Vice President Biden loves what is happening right now. No question about it.
A picture of him in a starched blue shirt with a bandana-wearing biker babe nearly on his lap in battleground state Ohio is exploding on social media and the Web. Various Web sites and blogs, such as The Washington Post’s The Fix, are holding caption contests, asking readers to read Uncle Joe’s mind.
Over the weekend, Biden visited Cruisers Diner in southern Ohio, where some bikers called the “Shaddowmen” just happened to be eating. Biden wanted to ride one of their hogs, but they shied away from that idea.
According to an Associated Press photographer who snapped the now infamous photo, the female biker, who was watching Biden, caught his eye. He motioned for her to come over and said, “I know who runs the show.”
“The woman had no place to sit, so Biden pulled a chair in front of himself and pulled her nearly into his lap,” the AP reported. “He put his hands on her shoulders and leaned in for a conversation as photographers snapped away.”
In the photo, two male bikers are looking at Biden and the woman with severe suspicion — a political postcard moment if ever there was one.
While Biden was guffawing with motorcycle lovers in leather vests, President Obama, on a stop in Fort Pierce, Fla., got a startling bear hug from Republican Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza & Pasta Italian Restaurant. Obama made a surprise visit to the restaurant and shocked Van Duzer, who runs a nonprofit that collects blood for the sick and has been commended by the White House.
“I was overwhelmed when I saw him,” Van Duzer told reporters. He also said Obama had his vote.
Both pictures offer a stark parallel to the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Obama, while more serious at times than Biden, shows that he, too, has the ability to switch to informal mode in an instant. He can go with the flow and crack an unscripted joke without appearing lost and confused.
Biden, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get guy, never meets a stranger. On the polar opposite, Mitt Romney never seems to be able to talk to a stranger, like bikers on a weekend ride, on the campaign trail.
And Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has yet to show the much-talked-about magic he has with white blue-collar voters, but if he is to compete with Biden, he better hit some biker bars when he visits Wisconsin this week. The vice president will be in the congressman’s home state at the same time. Get the cameras ready.
Americans want to feel as if they can sit down and have a beer with their president. Obama is always having a beer with folks. The White House has made its own brew, and at the Iowa State Fair, Obama bought beers for 10 people. While Biden, who doesn’t drink, had a soda in front of him in Ohio, the image is clear. Uncle Joe is a man who would be comfortable with you having a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a bowl of peanuts after work.
Romney doesn’t drink, either. Neither did President George W. Bush, but he still appeared like a guy who could be comfortable sitting around a campfire with an O’Doul’s.
Optics in politics is everything. At some point, the average voter tunes out the wonky talk and tunes into viral images, especially in this day of social media memes flooding feeds round-the-clock.
Case in point: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked for years to cultivate a carefree image, but it was the Hillary memes that declared her a hip, cool feminist to millennials. Buckle up, folks: Uncle Joe is well on his way to the same rep.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker