The role of vice-president in the United States is an odd one. On one level, once given the job you are an assassination, a sudden cardiac arrest or a sex scandal away from being the most powerful person in the world. On the other hand, the position itself is of very little power in most ways. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “Being a vice president is kind of like being a first lady; you are there to support and serve the president. There is no job description.”
It was speculated for some time that Biden would not return as the President’s running mate in 2012, possibly to be replaced by Hillary Clinton or some other Democrat, but this never came to fruition. Obama ordered a joke to be cut out of one of his comedic speeches at the White House dinner over worry that the joke would further fuel these suspicions. The line had implied that Biden would be replaced as his running mate, where according to the New York Times the President would have said`, “Four years ago, I chose Joe Biden as my running mate… four years later, I’m almost positive I’m going with Joe again.”
Biden has come to be known for his tendency to make gaffes and blunders in political speeches and campaign tours. Unlike the cautious Obama, who is rarely known to speak without the aid of a teleprompter, Biden regularly goes off script, which has led to a number of embarrassing and humorous situations along the campaign trail. These include referring to the passing of the Affordable Health Care act as a ‘big fucking deal’ and admitting that the administration had ‘misread’ how bad the economy was following the financial crisis that awoke under Bush. As well as being criticised by press for his gaffes, he has been praised for them as well. As former Senate college and Republican Lindsey Graham has said “If there were no gaffes, there’d be no Joe. He’s someone you can’t help but like.” Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett added that his loose talk is “what makes the vice president so endearing”, and that she wouldn’t change him one bit.
Biden caused a stir in the American and international press when he let slip during an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that he supported same-sex marriage, a position that Obama did not publicly share. While it is likely that Obama’s lack of support for same-sex marriage at this point was for political reasons rather than being from his own personal view on the matter, Biden’s spontaneous declaration of support for marriage equality ultimately led to the President declaring support just days later.
Comedian and host of the political talk-show Real Time, Bill Maher, in a monologue on his show joked that, “If we want historic change, we can either do it the president’s way, slowly, using cool, detached reason, or the vice president’s way, quickly using brainfarts. Oh Joe, would you please go on Meet the Press this week and say, ‘Should marijuana be legalized? I’m high right now! Afghanistan? What a shithole, let’s get the fuck out now! Wall Street bankers? I can’t believe we haven’t hung any! Global Warming? That’s a big fucking deal, my friend!”
Apart from causing Obama’s position on same-sex marriage to ‘evolve’ due to a slip of the tongue, Biden has shown a reserved and less-invasive approach to the vice-presidency than his predecessor Dick Cheney. Cheney was seen by large parts of the American media and public as the true mastermind of President George W. Bush’s neoconservative ideology and foreign policy. This was particularly related to foreign oil in Iraq, in large part due to his tenure as CEO of the Halliburton Company from 1995 to 2000, before assuming the office of vice-president.
Biden has eliminated some of the explicit roles assumed by Cheney, and worked largely as a background figure. He has however, been closely involved in areas related to policy. Biden has established himself as an influential figure in advising the president, and members of his Administration on political issues. He held an oversight role in president Obama’s stimulus package, which aimed to counteract the recession that began in 2008. He has also been known for, unlike the president, having a good ability to negotiate with Congressional Republicans, which has allowed for the passing of some important pieces of legislation.
Biden has played a large role in backing the President in his 2012 bid for the White House, joining Obama at many rallies across the country. The Obama Campaigns official Facebook channel recently put up a photograph of Obama and Biden embarrassing while smiling happily, accompanied by the caption ‘Four years after they became running mates, this is the team that still has our back’. We will wait to see in November if the American public has theirs.