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Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan: The evolution of the vice president in America

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Mary Altaffer/AP

(Read caption) Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan enters the race at a time in when the VP job has become much more significant.

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As a satirist once observed about an American vice president, it's hard to play second fiddle when you don't even have a bow.

The Constitution just doesn't give vice presidents much to do except wait around for something unfortunate to happen. Not all VPs have minded much: One had enough spare time to run a saloon. Others devoted themselves to pastimes like writing history books, dreaming about getting a law degree, and bashing the guy in the White House.

Things have changed. When Joe Biden and Paul Ryan meet in a debate on Thursday, they'll be vying for a position that's become vastly more vital.

How'd that happen? For better or worse, who are the most memorable VPs? And how many have shot a man while in office?

For answers, I called author Joel Goldstein, a Saint Louis University law professor who's perhaps the nation's leading expert on vice presidents.
Q: One of Franklin Roosevelt's vice presidents famously declared that the office is "not worth a bucket of warm [bodily fluid]."


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