The Future of Vice President Joe Biden

Sarah Palin’s resignation has led many of her supporters to criticize the way she has been treated by the media. Some have gone further by suggesting some of her boneheaded statements (“You can see Russia from land here in Alaska”) were the object of exaggerated ridicule. Meanwhile, the more controversial statements of her vice-presidential rival, Joe Biden, were never met with the same level of derision as those of Palin. Some bloggers have alluded to Biden’s controversial and potentially damaging late campaign comment that Obama would be tested early on national security.

Since then, Biden hasn’t shed his loose-lips habits of the past. Just recently, he claimed the Obama Administration “misread the economy” it inherited. In the same interview, Biden acknowledged Israel’s sovereign right to attack Iran if it felt its security was at stake. Barack Obama has had to adjust these messages, providing more fodder to those who feel Biden was given a free pass in the last presidential election. It may have been a deliberate ‘good cop, bad cop’ play by the administration, but conservative pundits are not letting it pass.

Still, when one revisits the interviews Palin gave to CBS’s Katie Couric and ABC’s Charlie Gibson, it is easy to conclude they were surreal and downright scary. The fact that Palin was a heartbeat away from a job that would otherwise have been held by a 72 year-old cancer survivor is even more disconcerting. Obama’s choice of Biden, on the other hand, was effective to counter the suspicions about Obama’s scant political experience at the national and international levels. There are many Democrats who cringe at the sight of Biden on Sunday talk shows. But the short answer is there is no compelling evidence that would lead an astute observer to conclude that Biden is in trouble. Biden may lack discipline and some of his views may be questionable, but he still comes across as experienced and knowledgeable.

Joe Biden was not only chosen for his qualifications, but also because he would not necessarily toe the administration line. Obama knew that. He expected Biden to challenge him and be the last man in the room when it came time to make the big decision. The chemistry between the two men seems easy and the team-building spirit of the vice president has contributed to make this “team of rivals” (Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, and Defense Secretary Bob Gates) functional and cohesive. That Biden sometimes strays from the Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod code of discipline is actually refreshing. Joe is no yes-man. His Irish touch and working-class background contrasts well with the cool, intellectual persona of the president and actually contributes to providing a more human face to the administration. I am certain Obama has no regrets about his choice.

That said, Obama’s agenda is mixture of medium- and long-term goals. When Obama was asked two weeks ago about his reserved response to events in Iran, the president responded that while the press may be on a 24-hour cycle, he is not. Similarly, the Constitution may have presidential term limits, but the “change we can believe in” does not. The presidency is not a prize to relinquish after just two terms. Of course, Obama’s impressive and activist start is no guarantee of success and reelection in 2012. But Democrats, observing the continuing dysfunction and disarray inside the Republican party, are dreaming of political dominance similar to the post-Roosevelt era, which brought them a 40-plus-year reign over Congress. Only in 1952 did Republicans break the trend, only to see Democrats recapture Congress two years later.

Remember that George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice-president and, soon after, Cheney said he did not intend to run for president when the post re-opened. This led many to conclude that Cheney’s only real interest was in the country and not personal ambition. This did not prove to be the case, but the lack of an obvious GOP successor to Bush gave the impression that no one was in charge when Bush entered his lame-duck phase and that there was no such candidate available. I admit Bush 43 was most unpopular, but contrast the end of Reagan’s two terms and those of Clinton with that of ‘W’ and no party will willingly opt for the latter’s path. Joe Biden will be 73 years old in 2016 and while he has not ruled out a future run for the presidency, he would be older than John McCain was in 2008. It is therefore possible that, for the sake of continuity and the country’s long term prospects, in spite Biden’s generally positive influence over the course of his first term, Obama will reconsider his running mate in 2012.