Jack Noland is a member of the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political awareness organization for high school students.
As many of the pundits and experts pointed out after the vice-presidential debate, this matchup was as much a showdown of style as it was of substance. Enter stage right a blue-collar, 36-year veteran of the Senate renowned for his feistiness and uncompromising stances. Opposite him strode out a young policy wonk, known for crafting the Republican budget and effective back-room negotiation. This debate was very much an affirmation of why the respective parties had chosen their vice-presidential candidates. Joe Biden was experienced, witty, and passionate, while Paul Ryan was measured, sure, and more contained.
The vice-presidential debate is always a bit of an odd situation. Two candidates must both extol the virtues of their presidential partners and provide anecdotal evidence of their own experience. At this year's debate, the questions tended to reflect that duality, with some pointed at foreign policy, in which the vice president's role is diminished, and others at personal characteristics and decisions. This type of debate calls for a slightly a different debate style, which I enjoyed watching. The two candidates sat at a table, rather than standing on opposing lecterns, which inherently made the back-and-forth less one of dueling sermons, and more of a general discourse. Whatever your stance on the two candidates, it is undeniable that the moderator, ABC's Martha Raddatz, was a step up from Jim Lehrer, who oversaw the first debate. Unfazed and informed, Raddatz took the reins and confidently steered the debate when it was running long or off-course. Her asking for specificity and follow-ups when she felt the question had not been answered led to a far more controlled environment, in my view.
As this was the only meeting between the two men in a national capacity, the questions ranged from the role of government in Syria to personal views on abortion. Across this chasm, Joe Biden made the stronger case for his ticket's election. He spoke candidly about every point, and had the benefit of a strong record to display, despite Congressman Ryan's assertions that the Democrats were demonizing the Republicans based on their own lack of success. The central irony of the exchange shone through as Paul Ryan attacked the administration at every turn, running against his own adopted mantra.
In fact, Ryan seemed to magnify his perfect 20-20 hindsight to new highs. By constantly discussing what should have been done, he detracted from his own message of what his ticket would do differently. Raddatz was quick to catch this pattern, and attempts to goad Ryan into providing a plan were unsuccessful. Likewise, Ryan seemed deeply unaware at times. His anecdote about a car-crash was perhaps unintentionally crass, but wholly inappropriate, as Biden lost a daughter and his first wife in a similar wreck.
In what served as the highlight for many Democratic viewers, he also walked into a Lloyd Bentsen-evoking one-liner by comparing his economic plan to President Kennedy's, to which Biden jokingly replied, "Oh, so you're Jack Kennedy now?"
To his credit, one of Ryan's strong points appeared to be Afghanistan, on which he spoke specifically and confidently. The point where I believe the average independent may have swung to Biden was in the discussion on abortion. The question, which seemingly took both of them by surprise, asked for the candidates to discuss how their Catholicism had affected or established their views on abortion. Congressman Ryan provided an anecdote about seeing the ultrasound of his first child, which, while touching, he did not extrapolate well into a coherent point. The vice president, on the other hand, spoke about how Catholicism had led to his personal pro-life beliefs, but that he could not project these views onto the nation.
Biden had chosen to give a genuine, sincere answer to a difficult question that transcended politics, while Ryan seemed to simply want to fall in line with his party, and was reticent to go into detail for fear of providing a damaging sound-bite. By this point, Biden had lost his jocular edge ("Malarkey!"), and was slow, methodical, and very convincing. As the debate wrapped up, he had proven himself.
From the moment the back-and-forth commenced, the two men made their individual natures apparent. Biden went quickly and consistently on the attack, in a move that showed the Democrats' goal to not appear conceding or disinterested, and reflected the incumbent's propensity to speak his mind. Biden's biggest fault may have stemmed from interruption, and even appearing condescending. There were even instances where I was calling for the vice president to simply let the Congressman answer, which I think did detract from his message.
I also find it strongly ironic that, according to pundits like Kathleen Parker, Biden was hiding behind a disingenuous smile and "repeated interruptions," while making no mention of Romney's similar transgressions during the first debate.
Ryan was far more reserved, careful to stay in line with the agenda and to keep the debate on his prepared talking points. This was no doubt due to experience, as Biden's history on the national stage overpowered that of the neophyte Ryan. Thus, while Ryan delivered many of the same points that his partner had included a week ago, like the five-point economic plan, he sounded like a low-volume broken-record.
Biden definitely recouped some of the momentum lost by President Obama's performance a week ago. The vice-presidential debate was a true exposition of whom the parties had chosen, and serves to somewhat re-balance the election heading into the homestretch.