Joe Biden: my favourite American
"You know, Joe Biden - you can joke about him all you want, [but] he's got a set of balls, and he says what he believes..." New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Joe Biden
I take no greater joy from any American alive today than I do from Vice-President Joe Biden.
Initially, when the Obama-Biden administration took office, much of this Biden-related pleasure was derived from the Onion's quite brilliant comic appropriation of his profile. The Onion (America's leading satirical news source, which most of you I'm sure are aware of) chose to paint Biden as an old, drunken, scatter-brained, party-hardy, philandering good-times guy. They put up stories about him washing his Trans-Am on the White House lawn, getting thrown out of bars, scoring 800 feet of copper wire, hitch-hiking to the Democratic National Convention, where he goes on to make a speech about the nation is better off than it was four years ago, but that "nothing can touch summer of '87".
Biden in his (fictional) conventional speech "emphasized the nation would never see another string of weeks like the run in 1987 when he got "totally blitzed" on his buddy Blaze's deck nearly every night, tore donuts in the Food Lion parking lot after hours, and scored some "primo" seats for Great White's Once Bitten... Tour in Atlantic City."
I think probably, if speaking honestly, the Onion staff would admit that part of the joke of these articles was that Biden was somewhat of a nondescript figure on the national stage. His long and stable Senate career was simply a good bet to offset Obama's own relative inexperience. He'd run for President himself in 1988 and 2008, but had never been able to draw up any significant support.
Something changed though. Maybe the Onion, through these articles, bought attention to a feisty streak in Biden that was there all along. Or maybe the articles finally emboldened Biden (who always had a reputation for being loose-lipped) to step into the public spotlight... regardless, in the past four years the vice president has snowballed toward cult-hero status.
At the start of 2011, Biden noted his approval about the Onion articles, but added that he has a 1967 Corvette, not a Trans Am. His status as pop-culture icon has been further entrenched by his role as a recurring reference point as Leslie Knope's favourite politician on Parks and Recreation.
Biden's public personality has drifted closer to the mythical Biden's persona. He made waves at the start of this year presiding over the Senate swearing in ceremony with the force of personality of a stand up-comedian doing crowd work.
"You are so pretty. God love you, holy mackerel," Biden remarked to a mysterious brunette in a red dress who was there as a partner to a bachelor senator. To the granddaughters of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, he ordered, "No serious guys until you're 30." To a former football player watching his senator brother get sworn in, he quipped, "Need any help on your pecs, man, give me a call." Seeing Senator Joe Donnelly take the stage, who won his election coming from about 10-points back with a fortnight left when his opponent self-immolated in a hail of abortion talk, he laughed, "If I were a bettin' man, I woulda made a lot of money on this guy."
When everyone was sworn in he stared out into an empty room and yelled, "Anybody else want to be sworn in as a senator today?" Hours later there was a petition up on the White House website to give Biden his own reality show.
It was sensational and so, so refreshing. Obama most frequently presents an extremely sober and reserved public face. American politicians in Congress and the Senate are always just sniping about their opponents. Here was an American politician who was having a little fun.
I love it.
Biden combines an actual personality with refreshing candour. During a robotic, repetitive election campaign, where toothless, spineless rhetoric was with few exceptions the rule, listening to Biden was like coming up for air after having your head held under the water. The Los Angeles Times observed of Biden on the campaign trail, "Most candidates give the same stump speech over and over, putting reporters if not the audience to sleep. But during any Biden speech, there might be a dozen moments to make press handlers cringe, and prompt reporters to turn to each other with amusement and confusion."
And while this can come out a bit muddled or go slightly too far (such as his "put y'all back in chains" quip about Romney to a mixed-race crowd that was about as funny as it was probably true), too rarely in America do you feel like you're listening to a man of integrity, speaking without the aid of several layers of filtering and advice.
This is not to say either that Biden is a mere punch line, an old crank let off the leash when Obama needs to inject a little energy or to mix things up.
That endorsement of gay marriage that Obama was so roundly praised for?
Who was called in to save the day when the American Government was teetering on the brink of another self-inflicted implosion?
Which fearless, straight-talking politician has Obama entrusted with gun control reforms?
Biden served as a Senator for Delware for 36 years for becoming Vice President. He is a man of comparably modest means who lost his first wife and son in a tragic car accident the Christmas after he was first elected to the Senate.
Sure, much of Biden's freedom, I think comes from the fact that he'll be 74 when he's done and unlikely to be successful in any run for higher office. He's not stuck in the dirt with the House of Representatives or saddled with the weight of expectation that falls on Obama. But still, I think he's pretty deserving of the current position of my favourite American.
Who is yours? Why?
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