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No-jab Joe
Biden and Ryan: No cakewalks here

Date published: 10/14/2012

"PHILADELPHIA," said transplanted Texan Randall "Tex" Cobb, the funniest heavyweight contender in memory, "is such a fight town that even the winos jab." But Vice President Joe Biden isn't from Philly. He hails from Scranton, where the pugilistic style must be different. Thursday night in Danville, Ky., he charged out of his corner and immediately started throwing haymakers at Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

During the single vice presidential debate, Vice President Biden called statements by Mr. Ryan "malarkey" and "a bunch of stuff." He smiled big derisive smiles as the Republican made his points, bowed and shook his plug-stippled head in theatrical disbelief, and often interrupted and talked over his adversary. Anyone who has seen disembodied heads yammer at each other on Fox News knows the schtick.

The politer Mr. Ryan's tactics were more "stick and move," but he was caught with some clean shots--as when Mr. Biden responded to his criticism of the Obama stimulus by asking him why, if it was so awful, did Mr. Ryan write the veep wanting a piece for his district.

What did one glean from this little donnybrook? (1) Mr. Ryan is far from a world-class debater--he possesses that modern male voice that historian Victor Hanson describes as "sort of whiny, sort of nasally, sort of fussy," which dulled his points and made his zingers land without much, well, zing. (2) Mr. Biden, despite his tendency toward dopey remarks on the stump, can follow his corner's instructions--e.g., to punch from bell to bell as a way to stop the GOP surge that began when Mitt Romney walloped a somnambulant Barack Obama in their first face-off.

Substance? Good luck with that. Try he said-he said; eye-glazing policy esoterica; low demagogy; glittering generalities; niggling criticisms.

"Marriage," a wit said, "is like boxing. The preliminaries are often better than the main event." Let's hope that isn't true for politics. The heavyweights go at it again Tuesday.