Deep down, probably all of us secretly wish that The Onion's version of Vice President Joe Biden were real. Perhaps it's all those gaffes talking—the combined weight of decades of gives-no-fuck moments leading to the suspicion that maybe this is a dude who would be willing to race you for the vice presidency because, face it, your IROC-Z is bullshit. The idea that any iteration of that dude might show up is what makes tomorrow night's vice presidential debate so potentially exciting.
Well, that, and the fact that the testy, grating authentic Paul Ryan, who has slowly emerged from his media-made wonk chrysalis, might show up.
In the words of a great man with a Being-Fooled Limit of 2.0, both debate participants are being misunderoverestimated. Biden usually gets written off as a laugh line in the political press, and, after a four-year hiatus, is finally being given some credit again for being well versed on policy. The sudden esteem for his abilities, however, has less to do with a genuine respect for the man and more to do with left-wing pundits needing something to get geeked-up about, after Obama's dismal debate performance.
At the same time, Ryan is still coasting on being politically famous for being politically famous. This is no mean feat, when you're a member of the House of Representatives. Most members with nationwide name recognition achieve that distinction through inspiring nationwide scorn. Tom DeLay for dragging congress into screwing around with Terry Schiavo's life. Nancy Pelosi, for being a Democrat and also, apparently, for being A BITCH and having had PLASTIC SURGERY and just LOOK AT HER—UGH GROSS. Florida has 27 congressional districts, and probably the only representative from them that you can remember is Allen West, who calls Democrats "Nazis" and "Communists," tortured a man via a mock execution and texts his wife with messages like, "YOU NEED TO UN-UNFUCK YOURSELF, SOLDIER. MAJOR BONER WILL REPORT TO YOUR PRIVATES AT 1900. RENDEZVOUS AT FORT BEDDING."
Ryan, meanwhile, has had a pretty nice ride into national prominence so far. He's not morbidly obese or too real-world hideous; he can explain ideas in a way that gives the illusion of making sense, and he's a deficit hawk. The last one is golden. Members of the Beltway commentariat aren't generally well educated about economics, but they know that deficits are bad and that people who get angry about deficits are good. Inflation is also bad. Cutting both is bad. Wanting to cut both is good. Taxes are bad. Deficit neutrality is good. "Demand" is too complicated. The Frogurt is also cursed.
Ryan was lifted into the Beltway economic firmament by the collective hot air of a bunch of wealthy media types who loved the tax cuts (for them) that he championed, as well as his affirmation of their conventional economic wisdom. Unfortunately, after a few years of wet, smacking sounds, a blowjob starts to get conspicuous, no matter how dark and fetid the theater. Between the pushback from blogs and the scrutiny a presidential election brings, it became uncomfortably obvious that Americans were watching Beltway media types do their jobs.
For the last few weeks, Ryan has confronted a new and powerful nemesis: follow-up questions. He's spent years filibustering reporters and the opposition and expecting them to nod gratefully at the force of his breathtaking erudition. Now even Fox News questions him. Others have noted the yawning deficit hole in the Romney-Ryan budget.
Ryan's response has been threefold: lying, testiness and outright evasion. The lying is easiest to remember: just watch his RNC speech, which was evidently drafted by a team of policy experts from Opposite Land. As for testiness, when Fox News' Chris Wallace wanted him to simply explain the Romney-Ryan budget plan, Ryan went to the laziest, supercilious appeal to authority possible: "It would take me too long to go through all the math."
If you've ever argued on a message board, you know this hacky move backwards and forward.
I could totally explain this to you, but I don't have two years to wait for you to get a graduate degree in literature to be able to understand why you're wrong about the peerless sublimity of A Song of Ice and Fire or, as I like to call it, A Game of Rape and Tit Dismemberment. There is a higher power of scholarship and intellectual understanding that would totally explain away the discrepancy between my smart plan and your retarded brain, but you lack the ability to access it or comprehend my summary explanation of even the broad points. (Snorts great warthoggy snort.) This interview is over!
Then there's outright evasion. The Romney-Ryan campaign has settled on a curious budget strategy, namely tacitly admitting that everyone will hate it. This is why a nearly $5 trillion chasm in the middle of it gets handwaved away by saying, "We will eliminate tax loopholes," without addressing which ones or the fact that the details they've already released add up to a $2,000 tax household increase on the middle class and tax breaks for the wealthy. Romney and Ryan have seen critics attack them on substance, so denying them substance denies them an avenue of attack. It's an interesting appeal to America: "You can't possibly like what we have to say in detail, so please vote for us because we refuse to be honest with you. Vote against your interests without knowing how much. MYSTERY/DATE 2012." It's not just an evasion of policy, it's evasion as policy.
Tomorrow night, all of it could explode into a genuinely fascinating clusterfuck. You have a brittle prick who's coping badly with the media falling out of love with him, going up against a guy who embraces being a goof and plays the role well. Ryan has three superpowers—smug disdain, shameless prevarication and ducking the issue—and he's going to be locked for 90 minutes, in front of the entire nation, next to a dude with working-class bona fides, a subtly strong command of foreign and domestic policy and every incentive to wring Ryan's pencil neck.
Which is not to say that it will happen—but of the four debates this election season, it feels like the one where almost anything could.