Lots of political junkies live for presidential debates, but the truly addicted know that it's the contest of wills between the vice presidential candidates that provides the purest form of political entertainment.
In part that's because the stakes are so much lower, relatively speaking. Tonight's big question comes down to this: Who gets to follow in the footsteps of such political bright lights as Dan Quayle, Al Gore, and, yes, Joe Biden to become the next hapless understudy to the leader of the free world? But it's also because even the friendliest VP candidates, free of the obligation to look respectably presidential, are frequently cast as campaign attack dogs. That means the vice presidential debates can be much meaner, and thus a lot more fun.
Part of the challenge for these two particular potential veeps will be to appeal to working class voters who haven't warmed to President Obama's professorial style or Mitt Romney's PowerPoint-ready business executive persona. Biden, who often talks of his working class background in Pennsylvania, will be competing with Ryan, a workout fanatic from Wisconsin with a thing for bowhunting, to appeal to voters in ways that their relatively aloof running mates cannot.
Which is why I've got my fingers crossed that Biden will show up to the debate in a freshly-sudsed 1984 Camaro and Ryan will arrive fresh from a workout wearing camo sweat pants, toting a gallon jug of protein powder, and sipping a Muscle Milk. And then the two can compete to answer trivia questions about professional wrestling.
But I'm not holding out too much hope for that outcome. More likely the contest will end up pitting a rambling, hilariously gaffe-prone former Senator who still thinks he has a shot at the Oval Office against a wonky-seeming, policy-factoid-obsessed current House member who probably does still have a shot at the presidency. Biden, the former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will try to outclass Ryan on international affairs. Ryan, the current Chairman of the House Budget Committee, will attempt to school his opponent on domestic policy.
Adding to the excitement, they'll both be sitting down. Still, here's hoping the showdown will be as uniquely amusing and hardcore as the candidates — the P90X of debates, literally.
And if not, you can always turn the evening into a drinking game. Here's what Reason's editors will be drinking to tonight.
Take a sip any time…
Biden says "literally." Take two double shots if he literally, literally uses the word twice in a row.
- Ryan references the Congressional Budget Office.
- Biden accuses Ryan or Romney of lying about their plans.
- Ryan answers any question using two or more budget projections.
- Biden mentions his hometown of Scranton, PA.
- Ryan says the words "premium support." Finish the bottle if he mentions "competitive bidding."
- Biden says the Romney campaign is proposing a $5 trillion tax cut.
- Ryan says they aren't.
- Biden uses the word "Yo!" (with or without the exclamation point).
- Anyone says the words "Simpson-Bowles."
- Anyone mentions Big Bird.
Remember: Reason encourages responsible drinking! How else will you know if the candidates are fudging the facts?