Six months later, it's doubtful anyone is any more keen on the prospect of Biden becoming president. Still, Biden does have a strange new respect from many on the right as the administration's unwitting "truth-teller." Recall, it was Biden who admitted that the White House "misread how bad the economy was." He told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that if Israel felt it necessary to take out Iran's nuclear program, there was nothing the U.S. could do to stop it. This "green light" for Israel was so off script from administration policy, it might as well have been dubbed in, Kung Fu-movie style. Biden recently branded the Russians the sick man of Europe and pooh-poohed the idea they're anything like our strategic equals. The Russians flipped out like Skip Gates at a traffic stop, and Hillary Clinton was dispatched to scoop up Biden's rhetorical, er, mess.
Biden is a likeable fellow, which is why even his detractors cringe with fear when they hear him talk. And, unlike the unflappably smooth president, there's something human about Biden. When he talks, it's as if he's just slightly disoriented, like he just woke up from a nap and doesn't know exactly what he's saying yet.
That widespread empathy is probably why Obama opts for head-patting condescension toward his No. 2 man. During his address to Congress in February, Obama announced that Biden would be put in charge of ensuring the stimulus wasn't wasted and he would be super-terrific at it because, "Nobody messes with Joe."
But there's still a problem. Yes, Biden is occasionally a truth-teller. But, just as often, he's explaining how FDR spoke to Americans on TV, years before they had television sets or -- give it time -- how squirrels would taste more like ice cream if goats were only taller. And again, whenever he punctures the politics as usual with an inconvenient truth, the administration forces Biden to recant, not the other way around.
And that helps put Biden in perspective. Obama, the agent of change, picked a well-worn fixture of the political establishment mostly for crass political reasons: to win votes among blue-collar whites, particularly in Pennsylvania, to defuse charges that Obama lacked experience, and to conjure up an un-Cheney (on that score, they succeeded).
Supporters insisted that Biden lent gravitas to the ticket, but as Slate's Mickey Kaus rightly put it, Biden never had gravitas, only seniority. Six months into his vice presidency, that hasn't changed much. But in an administration obsessed with message control, he stands out like a sitcom character miscast in a political thriller, a useful reminder that Obama's promises to transform Washington were always overblown.
And that's why his surprise guest role at the beer summit was so heartening. Finally, his talents were perfectly matched for the job: Providing nothing of substance -- at great length! -- to a photo-op designed to be substance-free in the first place. Expect Biden to lend his own patented Bidenosity at similar events in the future, including the Six-Party Beef Jerky Conference, the U.N. Jagermeister Shot Forum, the Hooters Colloquium and anywhere else he can be of service.
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