Joe Biden's Winning Formula: Candor, Gags, and a Whole Lot of Ice Cream

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The Los Angeles Times' Michael Memoli has a very fun profile of Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday, focusing on his "everyman appeal," but some points in the portrait actually provide a neat primer—paging, Mitt Romey!—for talking about personal wealth with voters.

Yes, Romney obviously comes to mind as someone who hasn't had as much luck addressing his riches on the campaign trail, and he's even admitted that he's haunted by some of the dumb things he's said like "I like to be able to fire people." So maybe he's looking for some advice. Here are some takeaways Biden provides, via Memoli:

  • Be brutally honest "I don't live like I did when I was growing up. I have a beautiful home, and you pay me a lot of money," Biden said recently on the trail. "But I remember. I remember." At first blush, it might seem like a bad idea to remind taxpayers that they're funding your relatively lavish lifestyle, but Biden sounds honest and humble about it. The comparable counter-example would be Mitt Romney's early comment to some jobless voters that he's "also unemployed" which felt crassly disingenuous, even though he clearly meant it as a joke.
  • Be funny, maybe even awkwardly funny. From the Times: "[H]e shared a favorite quip about a newspaper account that had speculated he assumed office with fewer assets than any previous vice president. 'I assume they were talking about financial assets,' he joked." Ooh, off-color but in keeping with Biden's comedy tour! Maybe the prominent comparison is to Ann Romney's "gaffe" when she was asked if he's really "stiff," and she replied, "Well, you know, I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not!" This one sort of made us cringe because it's, um, private, but you know, Romney's family keeps telling us he's not the most appropriate joker, and honestly, when he's talking about financial assets, a sex joke might be the only thing that's going to distract unfriendly coverage of an otherwise very fraught territory.
  • Buy everyone stuff. Okay this is probably the most frivolous lesson, but Memoli reports Biden "was buying ice cream for everyone in sight at a late stop at the Steubenville Dairy Queen. Footage of him downing a chocolate-dipped vanilla cone went viral the next day." Clearly this worked for Biden. When Romney hand delivered pizza to some firefighters, there were the usual jokes, but that pizza moment  would've been a nice bit of press (if it hadn't been overshadowed by the President sneakily appearing in Afghanistan.) In both cases, the candidate might be ostentatiously spending money, but no one is much going to mind if their mouths are full. 

The much larger and more obvious difference between these two politicians is that Mitt Romney is vulnerable to attacks on his privileged background because his critics say his policies will reward the super rich at the expense of the middle class. Biden, who for decades lived as a train-commuting middle class senator, is making rich-person comments alongside his impassioned speeches against Bain Capital. So Biden's clearly going to have an easier time, but that shouldn't take away from the more subtle lessons in Memoli's Times profile. Biden is still richer than many voters, and he still says blunt and inappropriate things. It seems to work for him because of the frank way Biden goes about discussing his wealth. Put another way, it's not just what you say, it's the "assets" joke you use to package (sorry) that message.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.