Joe Biden is performing a public service, God love him. Out on the stump, he renders the case for President Barack Obama’s reelection in all its populist crudity.
No dulcet tones. No faux sophistication. No charm. C’mon, man! There’s no time for that when Mitt Romney is descending on America promising to commit the most heinous acts in the history of vampire capitalism.
The Obama reelection campaign must make Romney, a mild-mannered man with a sterling business record and a center-right record as Massachusetts governor, into a fiendish apparition too risky to entrust with the highest office in the land. That entails over-the-top attacks delivered with a cocksure shamelessness and little regard for nuance or truth. Vice President Biden reporting for duty, sir!
Speculation that President Obama will throw Biden overboard and select Hillary Clinton as his running-mate won’t die. It entirely misses the point, though. Yes, Hillary is — to damn her with the faintest possible praise — a more serious figure than Biden. But since when is that the standard? Biden’s willingness to say anything makes him the ideal attack dog. If the Obama team didn’t have Joe Biden, it would have to invent someone as hyperbolic and overeager.
The Cory Booker flap showed the danger of using a surrogate with standards. On Meet the Press, Booker called the attacks on Romney’s former private-equity firm, Bain Capital, “nauseating” and “crap.” He expressed understandable dismay about a president of the United States telescoping an election campaign down to a few distorted accounts of long-ago business deals. Immediately upbraided by his minders in Chicago, Booker recanted so fulsomely that it’s a wonder he didn’t offer to burn Bain to the ground in an oblation to the president.
Vice President Biden may make many mistakes, but insufficient demagoguery will never be one of them. In a speech at a manufacturing facility in Ohio, he said that at Bain “Romney made sure the guys on top got to play by a separate set of rules; he ran massive debts, and the middle class lost.” Then, he moved in for the kill: “So what do you think he’ll do as president?” Q.E.D.
The likes of Biden never explain what they would have preferred to happen to the troubled businesses that attracted the attention of Bain. Simply go out of business without any attempt at a turnaround? Even Biden stipulates that he has no problem, as a general proposition, with private equity. If so, he shouldn’t be shocked that some acquisitions turn out better than others.
Of course, Biden can’t help lending an air of ridiculousness to whatever he touches. At the same Ohio campaign stop, he declaimed that “they” (rich Romney supporters) don’t understand “us” (the struggling working class), before shouting about his parents dreaming that one day he could become vice president. Such Biden moments tend to provoke hilarity followed by concern — i.e., once the chuckling stops, one wonders, “Is he unwell?”
Biden subsequently explained — if that’s the right word — that “I get tired of being called ‘Middle Class Joe,’ like that somehow I’m just Joe and I don’t dream. C’mon, man.” Where to start? No one calls Biden “Middle Class Joe,” except maybe his press flacks under extreme duress. And salt-of-the earth people don’t usually refer to themselves in the third person. Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972. After soaking up the working-class ethos of that deliberative body for 36 years, he decamped to the Naval Observatory as vice president of the United States.
If Barack Obama circa 2004 had known that his political fate would eventually be tied to a longtime senator famous for buffoonish outbursts, he might have reconsidered the audacity of hope. With an unpopular record and a disappointing recovery, the president needs every hatchet man he can get. So the battle cry has gone out, “Unleash Biden!” Hide the women and children.