the people it supposedly serves.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.