The emphasis in the Vice-presidential debate – by the participants, the moderator, the pundits and the viewers – was on the policies advocated by the two men (or more precisely, by their bosses), the record of the present administration and what the future would portend depending on whether the incumbent or the challenger prevails next month. But this ignores the single most important facet of the job these two men are vying to secure. While the Vice Presidency has grown into a position somewhat more important than the ‘bucket of warm pi—’ that it was characterized as by John Nance Garner, FDR’s first VP, it remains true that, by far, its occupant’s most critical responsibility is to be ready and able to unexpectedly ascend to the presidency should circumstances require – an occasion experienced by 9 out of the 43 (Cleveland only counts once) men who have become president in the nation’s history.
In this regard, what did we see at the debate?
Joe Biden. What we saw was rudeness, arrogance, anger, condescension, narrow-mindedness and an absolute unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes, flaws in policy or their execution. We saw a doctrinaire liberal who is blindingly certain that conservatives are wrong, bigoted and dangerous. While the Vice President committed none of the gaffes for which he is so justifiably famous, he did stumble through the current progressive litany of standard positions: demonization of Wall Street, castigation of the successful, denial about the bleak outcome of Obama’s misguided foreign policy, refusal to acknowledge or deal with the fiscal calamities that out of control entitlements are dragging us toward and an obsession with egalitarianism at the expense of individual liberty. Moreover, he presented his case in a self-absorbed, unthinking and vicious way – especially mischaracterizing Mitt Romney as a liar, tax cheat and general miscreant. Despite the vigor of his words and robustness of his gestures, the gnome-like and weary quality of his scripted attacks occasionally revealed the old man that he is. The thought of him as President is nauseating.
Paul Ryan. What we saw was calm and rational discussion, thoughtful arguments, deference (perhaps too much so) to his opponent, and a willingness to address the country’s fundamental fiscal problems – not only the cliff that we are fast approaching, but also the national calamity that 75 years of profligate spending, irresponsible borrowing, overregulation and excessive taxation are bringing upon us. We saw a man who has thought deeply and long about critical issues, who has a record of working across the aisle and who has developed workable solutions. We saw youth, vigor, compassion (not the phony variety) and a man – unlike his opponent – whose political opinions are faithful to the religious convictions that infuse his life. Were he to unexpectedly ascend to the presidency, the country would be well served.
Joe Biden has no record of successful leadership in a long and undistinguished political career. Paul Ryan has been a leader and innovator from his first moments in Congress. On the issue of suitability to become president, the debate served up a clear winner.