Old hand to fight it out with young gun in VP debate
US VICE-president Joe Biden jumped out from behind the bushes, yelling and firing on the journalists. His weapon was a plastic machine gun squirting water. The occasion was “Biden Bash”, an annual summer picnic the veep holds for the Washington press corps on the grounds of his official residence. Biden’s victims fired back with water pistols.
US president Barack Obama has been known to play golf with a New York Times columnist. Mitt Romney gave a birthday cake to a Los Angeles Times correspondent. But neither would be caught dead horsing around with water pistols.
Biden and Paul Ryan, the vice-presidential nominee for the Republican Party, are more colourful than either of their presidential running mates. They will debate each other for the first and only time tomorrow night in Kentucky.
Ryan allegedly shoots deer with a bow and arrow, catches catfish with his bare hands and follows the P90X Extreme exercise and diet regimen.
Despite the 27 years that separate the youngest and eldest candidates on the November 6th presidential ballot, there is a kind of symmetry between Ryan (42) and Biden (69). Ryan was elected to the House of Representatives at the age of 28; Biden was elected to the Senate at 29. Both talk about the tragedies that marked their lives: the death of Ryan’s father from a heart attack when Ryan was 16; the car crash that killed Biden’s first wife and infant daughter at Christmas in 1972.
Both men are deemed to have the common touch. Ryan is heir to a construction fortune in Wisconsin, but Biden is the genuine article: a working-class boy from Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Twenty-seven per cent of the electorate in the last two elections were Catholic. Romney and Obama hope their Irish-American Catholic running mates – from opposite sides of the rift between conservative and liberal wings of the church – can “deliver” Catholics as well as the white working class.
Chastened by Obama’s poor debate performance on October 3rd, Democrats also hope Biden will come out shooting tomorrow night. Fifty-five per cent of respondents in a CNN poll said they believed Ryan would win the debate; 39 per cent said Biden.
Old-timers warn not to underestimate Biden, who served 36 years in the Senate and stood twice for president. Biden oversaw the 2009 economic stimulus, brokered the powersharing agreement in Iraq and has been a major influence on Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan. He invented the bumper-sticker slogan: “Bin Laden is dead and Detroit is alive.”
This is Ryan’s first national debate. “I expect the vice-president to come at me like a cannonball,” he told the conservative Weekly Standard.
Biden has been watching videos of Ryan’s interviews and speeches, and reading Young Guns, the book Ryan co-authored.
Democrats do not understand why Obama did not mention Romney’s “47 per cent video” last week. As part of his debate preparation, Biden has probably watched Ryan’s “30 per cent video”, recorded at a conservative gala last year and just brought to light by the Huffington Post. Six months before Romney’s remarks, Ryan lamented that 30 per cent of the country “want the welfare state” and no longer believe in the American dream. “Before too long, we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers,” Ryan warned.