Biden's Debate Performance: Good for Comedians, Bad for Campaign

Vice president's histrionics make for good attack ads and political satire.

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Vice President Joe Biden reacts to a statement from Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
Vice President Joe Biden reacts to a statement from Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

The humorists of TV will have the final say in determining who won the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan Thursday night — and that's probably bad news for Biden.

The Democratic vice president's behavior — his smirking, his derisive bursts of laughter, his habit of shaking his head in disagreement, his interruptions — made him ripe for caricature as a rude know-it-all and perhaps as a would-be bully. These aren't traits that impress many swing voters, including women, who prize civility and treating others with respect. And in contrast to the more somber Ryan, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin who came across as relatively boring for most of the debate, Biden's aggressiveness and his other outsized traits were perfect targets for satire.

[Candidates Draw in Spirited Vice Presidential Debate]

So my impression is that David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon will have a field day with all this. And the most important perceptions may be created this weekend by Saturday Night Live, which has a long history of caricaturing political figures and making a lasting impression.

Among SNL's most consequential, and funny, sketches have been the ones showing former President Gerald Ford as a bumbler, Jimmy Carter as a know-it-all, Bill Clinton as a likable rogue, George W. Bush as an intellectual lightweight, and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as shockingly and hilariously ignorant.

Both the Democrats and Republicans have been doing their best since the debate to shape perceptions. The Republican National Committee produced a new video showing Biden laughing while Ryan spoke about serious issues such as unemployment and tax cuts. The tag line of the video is, "Vice President Biden is laughing ... are you?"

The campaign of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney issued a statement Friday morning quoting media analysts who praised GOP running-mate Ryan and criticized Biden. Ryan was described as "confident' and "intelligent' while Biden was seen as "overboard" and "derisive."

For their part, President Obama's campaign leaders blasted Ryan for taking extreme positions. And the Democratic National Committee generated a video criticizing Ryan for his plan to overhaul Medicare, for favoring tax cuts for the rich, and on other issues.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com.