Add David Brooks to the list of pundits who believe the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate at Centre College will be good political theater starring two compelling candidates.
The columnist and author thinks it might actually be meaningful as well.
Brooks said both candidates will fulfill their role as surrogate attack dogs by “aiming above” their opponent to take shots at the men running for president. However, the debate also should present an opportunity for Paul Ryan in particular to provide some substance and clarify what he believes.
“The Ryan Budget is so ill-defined; if he’s given the chance to make the case for his budget, that would help answer some of the Clinton criticism,” Brooks said, referring to what he believes has been the former president’s unchecked critiques of a plan that cuts spending and calls for major reforms to federal programs. “This might be the only forum he has especially on issues like Medicare.”
Then there is the current vice president with his reputation for making news with off-the-cuff remarks.
Brooks has known Vice President Joe Biden, the former Delaware senator, for much of his time covering Washington and found him to be a genuine — if sometimes indiscreet — person and politician. He recalls a newspaper headline from when Biden was in his late 20s that posed the question of whether he knew “when to shut up.”
Despite a predilection for unscripted moments that Brooks calls “genetic,” he noted Biden has demonstrated an ability to show restraint when it matters. “He controlled himself well against (Sarah) Palin, but with Biden you never know.”
Whoever is elected, Brooks believes they will continue the trend of vice presidents with real power. Unlike the ineffectual second fiddles of the past, who were often an afterthought before the confetti hit the floor at the inauguration party, Brooks said the role now carries some real heft in the halls of the White House.
Brooks said Ryan has become the most interesting policy wonk in Washington who already has forced the Obama administration to engage with his ideas. Biden provides foreign policy guidance and a deft political touch the less “touchy-feely” Obama lacks.
“In the last five administrations, vice presidents have been powerful. Cheney was obviously powerful. Biden is powerful. Gore was powerful. So these are not meaningless jobs any more,” said Brooks, who pointed to veeps like Hubert Humphrey under Lyndon Johnson and Spiro Agnew under Richard Nixon who faded into the background by design. “In this day and age, you can’t do that. The vice presidency has its own office, its own staff.”