Friday, May 18, 2012

“Will Obama Dump Biden?”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Will Obama Dump Biden?”
May 18, 2012

Wednesday, in an appearance in Youngstown, Ohio, Vice President Biden appeared more like a candidate for McLean Psychiatric Hospital than a candidate for Vice President. He got so wound up that at one point he ranted, “My mother dreams as much as any rich guy dreams. They don’t get us. They don’t get who we are.” There was no clear indication as to who “they” are. However, if by “they” he meant “rich guys” (his term, not mine), I presume he was excluding the sycophantic George Clooney and his $35,000 a plate fund raiser.

Vice Presidents have long held the unenviable job of being a heartbeat away from the Presidency, while occupying a seat that Franklin Roosevelt’s first Vice President, John Nance Garner, once described as being “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” As we know, Vice Presidents are used as attack dogs in re-election campaigns, so that the President can remain above the fray. However, Mr. Obama works on the assumption that two attack dogs are better than one. He lambasts anyone who has the temerity to suggest that fairness is based on equal opportunity and meritocracy. If the state has not determined something fair, then it is not fair – a morally disingenuous and dangerous attitude.

Nevertheless, it is disconcerting that a man who could become President in a heartbeat can seem so unhinged, if not deranged. At one point, he said, apropos of who knows what, “My mother and father believed that if I wanted [to be] President, I could be, I could be Vice President.” Nice catch, Joe, but did you have to go there?

There has been speculation in the press that Mr. Obama may discard Mr. Biden for a new and improved model, which should not be hard to find. However, the President did use his malleable Vice President as a trial balloon for gay marriages a few days ago. Vice Presidents are often chosen to balance a ticket, geographically or politically; they are rarely selected for their abilities to become President. In fact, in the last eighty years, the only man that I can think of who was picked because he would be a good President was Harry Truman in 1944. Mr. Truman was selected by Franklin Roosevelt for his fourth term. In doing so, Mr. Truman replaced the mercurial Henry Wallace. Roosevelt, I suspect, knew he was dying and recognized that Wallace was too far outside the mainstream to become President of all the people.

In fact, Mr. Wallace was the last man jettisoned as Vice President. Twice Roosevelt dumped his Vice Presidents. In 1940, the conservative Texan, John Nance Garner, who had collided with Mr. Roosevelt on a number of issues, like the Supreme Court and the role of labor unions. He was replaced by Henry Wallace, the leader of the Progressive Party. Wallace was a man who had been seduced, as so many liberals were at the time, by what he saw as the progressive nature of Stalin’s Communist Soviet Union, apparently willing to look beyond the millions of people Stalin had had murdered in his gulags.

It is curious that the last time a President ditched his Vice President was in 1944. Truman, Carter and George H.W. Bush, in their failed candidacies for a second term, kept their Vice Presidents on the ticket. Presidents have been urged to make changes. Many of Eisenhower’s confidants wanted him to replace Richard Nixon in 1956, and the nation would have been better served had he done so. In the post war period, of the twelve Presidents, four served as Vice President – Truman in 1948, Johnson in 1964, Nixon in 1968 and George H.W. Bush in 1988. Most of the other Vice Presidents will be little more than footnotes in history. For example, how many Americans know who Alben Barkley was? Hubert Humphrey is a name I will always know, but as time goes on, knowledge of him will fade. Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, Al Gore and Dick Cheney are still alive, so are known now, but likely will not be in a generation or two.

Like many CEOs, Presidents do not like to be upstaged by underlings smarter or more articulate than themselves. Thus they have a habit of picking people weaker and less capable. Only truly self-confident Presidents will pick a strong, competent Vice President. Kennedy did so, and so did Lyndon Johnson. Nixon did not, but Carter and Reagan did. George Bush, senior did not, nor did Clinton. While some will disagree with me, George W. Bush did, but one has to keep in mind the esteem in which Cheney was held in 2000. Obama selected a much weaker man.

Given the recent pass, the odds favor Mr. Obama sticking by the volatile Mr. Biden. Should Biden de deposed, Mr. Obama runs the risk of a backlash from the Vice President’s friends. But the President must weigh that risk against the damage an unleashed Joe Biden can do. The Democratic Party has plenty of good alternatives, far more capable of assuming the position of Commander in Chief than the erratic Joe Biden. But, time will tell.

Oh! By the way, it isn’t as though we don’t “get” you, Mr. Biden. The problem is we do.

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