The Spectacle Blog

Back to the Unimportant Vice Presidency

By on 1.8.09 | 5:06AM

Poor Sen. Joseph Biden.  Senator since the beginning of time, it seems.  Two-time presidential aspirant.  Chairman of the exalted Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Chosen by Barack Obama to add foreign policy heft to the Democratic ticket in the midst of the Russia-Georgia conflict. 

But then President-elect Obama chooses Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State.  We can imagine how often she will be calling Joe for his advice!  If he's not going to be the administration's foreign policy guru, then what?

Philip Terzian suggests in the Weekly Standard that the incoming veep will go back to the usual "inconsequential" model.  He writes:

Joseph Biden, the 66-year-old six-term senator from Delaware, who is nothing if not a quintessential politician of his time, is destined to be more typical than not. We know this for two reasons. First, because the Obama apparatus has not even bothered to say that Joe Biden will have unprecedented responsibilities during the next four years. And second, because the only significant story to emerge about Biden since the election has been the fact--duly reported in the press--that the Bidens beat the Obamas in their quest to acquire a puppy. (For the record, Biden's new dog is a German shepherd.)

In fact, it may be fair to assume that Biden will be the least consequential vice president since Alben Barkley, the amiable 71-year-old Senate fixture from Kentucky, known popularly as the "Veep," who was so underwhelmed by his four years' service in the Truman administration that he subsequently got himself elected to the Senate again.

It is difficult to imagine either Hillary Clinton or General James Jones actively soliciting Joe Biden's judgment in foreign affairs, or -Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers consulting Biden on the economy. Similarly, if the neophyte Obama seeks advice on politics or policy, is Biden destined to be the one to set him straight, or whip the troops into line, or populate the White House and executive branch with Biden people? Will Rahm Emanuel be expected to "clear it" with Joe?

To ask such questions is to answer them--even without laughing. Indeed, if there were any doubt about the insignificance of Joseph Biden in Barack Obama's administration, it was answered with last week's announcement that Biden would chair a special, cabinet-level task force to assess the conditions of American middle- and working-class families. ("Is the number of these families growing?" asks the vice president-elect. "Are they prospering?") This is close to pure Democratic boilerplate. It might have been more entertaining to put Biden in charge of a White House council on change we can believe in, or appoint him to be the logorrhea czar, but no less humiliating.

Poor Joe. But he still has a choice.  He's been reelected to the Senate, so he still has time to change his mind.  And then President Obama could nominate someone he really wants, instead of a campaign stopgap chosen at the one moment when his candidacy seemed in danger.  How about it, Joe?

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