Vice presidential debate: Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan, who will be tougher?

Be ringside to see an aggressive Veep debate by two smart guys. Photo: Vice president Joe Biden will face off against Congressman Paul Ryan in the Veep Debate AP

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2012 — The Veep Debate on October 11, Thursday, is stacking up to be a slugfest between two very tough guys.

Congressman Paul “The Kid” Ryan is light on his feet and knows how to dance around an answer if he has to. But don’t count out scrappy Vice-president Joe “The Gaffer” Biden, who can do rope-a-dope, better than anyone around. Look how he handled Sarah Palin four years ago.

Of course, this time, the gloves can come off because back then Biden could not be seen as patronizing, sexist, or a bully. But going up against a smart cookie like Ryan who can spout stats and data with the best of them, Biden knows he doesn’t have to pull his punches.

Now that President Obama has slouched through his match with Mitt Romney, the pressure is on Biden to be tougher than ever. It is anyone’s bet who will win this debate.

For those folks salivating at the thought of Biden making a gaffe, don’t count Ryan as one of them. As he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” “I don’t think he will. You know he doesn’t do that in debates. The gaffes — he’s kind of legendary for this — that’s not in these kind of situations. He’s a very disciplined person when he speaks in these kinds of situations. He doesn’t produce gaffes in these moments. Those are when he’s off the cuff.”

So what are the strengths and weaknesses of the two men?

Paul Ryan’s Strengths:

Ryan is savvy and knows his stuff inside and out. Plus he really believes what he says. Even if he is wrong and the math makes no sense, he believes in the conservative gospel by Paul Ryan, the one he outlined in his “Pathway to Prosperity.” As Ryan has said: “I’m more of a gut guy. I believe in what I believe. I do what I do. And I really believe in the policies we’re providing….”

That’s half the battle: not just being sincere (something Romney hasn’t yet learned) but being passionate when you talk about your principles.

Since Ryan is message-center it’s hard to derail him when he is making his points. Having served as chairman of the House’s Committee on the Budget, he is comfortable slinging numbers around like so much hash. Even when conservative pundits like Chris Wallace and Britt Hume try to pin Ryan down about his fuzzy math, he manages to wiggle free. Expect him to do the same during the debate. He is the master of the political wiggle.

Paul Ryan’s Weaknesses:

Ryan really has had little debating experience and that’s not just spin. He has not had a debate in 14 years when he first ran for Congress. Debating is both a skill and an art.

Ryan needs to know not only how to go on the attack, but how to duck and weave. During interviews, he looks flustered and flummoxed when the interviewers do follow up questions, trying to get him to explain his budget numbers or Romney’s tax deductions. Or he lapses into convoluted answers that go nowhere.

Martha Raddatz, debate moderator

To make it even harder for Ryan, he is the running mate of a man who is not a true conservative but, more troubling, who is not consistent, shifting positions at the drop of a poll. For someone like Ryan, it must feel like he is standing on the sand as the tide goes out. How do you defend positions that are not the same as they were yesterday?

Joe Biden’s Strengths:

The Vice President can be ferocious, a literal pit bull. “Joe is very good on the attack,” Ryan admitted, knowing whom he’s up against. But he also added, “Joe is very good at trying to confuse the issues so that the person leaves the debate confused about who stands for what. My job is to make sure that they’re not confused about what we stand for and what they stand for.”

Don’t look for Joe to allow Ryan to do that. Because if any pit bull can be light on his feet and disarming as he nips at your posterior, Joe Biden is that dog. Just look at how well he debated in the 2008 Democratic primary and how deftly he dealt with Sarah Palin. He gives no ground, and you often don’t know he has nipped you until you see the blood.

The Vice President has been around Washington most of his adult life. He knows how the place works, but more importantly he knows the issues and the history of the issues. He has it all at his fingertips. Add to that his witty one-liners and instant comebacks and he’s formidable.

Joe Biden’s Weaknesses:

No doubt about it, Biden is gaffe-prone. His bloopers are legendary. Sometimes they are the result of his enthusiasm when he gets carried away: “He [Romney] is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. He is going to put y’all back in chains.” 

Sometimes they come from one his “inelegant” sentences, where he didn’t say precisely what he meant: “How can they [Romney-Ryan] justify raising taxes on the middle class that’s been buried the last four years?”

Anyone who has heard Biden speak without notes has heard a man for whom facts, stats and anecdotes bubble up spontaneously, holding his audience riveted. But he could also wander into a gaffe, leaving Ryan a gotcha moment and several days of the media spooling the flub over and over and Tweets all atwitter.

Whatever happens Thursday night, it should be a humdinger. And with the audience asking the questions of the candidates, the debate could really keep the two men bobbing and weaving, looking for the moment when they could score that knockout punch.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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