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Honey, Who Shrunk the Vice Presidency?

The Obama team has had a rougher week than normal, but we shouldn’t lose sight of its best decision to date: downgrading Joe Biden. He was going to be the wise counselor, but it became clear during the campaign he was the court jester (or village idiot?) — unable to stay on message, obnoxious in the extreme and lending no particular expertise to the campaign. Is it little wonder Biden is milking one last trip overseas where he can garner some attention?

Philip Terzian observes:

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.

Biden may have been better situated and more influential had he remained in the Senate. Indeed, he’ll be missed by pundits everywhere at future judicial confirmation hearings when no one will quite fill the void left by the goofy-grinned, incessantly-interrupting Delaware Senator. Well, let’s not get carried away–he might want to return some day.

For the balance of the Obama presidency he may provide definitive proof that the VP only matters three times–at his announcement, his Convention acceptance speech, and the VP debate. Let’s hope so.


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