Given the Vice President's wealth of experience, he is being extremely underused

Joe BidenOn Monday, the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, received the daily briefing along with the President. Later, he delivered remarks at the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Laboratory.

As I begin this piece on Tuesday, the Vice President of the United States is wrapping up the St. Patrick’s Day luncheon in the U.S. Capitol. President Obama and Irish President Edna Kenny also attended. Earlier, the Vice President hosted a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at the Naval Observatory. President Kenny attended. Later, the Vice President will deliver remarks to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County in Dickson City, PA.

The Vice President of the United States has nothing on his schedule for the next four days. Nothing. Now would be a good time to book him for a fish fry or a tractor pull. Because you never know when things might heat up for Joe Biden.

Actually, you do know, and it’s kind of a shame. In an Administration with a thin leadership cadre, the 36-year Senate career of a former judiciary and foreign relations committee chair is being frittered away. Quick, without Google, what was the last important policy initiative attached to Joe Biden’s name? What was the last important overseas mission Joe Biden was assigned?

It remains for Jon Stewart to go after the crud, corruption and incompetence of our Federal government. We can rely on Chris Matthews to skewer the clowns on the far right. Bernie Sanders issues broadsides and thunderclaps on a regular basis. Biden, though, has been underused as the Administration’s sharp point of the spear.

Joe Biden’s known for his off-the-cuff remarks and sometimes controversial one-liners. He’s known for his negotiations with Congressional leaders that helped win passage of several emergency financial measures. He’s blue-collar and proud of it. On all counts, the Obama inner circle would seem to be better served if it had turned him loose to be himself.

He would have presented a bracing contrast to the cerebral, no-drama Obama style of professorial politics. He could have been handed a more substantial portfolio of deals to strike with Congress, livening up a relationship between the White House and the Hill that has sunk into the single digits. He might have been put to a more visible purpose out on the never-ending campaign trail, bolstering popular support for Obama initiatives.

I’m not writing this to urge a Biden boomlet for the 2016 run. He has said that he’ll think about it and decide by the end of the summer. I’m thinking instead about the ways the Administration has wasted one of its most seasoned political operatives, one of its most experienced campaigners. The flaws in the Obama Presidency (and there have been several) tend to focus on his aloof style, his apparent distaste for brawling with the opposition, his miscalculations about the power of his rhetoric to move an issue.

Joe BidenWhen Obama chose Biden to be his running mate, I think it was precisely those blue-collar, street political skills that he saw and that he wanted on his team. Why, then, have those assets been muted?

I think there are three factors. First, Joe Biden does not belong to the Obama inner circle, a circle that often defends against outsiders. Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago lawyer and political veteran, has more clout with Obama. Susan Rice, a Rhodes Scholar, has the national security portfolio. Jack Lew has maintained an insider’s seat. Biden is from Delaware, and has a law degree from Syracuse, not in the same league as Obama’s whisperers.

Second, I believe Obama does not enjoy sharing the limelight, and Joe Biden’s style often makes him better camera copy than the President. Barack Obama’s election was historic and I think the President has been brought back to earth by the relentless resistance of a Congress he thought he could win over. His Party’s midterm defeats have further eroded his stature. He’d naturally be unhappy about allowing a “happy warrior” like Joe Biden to take the news lead away from him.

Finally, Biden’s not a big thinker and Obama has often said he wanted big ideas. Biden’s a mechanic in the best sense of the word. His six terms in the Senate gave him a much stronger purchase on the levers of influence and access than Obama’s two years. Joe Biden’s personal story (the deaths of his wife and daughter, his lunch-bucket approach to Amtrak commuting to and from Delaware) put him closer to the way things work for a lot of “little people.” He has legislative accomplishments to his credit, notably (during Women’s History Month) the Violence Against Women Act.

As I finish this, no public events have been added to the Vice President’s schedule. Now that St.Patrick’s Day is over, there may not be much for him to do.

But that speech in Maryland on Monday? It was to press for opening and testing the thousands of rape kits that have gone unprocessed. Not as much news coverage as Obama’s NCAA bracket, but to my mind, a lot more in the moment.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I think you’re right that Biden was initially attractive as a VP candidate because of his relationships on the Hill and the fact that he was not only good at deal-making but enjoyed the back-and-forth of it—something the president was neither good at nor enjoyed during his years as both senator and president (each of those things reinforcing, of course, the other).

    But, to a great degree, that part of his resume became almost irrelevant when Republicans first took control of the House and began their non-stop, unending campaign of obstruction. His relationships with those on the other side of the aisle no longer mattered per affecting legislation and his deal-making abilities mattered even less. The Republicans simply were not going to allow this president to pass any legislation that advanced any of his initiatives—no matter how much they liked Biden, no matter how good he was/is at negotiating agreements. And that hasn’t changed. Which simply means that the primary governance activity for which he was recruited is no longer in play.

    I do think he has been effectively used as the president’s proxy with Democrats in both chambers. And he has been equally effective at mobilizing blue-collar, labor-oriented Democrats in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. And, of course, he puts a likable, everyman look on an administration that, admittedly, can come across as bloodlessly cerebral.

    I’m not as sure as you that President Obama is threatened by or feels particularly envious of the vice-president’s “Happy Warrior” image and the press it receives. Quite frankly, I think that this president sees the press as a necessary hindrance whose most positive possibility is providing him with a way to get his ideas out in full form—preferably through extended interviews. I think he enjoys the occasional times when cameras catch him enjoying personal time—but even those are really restricted.

    He is who he is, Joe Biden is who he is and they have, by-and-large, complemented each other. Which is a much better arrangement than we had with Cheney/Bush. Oh, wait, my bad! It was Bush/Cheney.

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