Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Why Ryan has edge in VP debate

By Timothy Stanley, Special to CNN
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 11, 2012
Being younger and less erratic than Vice President Joe Biden gives Rep. Paul Ryan the edge in tonight's debate, says Timothy Stanley.
Being younger and less erratic than Vice President Joe Biden gives Rep. Paul Ryan the edge in tonight's debate, says Timothy Stanley.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • With the race close, Thursday's VP debate matters in a new way, says Timothy Stanley
  • Biden and Ryan embody the differences between the two parties, Stanley says
  • Being younger and less erratic than Biden gives Ryan an edge, he says
  • Stanley: As a rule, Biden does better in front of loud, sympathetic audiences

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- Vice Presidential debates are usually treated as bores or curios. The best you can hope for is a misstep that makes the headlines the next day -- think Dan Quayle comparing himself to Jack Kennedy or Bob Dole lambasting all those "Democrat wars." But the debaters are auditioning to be understudy, so they usually play it safe.

Record numbers tuned in to watch Biden vs. Palin in 2008 simply to see if Sarah Palin would go 90 minutes without humiliating herself or her running mate. Apart from some aggressive winking, she performed adequately and disaster was avoided. So two personalities who ought to have made for great TV were actually a little dull.

See the VP debate
CNN will offer unrestricted access to Thursday's vice presidential debate coverage starting at 7 p.m. ET on CNN TV, CNN.com and via CNN's apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. Web users can become video editors with a new clip-and-share feature that allows them to share favorite debate moments on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday night's debate will be different, because it matters in a way that previous matchups have not.

Mitt Romney's performance in last week's debate seems to have shaken up the polls. That's not just because he did well, but also because the voters appear to be more undecided about the election than we thought they were (just look at the massive attitude shift that Pew reports among female voters). In such an environment, gaffes and good rhetoric count for a great deal. Recall that the debates proved just as important to deciding the Republican primaries, and one of the reasons why Romney won the primaries is that he was so good at the debates.

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

With the country now evenly divided between the two nominees, the race could end up being settled by a few hours of televised sparring. Hence, Biden vs. Ryan is worth tuning in to.

Martin: Biden must deliver for Team Obama

It also helps that these two men embody the differences between the two parties. Both are Catholics, but from contrasting traditions. Biden comes from the Vatican II generation for whom Catholic piety is centered on social justice and economic fairness. For him, government welfare programs are an extension of Christian charity -- and he's happy to embrace the cultural changes that have altered attitudes about contraception, women and gay rights.

7 questions you would ask at the VP debate

Discipline Could Serve Ryan Well
What to expect in the Biden-Ryan debate

By contrast, Ryan is part of the John Paul II generation of conservative Catholics who have often despaired of the American church's flirtation with liberalism. Ryan has a moral theology that sees government as sapping self-reliance, and abortion as the murder of the unborn. Between the two of them, we have the bifurcation of the Roman Catholic Church personalized: social conscience vs. natural law. That said, it's interesting to note that Ryan has been prepping for this debate with Ted Olson -- the man who provided legal assistance to pro-same-sex marriage campaigners. It's surprising that no movement conservatives have made a fuss about the company that Ryan keeps.

In this contest between Catholics, who stands the better chance of winning? Paul Ryan, and for three reasons.

First, Ryan is younger. In last week's debate, despite being the older man, Romney came across as more youthful and energetic than the president. He looked not only ready to lead, but also more willing. Likewise, Ryan is a handsome, athletic young man who hunts deer with a bow and arrow. Already the star of an internet "Hey Girl" meme, he will reinforce the impression that the GOP ticket is the more virile.

CNN Exclusive: How Paul Ryan sharpens debate skills

Second, Biden is a more erratic performer than Ryan and so more likely to make a blunder. A good drinking game to play during the debate would be to take a shot every time Biden says "literally," another if he mispronounces someone's name, and another if he forgets Paul Ryan's. His tendency toward hyperbole and emotionally charged gaffes is notorious. The flip side of that problem is that if he keeps his natural energy too much in check, then he won't seem like the same old Biden that Democrats know and love. In 2008, he was outperformed by Sarah Palin partly because he seemed to be playing the statesman. As a rule, Biden does better in front of loud, sympathetic audiences (see his barnstorming convention speech).

Third, the issue momentum is with Romney/Ryan. It's true that Friday's jobs report lowered the unemployment rate and brought some good news to the administration. But it doesn't seem to be reflected in the polls yet. That might be because many Americans don't feel like things are getting better -- because so many are quitting the labor market or getting part-time work. Add to that some of the negative reports about the administration's handling of the Middle East and you get the sense that this week belongs to the Republicans.

Opinion: Five ways Obama can bounce back

Whoever wins, what is reassuring for fans of politics is the importance that debate has played in this election. With millions of dollars spent on negative ads and the Internet awash with silly stories about dogs on cars and old speeches, it's nice to know that uninterrupted, rational debate spread over just 90 minutes can still make such an impact in contemporary American democracy. Biden vs. Ryan is far from Lincoln vs. Douglas, but the spirit lives on.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT