Imagine the top sales representatives for competing companies vying to mass-market their rival products side-by-side during the same TV time slot.
The younger man pushes a newer brand -- "Romney Ryan" -- that he says will perform better, and keep you safe and out of hock. The older man, who wants you to stick with his "Obama-Biden" label, not only tells customers they're getting great value, but suggests the other guy offers an old lemon in a new package.
The equivalent of the soft sell in yesterday's vice-presidential debate meant projecting moderation and sanity, something Mitt Romney strived for in the opening contest Oct. 3. The equivalent of the hard sell meant warning of hazards and heartbreak for those who choose the other supplier.
Vice President Joe Biden, 69, readily took on the attack mode, the hard sell. "Not a single thing" Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said "is accurate," the vice president said. "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey." Showing an incredulous squint, he called Ryan remarks "incredible" at one point and attacked "all this bluster" and "all this loose talk" from the other side on military and foreign matters.
Seeking to play the House Republicans as fiscal obstructionists, he said, "Just get out of the way. . . . Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me policy." And he suggested that his opponents deride America, citing Romney's "47 percent" remarks over which they clashed.
Ryan, 42, struck at his target by portraying the Obama administration as a failed product, declaring that the nation is witnessing "the unraveling" of its foreign policy in recent weeks, with events in Libya and Syria, and with Iran behind increased terrorist attacks. Ryan ticked off what he saw as broken promises from jobs to the federal deficit.
For Ryan, the softer sell meant rebutting Biden's claim that his House proposals would gut Medicare and other government programs for the next generation -- but rather, insisting that his team would help America by sustaining coverage, slimming costs and reducing deficits for common good. He gave his story of family members benefiting from Social Security and other programs.
Ryan also said that under the GOP plan Medicare would be reshaped to help those who need it most and reduce subsidies to the wealthy. He said of fiscal matters, "We want to have big bipartisan agreements."
Aggressive as he was, Biden sought at different times to come across as reassuring and avuncular. "My religion defines who I am," he said when both candidates, raised in the Roman Catholic Church -- a historic first of a kind -- were asked how that relates to their views on abortion rights. He referred to Ryan as "my friend," albeit with a caustic edge. Biden said there would be no danger from the Afghanistan troop withdrawal in 2014.
Soft sell, hard sell: When peddling that product, you push both ways.