Not Worth a Pitcher of Warm You-Know-What

Joe Biden is no joke

So said John Nance Gardner, one of FDR’s many veeps, in describing the job. Perhaps it is the alpha male nature of American political culture that seems almost inevitably to reduce the stature of the guy one step down from the top. The current victim of the curse is Joe Biden, who remains a punch line in the minds of many Americans.

Ezra Klein knows better. He makes a solid case that Biden is a smart and extraordinarily skilled politician who has made major contributions to the administration. His analysis will draw nods from anyone who has worked with Biden or his high-caliber staff (whom Klein is correct to acknowledge as key to their boss’s success).

Assuming Biden runs for president, the VP curse will stand in his path, but clearly it’s not insurmountable. Contrary to political folklore, it’s historically been an unusually good position from which to secure the presidency.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

13 thoughts on “Not Worth a Pitcher of Warm You-Know-What”

  1. The hard Radical Right has been expending extraordinary effort over the last five years to depict Biden as an oaf, a bumbler, a “gaffe machine”, incompetent, etc. I can’t tell from here whether the Very Serious People(tm) in the DC media village have bought into that effort or not, but I get the impression they now lean that way. Is that something Biden could overcome in a Presidential run? As we know from the Gore campaign, once the Village forms an unfavorable impression of a candidates “likeables” he/she is generally toast.


    1. Gore ran a fairly inept campaign, and (as we know) should have won with the economic fundamenals so favourable, and in a period of inernational calm. Biden might run something a bit more agressive, and would not feel the need to distance himself from Obama, as Gore did from Clinton.

      1. Whether or not Gore ran a competent campaign, he won a plurality of the popular vote; the last time the president elect lost the popular vote was in 1888. Had it not been for the peculiarities of the US presidential election system (i.e., electoral college), and the intellectual dishonesty of 5 supreme court justices, and the spinelessness of Congress to uphold its role in presidential elections, Gore would have been sworn in as president on 01/20/2001. And if my grandmother had wheels she’d …

        1. And had Gore taken office (as he clearly won: Florida should have been recounted by non-partisans, at a minimum,) we would not have gone back to war in Iraq, and thousands of people would still be alive, including many American soldiers. This is undeniable fact.

          Possibly, 9-11 might have been prevented, as Bush dismissed the importance of the Al Qaeda threat that Clinton/Gore administration had been following.

          And we would be much less far down the path of ecological destruction from unbridled global warming/climate change.

          Makes me so very sad.

    2. Some observations to set against Cranky’s:
      1. The Village is indeed mindless, and may well have decided that Biden is Gilligan. But Gilligan does okay with voters. The Village did not respect Bush’s intellect, or that of Ronald Reagan. It didn’t seem to hurt them much. It’s only when the Village decides that a candidate is unlikeable that the candidate has problems. (Cranky is correct here.) And I don’t think that Gilligan is unlikeable.
      2. The Village has decided that Barack Obama is the Professor.
      3. I don’t think that the Village wanted to cast Mitt Romney as Thurston Howell III, but it had no choice.
      4. The Marianne (Mary Ann?) slot is still open, although Maureen Dowd wants it.

      1. I agree with Ebenezer. Indeed I would go farther and say that sometimes, a skilled politician (and Reagan was clearly one) can use the contempt of the villagers to make himself even more popular with the nation’s voters.

        1. Ike is an even better example than Reagan, because he undoubtedly was one of the sharpest knives in the drawer. (Reagan had some extraordinary gifts, but analytical precision was never one of them.) Despite a long paper trail showing that Ike was a gifted writer, he managed to convince the voters that he could not utter a complete English sentence. Sometimes, I think that Ike secretly hired a speech coach to teach him how to properly mispronounce “nyookular.”

          1. I don’t think so. I lived in Kansas for eleven years, DDE grew up in Abilene. 99.44% of native Kansans believe the tributary of the Mississippi that has its source in Colorado and runs through most of Kansas from West to East is called the Ar*kan’*zass River. The rest of the English-speaking world calls it the Ar’*kan*saw River.

            Similarly, most of the Kansans I knew thought that Dubya pronounced nuclear correctly. Which suggests that DDE probably thought it was pronounced that way too.

  2. Toby, you’re understating the case in re Gore. His campaign wasn’t “fairly inept,” it was hopeless. But something that might work strongly against Biden is his age. He’s five years older than Hillary, and many are questioning whether she’ll be too old to be a viable candidate.

  3. I think Biden would make a fine President and would do at least as well as a generic Democrat in the general election. But primaries are not about who has a great record or whose turn it is. They’re about who motivates activists to go vote. I don’t see anything that makes me think Biden will attract many more votes in 2016 than he did in 2008 or 1988.

    1. I think (hope) you may be underestimating the attrractiveness of the fellow who has shown himself to be, not just a little goofy, but rather a real grown-up who has a slight streak of goofy in him.

  4. I want Alan Grayson, (or Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren.)

    But mostly I want Grayson, because he has Obama’s rhetoric combined with Krugman’s economic/financial chops. He not only knows what the right thing to do is, he can also sell it to the public… like FDR, and unlike Obama.

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