Vice President Joe Biden is almost certainly as close to the presidency as he's going to get, bless his heart. In a big profile at Politico, Biden's existential angst is painfully obvious. He's 71, he feels younger, he feels ready to fight, and everything says that he should run for president except the polls. So what, then?
"He’s in a predicament. It’s so big, it’s almost literary," one Obama insider told Politico's Glenn Thrush. The piece is headlined in Shakespearean terms: "Joe Biden in Winter." Forget the politics, Thrush says, "Biden is enduring a trial that many people of his age … are forced to confront." He's past retirement age and doesn't want to retire. Fair enough. But it means that the profile seems less Joe Biden has considered his position and experience and believes he can win the presidency and lead the free world and more Joe Biden isn't sure. Joe Biden dreams impossible dreams. That's the literary tragedy. The uncertainty and the grasp at the thing that seems like it makes sense, instead of accepting where he is.
Thrush describes a speech in Detroit, on a day when the "mercurial and tough to read up close" vice president is exhausted.
[B]eing in Detroit seems to encourage him to mingle the personal and the political in ways that so often result in gaffes or self-revelation. Today it’s the latter, and his audience doesn’t quite know what to make of it when he starts in on what he’s lost: “My mother—my deceased wife—used to say that the greatest gift God gave mankind—and she meant it—was the ability to forget,” he says. “I’m being serious. Think about it. The greatest gift is the ability to forget—to forget the bad things and focus on the good.”
That's terribly sad, coming where and when it does, on a second-tier stop in a declining city celebrating last century's technology. In many regards, Biden is an old-school politician who ended up suddenly sitting in the passenger seat of one of the first truly modern presidential campaigns, found himself through a series of chances serving in a historic administration. It's like 300 miles into a road trip, you found your cat in the backseat — hey, Biden's here! — and the cat is as confused about what to do as you are.
There are lots of reasons Biden shouldn't run. When Al Gore ran for president in 2000, his poll numbers were decent and he came out of the gates leading the Democratic field. He lead in 1997; he lead in 1999. Biden has never led. As Thrush points out, he trails Clinton by historic margins. Even in the 2008 campaign, the bid that put him on the map enough to catch the eye of an Obama campaign looking to bolster its gravitas and foreign policy credentials, Biden was out of the running early, thanks in part to questionable comments about Obama.
Since 2008, Biden's reputation as a wise elder has evaporated into the reputation of a cool uncle. Obama's former defense secretary even went out of his way to gut Biden's reputation on international relations. One Obama advisor took a stab at how Biden sees his path to victory, saying, "I guess he just thinks that it’s enough to build relationships, that all of these people will eventually flock to him." People do like Biden, but not as president.
But what else is he going to do, really? He's so close to the presidency, literally in the building, in the Oval Office. He wants to be president and thinks, you know, maybe. Why not see what happens? People love him. Even that's kind of charming, our Uncle Joe who thinks, hey, why not me.
"I think he’d still like to be president. Hell, I’d still like to be president," Sen. John McCain told Thrush. Who wouldn't? Every kid wants that at some point. But then as the years pass you become wise. You grow up.