Will the US VP debate deliver substance?

The debate between candidates Biden and Ryan offers a rare opportunity in this campaign for an honest discussion.

It’s hard to find a subject that hasn’t been written about ad nauseum in this presidential election already. For the candidates, every word, movement, and campaign commercial has been dissected, evaluated and judged.

The national polls remain close – much more so since President Barack Obama’s performance in the first debate. It’s the conversation one can’t get away from: at the grocery store, in a taxi, among White House press colleagues: “What the hell was that?”

Even before the moderator [or spectator with a good view, as I’m now referring to Jim Lehrer] took his seat, expectations were very high for the sitting president.

His opponent, Mitt Romney, had not exactly proven himself to be the best orator during the Republican primaries.

President Obama, on the other hand, is well known for his oratorical prowess.

Last Wednesday, however, appeared to prove just the opposite. Obama did not perform well and it cost him. As many media and political commentators have said, he came off as bland, boring and just plain bad.

Stakes raised

Here is what I do know: Obama’s poor showing and Romney’s strong performance has raised the stakes for Vice President Joe Biden. Four years ago, when Biden debated Sarah Palin, the expectations were high, too. The press expected Biden to wipe the floor with the then governor of Alaska.

Instead, he delivered a muted performance – some say to avoid the impression of coming off as a bully next to his less experienced counterpart.

With Paul Ryan, Biden no longer has that worry.

Ryan is not only familiar with the complexities of legislating, but is also quite ideologically charged. So on Thursday night, when these two go head-to-head, there’s the distinct possibility that what we’ll see is a real debate.

There are many issues that need an honest discussion in this country and these two candidates couldn’t be farther apart on most of them. The country seems split along with them. This is a nation divided, in many ways.

Honest discussion

The American “to-do” list is growing after two years of broken government: how will you handle a fraying safety net, a stagnant economy and a debt that seems too big to even be real ($16tn)?

The country, it seems, needs to pick a side and, in my opinion, the only way to really convince people one way or the other is to have an honest discussion. If there is one chance in this campaign for a real policy discussion, that will probably only be possible at the vice-presidential debate.

That may not be what the public gets, however, from the media’s dissection of Thursday’s spectacle.

Commentators have been quick to discuss appearances, body language and the “best lines of the night” – or, as the media describes them, zingers – rather than the actual nuts and bolts of what either side is arguing, and their relative merit.

People also rarely vote for a VP pick, only against them.

Knowing that, maybe these men, who have both spent their entire adult lives in government, should take the time to explain how they see “their government” at its best and let the people decide which side is right.

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