In 2008, the central component of Obama’s meteoric rise was that politics had become too cynical and small, and that it was important to have a more substantive debate on the pressing issues facing the nation. His appeal to independents was rooted in this very idea. In the current campaign, Obama has decided that in the face of a weak economy and tepid approval ratings, his path to victory rests on destroying Romney. But with the Ryan pick, Obama has been given a chance to have a substantive debate. After all, it was Obama that helped elevate Ryan in January 2010, when he picked him out of the crowd to acknowledge the congressman had produced a “serious proposal” to address entitlements, even though he disagreed with it.

Ryan is effectively holding a mirror up to Obama. Will he live up to the promise of his 2008 campaign, and engage in a substantive policy debate when given the chance? Or will he continue to run a campaign aimed at destroying his opponent, engaging the the same sort of politics of division that he once decried?