Ryan outshines Biden, and both make for compelling reality TV

    I approached Thursday night’s vice presidential debate with an obvious bias: Mitt Romney already has my vote and, therefore, so does Paul Ryan. I am not in the demographic that is giving pollsters anxiety attacks, those who will make last-minute decisions that sow chaos among statisticians and turn elections into guessing games.

    The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

    I approached Thursday night’s vice presidential debate with an obvious bias: Mitt Romney already has my vote and, therefore, so does Paul Ryan. I am not in the demographic that is giving pollsters anxiety attacks, those who will make last-minute decisions that sow chaos among statisticians and turn elections into guessing games.

    President Obama is not my choice and never was. But I was interested in seeing how his proxy, the senator from Delaware during the last three and a half decades of my life, would make his case for him. I knew he’d come out swinging. It was likely he’d see his primary job as making up the ground lost by that cool-and-collected customer who stood before the American people last week and looked about as imposing as the empty chair Clint Eastwood engaged at the RNC in Tampa. Biden did not disappoint. He was rough-hewn, abrasive, punchy. He tried to act forceful to make up for his running mate’s smooth and subtle demeanor, tried to make his points with bluster and bravado, tried to intimidate the other guy on the stage with his experience and his longevity. If we were at a WWE wrestling match, Biden’s impression of Hulk Hogan would have won the event. Ryan, on the other hand, was deferential. He spoke softly, in the modulated tones of a teacher trying to school his students in a complicated subject. He was subtle where Biden was outsized, meticulous where Biden skewed toward generalities, wonkish where Biden channeled the passions of an evangelical partisan. And partisan he was, using every tick and blink and smile and smirk in his arsenal to communicate just how much he didn’t like Mitt Romney and, by extension, the man sitting at the table with him.   I would have liked Ryan to aim more ruthlessly at the vice president’s jugular, would have appreciated a more visceral and targeted attack on the excesses of the Obama administration, would have rejoiced at a real smackdown of this Obama proxy with his Cheshire Cat smile and his shaky facts on Libya and the economy. But Ryan is ever the good boy, the affable man, the gentle person who has a steady moral compass but doesn’t sling dirt like so many others in D.C. And yet, I came away with much more respect for Mitt Romney’s running mate than I already had going into Thursday night, which seems rather improbable since I was already a major fan. He made the case for smaller but smarter government, called out the administration on failing to keep faith and be honest with the American people on the attacks in Libya, demonstrated a familiarity with the particulars of our foreign policy concerns — particularly in Afghanistan and Iran — and didn’t let Biden name-drop his way out of tough situations.  The vice president’s condescending claims about knowing “Bibi” for three decades and hanging out with “Tip” did nothing to bolster his self-styled position as an elder statesman. It did, however, make Ryan appear more dignified by default. The thing that truly defined the debate for me came in the final moments, when moderator Martha Raddatz attempted to set a Catholic trap for Romney’s running mate. While both Biden and Ryan share that faith, my own, it was clear that the question about abortion was designed to highlight Ryan’s strong (some would say radical) pro-life position. I was glad to see that he didn’t back down from his belief in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception, while highlighting this administration’s disregard for religious liberty. In referencing the lawsuits being filed by Catholic bishops to challenge the birth control mandate, Ryan completely undercut Biden’s assertion that the line between church and state was being respected under Obamacare. Ultimately, this debate probably didn’t change any minds. Those who believe Mitt Romney caters to the rich will find validation for their beliefs in Biden’s words, while those who are disenchanted with Barack Obama will find comfort in those of Ryan. But for me, at least, this encounter between two smart men and one rather protagonistic woman was sweet respite from the odious housewives, tedious chefs and arthritic dancers that fill the airwaves on a round-the-clock basis.  And for that I’m eternally grateful.

    Christine Flowers is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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