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Body language: Love or hate him, it was all Joe

Associated Press Modified: October 12, 2012 at 3:17 am •  Published: October 12, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — This time, they didn't need Big Bird.

Because really, who needed a "Sesame Street" character to grab all the post-debate attention when there was Joe Biden's smile— or laugh, chuckle, grimace, grin, smirk, or "goofy face," according to various descriptions?

Whether you loved or hated his performance — a decision that seemed to split (surprise!) along partisan lines — it was Biden who dominated the conversation during and after Thursday's vice-presidential debate, with his animated facial reactions to almost anything his opponent, Paul Ryan, uttered.

The vice president also came up with the two catchiest phrases of the night — "bunch of malarkey" and "bunch of stuff" — both of them employed (and tweeted, and retweeted) to paint his Republican opponent as untruthful.

Some impressions of the night, from political communication and body language experts:


"I'm not sure what that was — a smile? Not really. Not a laugh, either," said Katherine Hall Jamieson, a professor of political communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "And actually not a grin. It was really just something that said, 'I have an answer to that and I'm holding it.'"

Was it appropriate?

That, said Jamieson, would simply depend on one's allegiance. "The Republicans are trying to advance the argument that Biden was behaving in an unhinged fashion," she said. The Democrats, of course, thought it was great.

Another expert in the field thinks that even if some viewers were offended by the smiling, for lack of a better word, it helped Biden control the agenda.

"I think it was part of an overall strategy to keep Ryan off stride," said Jerry Shuster, who teaches political communication at the University of Pittsburgh. "He really couldn't ever finish a thought."

Jamieson echoed that: "Whenever you're paying attention to the person reacting, it draws attention from the person talking," she said.

In any case, it seemed to be just what President Barack Obama needed from his running mate.

"If I were the president's doctor I would say, 'This is just what I ordered,'" Shuster said.


While many found Biden's grins infectious, some found them immature.

"That mugging, those condescending looks — it was a complete turnoff," said body language expert Lillian Glass, author of the upcoming "Body Language Advantage." ''He was bullying, he was smug, he interrupted ... I think he lost a lot of his message based on facial gestures."

Biden may have been deemed the winner by many, but "from a body language point of view, he did not win this debate," she said.


Even though he's much less experienced than Biden, experts agreed that it was a first good outing for Ryan.

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