‘You Were a Senator’: Joe Biden’s Weird Relationship with His Boss

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ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden acknowledge the audience at the conclusion of their acceptance of the Democratic National Convention's nomination to run for a second term as president and vice-president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 6, 2012

Muammar Gaddafi once asked Joe Biden why Libya was on the U.S. list of terrorist nations. “Because you’re a terrorist!” Biden replied to his face. On a trip to an Indiana battery factory, Biden was shown an electric vehicle called the Think. “Who the f— names their car Think?” he asked. I got to sit in on a Cabinet meeting Biden hosted about the Obama stimulus. “The Recovery Act has been the most successful government program in history!” he blurted as he rushed in the door.

As one of his aides told me, you never have to wonder what Vice President Biden is thinking, because he just said it. He’ll be on a tight leash on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, providing campaign-approved puffery about the magnificence of President Obama. And he believes it, mostly. But as I explain in my book The New New Deal, where all those Bidenisms appear, the exuberant 69-year-old Irish Catholic pol from Scranton, Pa., has complex feelings about his younger, calmer, more polished, more introverted boss. Biden views Obama with a strange mixture of condescension and awe.

Biden is in many ways Obama’s polar opposite, the fire to his ice, the id to his superego, the insider to his outsider. He loves the same tactile side of politics that Obama hates: the schmoozing, the glad-handing, the dealmaking. The tensions in their shotgun marriage surfaced publicly the day after the Inauguration, when Biden teased Chief Justice John Roberts for flubbing the oath, and Obama shot him a stop-it glance that could have frozen lava. In private, Biden mocks the President’s people skills and chilliness, and even his ability to curse properly. And he still sees himself as the Washington wise man showing his young ingenue how politics works. When talking about policies, he often says the President “gets it,” a patronizing Bidenism for “agrees with me.” To illustrate his own importance to the President as a Capitol Hill liaison, he told me, rather indiscreetly, that Obama once said to him, “Look, you were a Senator. I was never a Senator.”

(PHOTOS: The Obama Brand)

Biden thinks the White House has fumbled the politics of the past four years, getting trapped in an unwinnable short-term debate over numbering jobs instead of explaining how the Administration has been driving long-term change. When we spoke about the stimulus, he made several dismissive comments about the brilliant young Ivy Leaguers around the West Wing who seemed to think their Keynesian heroics in preventing a second Great Depression would be obvious to everyone. “I have some sense of human nature,” he told me with a smirk. And when he contrasts his hey-man, working-class, gut-instinct approach to politics with the hyper-rational pointy heads down the hall, it’s pretty clear who he has in mind.

That said, Biden also talks about Obama in tones of genuine amazement: a steel backbone, a brain bigger than his skull, a heart in the right place, a guy who gets the facts and makes the call and never looks back. After watching Obama’s crisp decisionmaking during the transition, he told his chief of staff, “They got the order of this ticket right.” He also sees the President as a man of his word, which means something to the guy who’s always pledging his “word as a Biden.” Obama promised to include Biden in important meetings and listen to his unvarnished advice, and he has. “He wanted me to be the bastard at the family picnic, which, politely, I am,” Biden says. Obama doesn’t always take Biden’s advice — the Vice President was skeptical of the push for health reform, the raid on Osama bin Laden and the surge in Afghanistan — but Biden backs the party line in public. He did get out a bit in front of the President on gay marriage, but that was so unusual, it makes me wonder how accidental it really was.

(PHOTOS: The Democratic National Convention)

Obama views Biden with a mix of condescension and respect too. When they served together in the Senate, Obama saw Biden as a gasbag, a classic example of the dangers of Senatoritis. During the 2008 campaign, he was infuriated by Biden’s lack of discipline, a mortal sin in Obamaworld. And he’s still a bit bewildered by Biden’s goofy side; like everyone else in Washington, he sometimes rolls his eyes at Joe-being-Joe stories. But he gave Biden two areas of responsibility — Iraq and the Recovery Act — and he thinks Biden handled them well. There is also a grudging feeling throughout the White House that while Biden’s man-of-the-people shtick can be annoying — the economists get sick of him asking them to explain what things mean to the ordinary family — the Vice President does have some political and personal insights that the pointy heads lack.

Today Gaddafi and the Think are no more, while the Recovery Act has been pretty damn successful, if not the most successful government program in history. Biden may be a Republican laugh line, and his speech on Thursday won’t rival Michelle Obama’s or Bill Clinton’s. But after 40 years in Washington, sometimes he knows what he’s talking about.

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Andy
Andy

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anaverageman
anaverageman

Both Biden and Obama spin lie after lie about their so called successes and the media loves to spew these lies as fact.  Now this, stating they have a "weird relationship" and painting them as the, oh so cute couple, that are so different that their perfect for each other.  Oh gag!  The verbal vomit is nauseating.  I can’t wait till they’re voted out in November and the fleecing ends.

chowching
chowching

Neither of the presidential candidates can prevent the decline

of America, but they both will slow the process by printing more money. Romney

will print less because he will trim the cost of social programs, but increase

some defense spending. Obama will keep the printing presses going 24/7 by cutting

nothing; he has little concern for the national debt. Both candidates will not

commit political suicide by raising payroll taxes.

LegalBagel
LegalBagel

Strange that I posted two comments here a few hours ago and now they are gone.  Is it because I noted the author of this piece has a limited sense of history?   Indeed, the notion that "the Recovery Act has been pretty damn successful, if not the most successful government program in history" is pretty damn nonsensical unless your sense of history is limited to the Obama Administration.  Of course, we all love Joe Biden. He is what he is.

BigGuy
BigGuy

But its ok if you're a Republican.

LegalBagel
LegalBagel

I enjoyed this little insight into the Biden/Obama relationship and then there is this ridiculous spin about the Recovery Act:  You really think the Recovery Act is possibly "the most successful government program in history"?  Did your version of history start in 2008?  Get real, Grunwald.  It's arguable that it did what it was meant to do, depending on which part of the bill and which part of the economy one is discussing.  By no means can it come close to being the most successful program in the history of the USA.

turdface
turdface

he's telling obama your going to be put back in chains

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

Good stuff, Michael. Shorter: Obama=head, Biden=heart. They really compliment each other perfectly.

formerlyjamesm
formerlyjamesm

We don't need clones as a team and they do compliment and contrast.  Beats the hell out of the Cheney/Bush debacle, although I don't know if that was complimentary, contrast, or what, other than destructive.

anon76returns
anon76returns

It was complementary, but instead of head/heart more of a hand/puppet sort of deal.

chupkar
chupkar

condescension and awe

Sounds a little like family.

MrObvious
MrObvious

I don't mind Biden. We know he gaffs and I won't defend it any less then I need too.

When GOPers gaff there's an immediate firewall and wagon circling going on. We only need to shoot that glance 'it's Biden' for people to understand.

yodadog
yodadog

When GOPers gaff there's an immediate war.

Michael Whitehead
Michael Whitehead

Say what you will about Joe, I admire him.  He says what he feels -- and you know you can believe what he says.  He calls it like he sees it.  We need more Joe Bidens in Washington.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

I think you will see Joe Biden at the head of the Democratic ticket in 2016. Contrary to the pundits, I think Hillary means it when she says she will not run four years from now. I think the strong shout-out Bill Clinton gave Biden on Wednesday night reflected the finality of Hilary's decision. And, I think Biden himself cemented his standing with the Afro-American segment of the Democratic Party with his speech last night, which will give him the edge in the 2016 primary. I hope Biden does run for president in 2016. I'll vote for him. He comes from the core of the traditional Democratic Party, the party of FDR, HST, JFK, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and now Barack Obama. Of course, we need to work to get President Obama re-elected this year. If we don't do that, there won't be much of a country for Democrats to get excited about no matter who runs in 2016. 

vstillwell
vstillwell

When he's being honest, he gets lambasted for it by Republicans. They hate honesty. It kills their election hopes. Better to make fun of it and get the sheep worked up. 

chupkar
chupkar

They are an admirable balance to each other. Not a bad thing. And yeah, I like Joe too. He comes off goofy, which I think makes people underestimate him.

sacredh
sacredh

Give me Joe the Biden over Joe the Plumber any day of the week.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

…the economists get sick of him asking them to explain what things mean to the ordinary family…

.

Yeah, macroeconomists tend to ignore annoying minor details like that.

Thanks for mentioning that, MG.

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

Screw the economists. Some of us really want to know what policies will mean for (or do to) us. Keep at 'em, Joe!

Wrabble
Wrabble

“The Recovery Act has been the most successful government program in history!”

Successful at what - funneling billions into the hands of Dem campaign contributors?

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

You might also learn how to read.  The story reads "IF NOT the most successful..." completely different meaning.

filmnoia
filmnoia

Instead of just spouting off the top of your pointy cranial duct, perhaps you'd like to cite some facts for your statement.

Wrabble
Wrabble

John Doerr is an Obama Bundler who as  a member of Obama’s Jobs Council, had input as to which firms received funds under the Stimulus Act of 2009. 

Sixteen of the 22 firms in which Doerr had partial ownership (via Kleiner Perkins venture capital) received money from the Stimulus Act.

What a coincidence!  Doerr was helping Obama choose which firms to support and somehow 16 of Doerr's 22 firms were selected!  And Doerr is a BIG contributor to Dem politicians, especially Obama!

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) invested $1M with Doerr three weeks before the Stimulus Act passed, thereby tripling the value of her investment in less than one month. 

Isn't that another AMAZING coincidence?

That’s how this corrupt Administration works – they give BIG rebates to their contributors who in turn line the pockets of powerful Dem politicians.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

The righties here were complaining not long ago that Obama's Jobs Council hasn't met in six months.

For those who don't know about Doerr's venture capital firm, this is some information about it. With over 500 companies, probably hard to find some he didn't have an interest in. This is differenct from Bain Capital, I guess.

 

KPCB specializes in investments in incubation and early stage companies.[8] Since its founding in 1972, Kleiner Perkins Caufield amp; Byers has backed entrepreneurs in more than 500 ventures including AOL, Amazon.com, Citrix, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Genentech, Genomic Health, Google, Intuit, Juniper Networks, Netscape, Sun, Symantec, Verisign, WebMD and Zynga. More than 150 of the firm’s portfolio companies have gone public, and many other KPCB ventures have achieved success through mergers and acquisitions. KPCB focuses its global investments in three practice areas – digital, greentech and life sciences.[9] Its team includes the world leading venture capitalist John Doerr; Sun Microsystem's co-founder Bill Joy; NASA rocket scientist K. R. Sridhar; former US Vice President Al Gore; and former US Secretary of State Colin Powell 

Other members of the Jobs Council as first appointed --

Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric chief executiveJames W. Owens, head of CaterpillarRobert Wolf, chairman and CEO of UBS Group AmericasMark Gallogly,[14][15] founder and managing partner at Centerbridge Partners L.P.[16][17]Penny Pritzker, chair and founder of Pritzker Realty Group and Classic Residence by HyattJohn Doerr, partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield amp; ByersMonica C. Lozano,[18][19] Director of Bank of AmericaCharles E. Phillips, Jr., president of Infor.Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIOAustan Goolsbee, chairman of Council of Economic AdvisersChristina Romer, former chairperson of Council of Economic AdvisersWilliam H. Donaldson, former Securities and Exchange Commission chairmanLaura D'Andrea Tyson, former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton AdministrationMartin Feldstein, former chief economic advisor to President Ronald Reagan,Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association - College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF)David F. Swensen, CIO at Yale University[20]

Wrabble
Wrabble

Ah, I see - It's OK for the Obama Administration to funnel billions of taxpayer $$$ to their contributors and to Dem politicians because others may have done so in the past.

Or, look at it this way - Chicago is the most corrupt city in the USA (google that if you don't believe it) and has been controlled by Dems for over 80 years.  So I guess we could say all corruption is OK because Dems did it starting 80 years ago?

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

The Republican presidential candidate appears to have profited from a marketing company that was contracted by the state of Massachusetts after receiving $5 million (£3.2 million) in financial backing from Bain Capital, Mr Romney’s investment firm.

One of his vice-presidential candidate's brothers, who is a former Bain consultant, was at the time of the investment a senior executive at the marketing company, Imagitas, which was co-founded by another former Bain executive.

Both Mr Romney and Tobin Ryan, who omits his work at Imagitas from his corporate biography, also apparently stood to benefit from the $230 million (£146 million) sale of the company in 2005, while Mr Romney remained in office.

Massachusetts law requires that all state employees divest themselves of financial interests in private sector contracts with state agencies. At the time, failure to do so could have resulted in a $2,000 (£1,273) fine or a 2.5-year prison sentence.

The potential punishments are now stronger. Asked repeatedly by The Daily Telegraph throughout this week whether Mr Romney had indeed profited from the company, had been aware of the potential conflict of interest, or had taken any action to avoid one, his campaign and Bain Capital declined to comment.

The finding also sheds light on previously unnoticed connections between Mr Romney’s involvement in the private sector, government and campaign finance.

Imagitas donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican Governors’ Association while it was chaired by Mr Romney. A former Imagitas investor and director donates to both Mr Romney and Paul Ryan, who also received thousands of dollars in contributions from his brother Tobin.

Pro-transparency groups said that Mr Romney should have declared his interest, and lamented the cycle of cash through business and politics. Melanie Sloan, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the case

showed that “the problems of money in politics are legion”.

“Mitt Romney should have been extra careful,” said Ms Sloan. “That is part of the deal in politics. This appears to be a conflict of interest, and he should have disclosed his stake in a company that stood to gain from its work for his administration”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new...

Steve0T
Steve0T

 Yes, only the Dems do that right? Dubya and Cheny launching an unnecessary war and then giving all the contracts unopposed to Halliburton was terrific governance, wasn't it??

You hypocritical wingnuts are ridiculous.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Heck, over an unloveable, unapproachable and bald-faced liar, I'd rather have JB than the last VP.

yodadog
yodadog

You left out "treasonous". Ask Valerie Plame. 

filmnoia
filmnoia

Aside from being unloveable and a liar I'd throw in war criminal as well.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Yeh, that. Sadly, he'll likely never get punishment for it on this earth.

ERenger
ERenger

I trust Obama on policy and on governing and on making decisions. Biden is probably better at politics. Those are two different skill sets and personal attributes, and both are needed to have a successful administration. I think they compliment each other well. 

yodadog
yodadog

This is the first article I have read about their relationship. What you post is what the article implies. So why then did the Dems lose the  house majority in 2010?

ERenger
ERenger

I'm not sure why you would think the dynamic between the president and vice president would have much bearing on the mid-term Congressional elections. I don't think these have anything to do with each other. 

yodadog
yodadog

Because they compliment each other's shortcomings so well, and evidently Biden has been very effective at the heavy-duty assignments that Obama has given him. Sounds like Obama HAS fumbled the politics, as well as getting out the message, or his administration would have a better approval rating, and possibly dems would still have the house.

theoldkathy
theoldkathy

Well people have opinions about other people.  Our best friends, our mothers, our spouses, our children, certainly our colleagues, would often not want our opinions of them out in public.  And my own opinion of myself is something I often would not want on the front page either. 

Nothing "weird" about this relationship.  Sounds thoroughly human and genuine to me.  Can't imagine how you avoid all of this in your own relationships, unless they're pretty shallow.

pollardty
pollardty

The nits that are picked on Democrats make me think that they are held to a higher standard than are Republicans.

Wrabble
Wrabble

Yeah, cuz Dems NEVER pick nits? 

Delusion seems to be a symptom of libunacy.

As does fantasy and projection, as indicated below. Dems often create fantasies about their opponents and then criticize them as if the fantasies were real.

wandmdave
wandmdave

You just described exactly what Clint Eastwood did last week.  Only a gifted actor could take such an amorphous concept and make it concrete using only a chair as a prop.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

"Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was asked to explain why none of his five sons are in the military and he said that his sons demonstrate their patriotism by going on the road and campaigning for him. Now there's a tough choice: 'Iraq, or Iowa? Fallujah or Cedar Rapids? Honey, what do you think?'" -- Leno

pollardty
pollardty

I picture you shaking your fist at the sky and yelling at kids to stay off-a your lawn.