My father thinks Obama made a huge mistake in not picking Hillary for Vice President. He thinks that if Hillary were on the ticket, Obama would have won with the biggest landslide in history. I’m not sure about that. Hillary’s supporters are just a subsection of this country’s Democrats, after all, not an extra group of 18 million added on top of traditional Democratic voters. And let’s face it, in many circles, including some liberal ones, Hillary Clinton is still reviled along with her husband, despite her historic campaign and the support she received in the primaries. I had planned on voting for Hillary until I switched to Obama's camp just before the California primary. Would she have been an asset to Obama’s campaign if she were the Vice Presdential candidate? It’s hard to say.
I admire what Joe Biden has done in the Senate over the past 35 years, but most of my memories of him come from his previous run for the Presidency in 1988. I cannot believe that 20 years have passed since Biden, then in his mid-40s, was a serious contender. Here’s how he looked on June 9, 1987, when he announced his candidacy in Wilmington, Delaware.
Am I the only one who thinks he looks better at 65? Could it be his lush silver hair? I’m surprised the press hasn’t been obsessing on Biden’s mysterious locks. In all the videos I’ve seen of Biden from the 80s, he was as bald as I am but today he sports a beautiful Ted Kennedy-like mane. What gives, Joe? Will the Republicans focus on this follicle discrepancy? Are we in for a season of Transplantgate?
My first memory of Biden in national politics goes all the way back to 1976 when he, ironically, was in charge of helping candidate Jimmy Carter pick a running mate. Did he ever consider putting himself in the running, as Dick Cheney did when Bush asked him to help pick a veep? At the time, young Senator Biden publicly worried that Carter would pick someone “bland.” Is that why the team ultimately went for that dynamo known as Walter Mondale? Gulp. Does anyone even remember Mondale’s run for the Presidency? Is Walter in Denver this week? Did he at least get to speak during the non-prime time hours? Walter Mondale is now the oldest living Vice President who never became President, twenty years older than Dan Quayle and Al Gore. Of course Gore doesn’t really belong on that list…
I really thought Biden had a shot in 88. It was painful to watch his campaign implode because of those pesky plagiarism charges. Unlike many accusations levied against political candidates, Biden was clearly guilty as charged, but reading the specifics of what he did I never thought his actions were that bad. Back then, the media pronounced Biden’s hopes for higher office dashed for life. What a difference 20 years makes! Is that all Hillary has to do—wait 20 years? Will she be the darling of the 2028 Presidential campaign, running on a ticket with a new charismatic figure who was born in 1983?
Following the plagiarism scandal, there were no end of negative articles about Biden, including some that damned him with faint praise. An editorial in the New York Times called “An Age of Pretense” bid a fond farewell to the senator from Delaware:
Before we finally say bye-bye to Senator Biden, we ought to give the guy half a break. At least he knew when to quit, and he reminded us that petty betrayals and mindless neglect sometimes have deplorable results. We are living in an age of pretense when even faking sincerity is the style, and it’s reassuring to know that it doesn’t always work.
Joe Biden isn’t a bad man, like so many in the political dodge. He’s just a breezy, gabby, careless man, full of good looks and good intentions, unsupported by clear thinking or plain speaking. There are plenty more like him still in town.
I think Biden can be arrogant as hell, but I still admire him. A less-than-flattering 1988 description of him holds true today: “Joe always looks slicker than he is, with his twisted smile and his hey-fella-how’m-I-doin’ pose. He is a picture: even his flashing white teeth, which look false, are real.”
Remember that as his campaign came crashing down around him twenty years ago, Biden was in the middle of presiding over the confirmation hearings for Robert Bork, Reagan’s ultra-conservative pick for the Supreme Court. There’s no doubt that Biden played a huge role in Bork’s defeat. Biden was masterful and informed, without being over-the-top. At the time, Biden knew that even his colleagues who were allied with him against Bork were doubtful that he was the right man for the job.
“There were three questions,” Biden recounted. “Can Biden be fair? Can Biden control himself? And is there any substance there, any depth to Biden? The expectations of me were so low that I could have done almost anything except punch Bork and people would have said, ‘He’s not as bad as I thought!’”
After it was all over, Biden savored the victory, but expressed empathy for Judge Bork.
“It’s presumptuous to say you know how somebody feels,” the Senator said. “I don’t know how he feels, but I empathize with him intellectually and emotionally. It once looked so certain for him. He was so up. I know how that feels.”
And now it “looks up” again for Joe Biden. After licking his wounds in 88, he went back to work in the Senate, and bided his time until he could take center stage again. Give ‘em hell tonight, Joe. See you at the inauguration!