As early as inauguration day, Jill Biden, Joe’s wife, made what was often cynically put in quotes as a “slip,” when she revealed to some member of the media that Obama gave Biden the choice of either Secretary of State or Vice President. This got me thinking, first towards what this means about Obama’s view of the Vice Presidency. He offered up the Number Two job in the country as one of two OPTIONS, not a yes or no. It still seems to reek of disrespect for the office, but on speaking about it with Matt, something became a bit clearer.
Matt’s first instinct was to open his mental encyclopedia and bring up a conversation Teddy Roosevelt had with William Howard Taft, as is Matt’s way. As he explained, Roosevelt sat Taft down as a man for whom he had great respect, and gave him two choices for the coming race – Supreme Court Justice or the next President of the United States. Roosevelt’s unparalleled popularity gave him the option to essentially pick his successor (even if he would attempt to dethrone Taft after what Teddy deemed an unworthy presidency), and Taft was his man. Perhaps it was the mustache. Taft, a man of law, preferred highly a position on the most important bench in the country. His wife was another matter. Despite her superhuman ability to make love to William Howard Taft, Nellie Taft aspired to even higher things, and probably a healthy pension. When she insisted upon the Presidency, as history often goes, Taft relented, and in short course was our next president.
An interesting story, no doubt, and Matt’s point is interesting – the idea that perhaps being given such a choice is the ultimate compliment, in case your choice of successor or back-up has different plans. In the case of Biden, perhaps it was a compliment for having fought the good fight, offering him one of the most important jobs in the executive branch, as well as the Vice Presidency. This makes my previous blog, about Obama’s choice as Biden for VP, all the more interesting. Biden’s experience aside, Obama must have had a great deal of confidence in Biden’s ability to represent the Administration. Equally, and oddly enough, he has to have felt the same about Hillary Clinton, though not enough to offer her the Vice Presidency, which she was quoted quite often as saying she would gladly take, if offered. He really wanted to keep Biden on board, for one reason or another. One only hopes it wasn’t a test, after which Obama might’ve thought to himself “I can’t believe he took the dummy prize,” and then woefully handed the keys to the State Department over to Hillary Clinton, running off to his campaign HQ to pout.
Truth be told, the test, in this case, won’t be in the choosing. For Obama, Biden’s test is in representing not just the administration, but Obama himself. The Veep is a fair surrogate at any number of functions – diplomatic function, sports events, ice cream socials. For the country – though most of it might not be aware of this fact – the real test is in Biden steeling himself, teaching himself the ins and outs of the presidency, all while playing figurehead and breaking that rare Senate tie. The studies of a man who wants to be not just president, not just next in line, not just the back-up, have to be grueling, constant and, in many cases, at the likely fickle will of an already (and hopefully) too-busy Commander-in-Chief. There is no primer for Biden. He can’t just walk over to the library of congress and pick up a copy of “So you want to be the Vice President.”
But if that book did exist – and it was written by a former VP, someone whom Biden could look up to, the book would very likely open up to a page with three words on it: No you don’t. Reading further would be a contract, of sorts. No matter what horrifying truths found within this book, Biden would be bound by oath to continue. Nothing, however, in this hallowed tome could prepare Biden for the type of damage control that his Vice Presidency not only would require, but also represented.
When Joe Biden was brought on, his friendly face an invitation to like Vice Presidency again, he very likely knew that he was there to take the secretiveness out of the Vice Presidency. Obama’s pledge for transparency couldn’t possibly be kept without taking care of the second-in-command. Biden and his team made their first move toward this a mere days into the Obama/Biden administration by allowing satellite photos to be taken of the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory and uploaded to Google Maps, something Dick Cheney had disallowed during the entire eight years of his term that overlapped the existence of Google Maps, during which the Veep’s house was an incomprehensible blur - the perfect metaphor, really.
Say what you will about former VP Cheney, but at least he was loud about being secretive. He said he had a reason for being so. It's like saying "Look, I know I'm a murderer, but, believe me, you'll thank me when these people turn out to have been douchebags." That same transparent lying led to a need for transparent operation. And who better to represent transparency in the new administration than the man who is used to being seen through?
Biden has inherited a huge trust deficit, but also a rare chance to re-vamp the office. If he has any secret government information, he's sure to blurt it out at some state function, then blow it off as just good 'ol Biden being Biden. Whether he made his choice to take such a weak office because he thought it an honor or because he actually has some plans for the office is unknown. What is apparent though, is that this time - as usual - is the chance the office has to become useful. Biden just has to make it accountable. If you kill a hooker, Joe... Just let us know, Joe, huh?
I feel it important to note that, when spell-checking this blog before publishing it, and being not too surprised that Blogger knew the name "Obama," there was one glaring omission from Blogger's dictionary that I thought I should share with you:
This is what you have ahead for you Joe. Even the internet doesn't acknowledge you exist. And the internet believes in talking cats.