Thoughts on Paul Ryan
August 13th, 2012

Beyond my Paul Ryan as Harvey Dent riff (and why has no one picked up the subtext?), I haven’t had any deep thoughts on the veep pick yet. But Galley Friend X has. Here’s GF X tossing a little grenade into the room:

In re: Ryan v. Biden.  (Or, “I question the gi sometimes.  It seems to get in the way.”)

OK, obviously I’m absolutely gleeful over Romney’s pick of Ryan.  But . . . why is every Republican so completely certain that Ryan will mop the floor with Biden at the debate?

Ryan’s a smart dude, and a very good speaker.  But his speeches always fight on home turf, before audiences that share his assumptions.
In a debate, by contrast, an opponent will challenge those assumptions — or even disregarding them altogether, and steering the debate to completely different turf — can we be so certain that Ryan will win?
Think back to the Ryan-Brooks debate at AEI.  David Brooks held his own against Ryan (even after Ryan ducked out early, to return to the Hill).  After pointing out that Ryan’s (and Arthur Brooks’s) freedom-versus-socialism dichotomy simply caricatured much more difficult policy realities, he pinned Ryan down on the specific question of trade-offs and compromise.  Ryan simply had no response to the utterly predictable question, what if President Obama offered you big spending cuts for a relatively small (i.e., six-point) top marginal tax increase?  Brooks completely nailed him on his inability to seriously consider compromise even when necessary to avoid fiscal disaster.
And Brooks and Ryan even came from more or less the same foundations.  I suspect that when Biden faces Ryan, he’ll take a relentlessly populist position, hammering Ryan on cutting Medicare, and endorsing tax cuts that disproportionately favor the rich.  And some of what Biden says might even be somewhat true.  What will Ryan do then?
In other words, Ryan and Biden will come to the debate with two completely different styles of fighting.  Like Severn v. Gracie (1994).  Or Megashark v. Crocosaurus (2010).
Or, perhaps most relevantly, like Buckely v. Beame v. Lindsay (1965).  As WFB recounted in his post-campaign memoir . . .

“My associates urged, particularly in my opening and closing statements, that, instead of tangling with Beame and Lindsay, I should speak over their heads (as they were continually doing over mine and each other’s) directly to the voters, giving them reasons why they should vote the Conservative ticket.  I tried to do that, as often as it occurred to me; but often it didn’t occur to me, my ungovernable instinct being to fasten on a weakness in the opponent’s reasoning and dive in, or on a weakness in my own, and apply sutures, on the (Platonic?) assumption that voters will be influenced by the residual condition of the argument.  A good debater is not necessarily a good vote-getter: you can find a hole in your opponent’s argument through which you could drive a coach and four ringing jingle bells all the way, and thrill at the crystallization of a truth wrung out from a bloody dialogue — which, however, may warm only you and your muse, while the smiling paralogist has in the meantime made votes by the tens of thousands.”

Buckley lost his campaign.
On the bright side, Gracie won his fight, and in terms of forensic analogy I guess Ryan is probably Gracie, and Biden is Severn.  Still, Severn put Gracie through 16 minutes of hell, before Gracie seized on Severn’s mistake and got Severn to tap out.
Gracie, like Ryan, dresses the part of the pro.  Still, as one of the commentators noted about Gracie’s attire, “I question the gi sometimes.  It seems to get in the way.”

  1. Judith August 14, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I have the opposite concern: that the audience will start to feel sorry for Biden.

    And, need we say that Biden’s no David Brooks, if one assumes that Brooks so mastered Ryan, (which I don’t)?

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  3. Joe Sixpack August 18, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I went straight to the comments section after the David Brooks mention. David Brooks did not win that debate. He was offering false choices and setting up strawmen like it was Halloween. Here’s a point of news: David Brooks is not smart. Neither is any almost any journalist, opinion or otherwise. He’s well paid, elite, but his skills, if he has any, is that of a lugubrious gadfly.

    This Galley Friend is quite something else. Biden is gaffe-tastic. In the debates, all it will take is one “Stand up Joe” line to bury him in the debate. No one who is on the fence (this should be an IQ test) is likely to vote for the ticket where Joe Biden is a heartbeat away from the Presidency, now that some in the LSM have picked up on his penchant for the ridiculous.

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  5. Galley Friend L.B. August 14, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Let me see if I can push the Paul-Ryan-as-Harvey-Dent riff to the breaking point. I suppose in this analogy:
    *Obama is the Joker (enjoys burning piles of money just for the hell of it; dangerously charismatic; murky origins; even his henchmen don’t understand his thoughts or motives)
    *Romney is … um, Bruce Wayne/Batman (son of wealth; spent several years outside his native land as a young man on a mission; elevator to the underground “garage”)
    *Boehner(?) is Commissioner Gordon, Mitch McConnell is Detective Stephens
    *Nancy Pelosi is the Chechen, Harry Reid is Maroni, Hillary is Gambol (let that last one sink in for a minute)
    *Eric Fehrnstrom and Andrea Saul are Wurtz and Ramirez; and *Santorum/Perry/Cain/Bachmann/Huntsman/Pawlenty are the Batman copycats wearing hockey pads at the start of the movie.
    *And a special cameo by Patrick Leahy, starring as … Patrick Leahy!
    Meanwhile, waiting in the wings for the next movie — Marco Rubio as John Blake…
    OK, this is getting ridiculous. 🙂

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  7. James Versluis August 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Obama seems to me more like the nerd kid of the Evil Genius who constantly fails upward. If anything, he’s Walking By Guy #4.

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  9. Galley Friend L.B. August 14, 2012 at 10:40 am

    As to Galley Friend X’s concern about Ryan’s prospects debating Biden — he has a point, inasmuch as Biden is unlikely to meet Ryan on the battleground of facts, reason, and logic. He’ll just dial up the “Joe from Scranton” schtick to 12, say whatever the hell he wants, and not get called on his b.s. by the moderator (remember how many whoppers he got away with in the debate with Palin?).

    But I think GF X is sells Ryan short, particularly saying Ryan only speaks on home turf to audiences that share his assumptions. Has he forgotten how Ryan has carved up little Timmy Geithner in Congressional hearings, or how Ryan utterly destroyed Obama at his silly “health care summit”?

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  11. Jason O. August 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    From parts unknown…weight unknown…Galley Friend X!!!

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  13. Galley Friend J.E. August 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    I’m hoping–praying, actually–that Biden brings out his black urban accent, as he did today in Virginia (though he thought he was in NC). That’s how he thinks he’s supposed to connect with anyone he supposes is his inferior. On the other hand, depending on how the polling goes in the next two weeks, Biden might hurt his elbow throwing a screwball and have to have Hillary come in from the bullpen.

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  15. Kevin August 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Well if Galley Friend X is from “Parts Unknown”, he is from a city in Central Wisconsin, so he might be a little more credible!

    Although what would “weight unknown” be? 😉

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  17. James Versluis August 14, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Unless there are Kennedy-Nixon caliber gotchya’s,* the debates won’t have any impact no matter what the outcome. Debates just aren’t in the modern sped-up format like they used to be even 20 years ago. The faster news-cycle and much faster political cycle will attenuate any effect they might have (almost said “impact”. Bad Jimmy. Speak English, not Bureaucrat).

    *- (Gotchya’s almost impossible nowadays: all debaters are taught to mouth platitudes, obfuscate and change direction when the other guy makes a good point or gets a zinger in, which has eliminated the zing-pow/deer-in-the-headlights aspect of modern debates almost entirely. Even soundbites don’t get used any more, unless the guy really fucks up).

    Also, I would point out it is interesting X chose to focus on Ryan and not the fact that Biden is a gibbering baboon. Am I wrong, or is this the guy that everyone said was “President insurance”, because no one would want to have this moron in office if Obama, um, let’s say “got the flu”? This guy is Dan Quayle without good hair, except Quayle was occasionally intelligent.

    It’s not how good a poker player you are, it’s how you chose your opponents. Ryan picked a dude with the IQ of an overripe turnip to debate.

    Forgive me for questioning Thy presence, o Master Last, but do you think debates have importance in the modern political format? Do you think they’re important?

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  19. Galley Friend J.E. August 15, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I don’t remember any game changers in the Kennedy-Nixon debates, unless you count l’affaire makeup. The biggest gotcha I can remember was in ’76, when Ford somehow managed to forgot that Poland was a Soviet bloc country.

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  21. James Versluis August 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for making my point: you went back to ’76 to find a significant debating moment. I agree with your assessment, too, I can’t remember one either.

    Hence, the point.

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  23. Kevin August 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Debates make no difference?

    Got one word for you.


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  25. James Versluis August 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Ok, where did they? The line “I know Jack Kennedy and you’re no Jack Kennedy” against Quayle/Bushie resulted in….Bush winning the White House in ’88.

    Sooo, where do debates matter? Just askin’.

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  27. GFX August 14, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I’m actually Al Perez, until I’m Ric Flair.

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  29. Evan August 15, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Debates sure seemed to matter when Rick Perry was running for the GOP nomination. But for the debates, isn’t it highly likely that he would be the nominee? Perhaps you only meant general election debates…

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  31. Jason O. August 15, 2012 at 10:57 am

    The important question is, how many strokes will Raddatz give Biden via her questions/topics?