But two Vice Presidents were non-WASPs: Charles Curtis (Herbert Hoover’s VP) was 1/4th Native American was the first President or Vice President with non-European ancestry and Vice President Biden is the first Roman Catholic VP in history.
The Vice Presidency is unique in that its power and prestige is largely a modern development. Now “modern” is used in different ways for different things. Many historians say that the first “modern” campaign was the 1800 campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Some say that the first “modern” Presidential election was the 1824 contest between John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford that was decided by the House of Representatives. But when I say that the Vice Presidency’s importance is a largely a “modern” development, I mean within the lifetime of most of the people reading this.
Garret A. Hobart, McKinley’s first Vice President, was probably the first Vice President with any power or responsibility outside of the VP’s Constitutional role as president of the Senate. President McKinley had a lot of respect for Vice President Hobart and they were friends, and Hobart served in a role not too different from that of a present-day White House Chief of Staff. Hobart was an anomaly, though. After he died in office, the VP once again became “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived”, as the first Vice President, John Adams, described it.
To a certain extent, Richard Nixon (as Eisenhower’s VP from 1953-1961) and Lyndon Johnson (as JFK’s VP from 1961-1963) expanded the duties a bit. Nixon was a bit more visible partly because he was a rising young star in the GOP, but also because President Eisenhower, who was the oldest Chief Executive in history upon leaving office, suffered a heart attack, a mild stroke, and serious intestinal problems during his term. LBJ despised the Vice Presidency but he was one of the first VPs regularly invited to Cabinet meetings and was given a highly-visible and important role as chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council during the space race with the Soviet Union and participated in the tense deliberations throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was Walter Mondale (Jimmy Carter’s VP from 1977-1981) who helped mold the Vice Presidency into what we know it as today — an integral member of the President’s Administration with a spot in the Cabinet and National Security Council, and an office in the White House itself. George H.W. Bush (Reagan’s VP from 1981-1989) and Dan Quayle (Bush 41’s VP from 1989-1993) weren’t quite as powerful as Mondale, but still much more involved in the workings of the Executive Branch than most of their Vice Presidential predecessors.
Al Gore (Bill Clinton’s VP from 1993-2001) and Dick Cheney (Bush 43’s VP from 2001-2009) took the Mondale model of the Vice Presidency and, with the blessing of their Presidents, made the position into one of the most powerful posts in the world. Clinton and Gore, both Southerners, close in age, and not too far apart politically, changed the idea that running mates should be different from one another and balance each other out. Once elected, Clinton gave Gore tons of responsibility and power — not quite a co-Presidency, but something more than second fiddle to the Oval Office.
Cheney, of course, was so influential that many people considered him the power behind the throne — a dark force who was the instrument pushing through the most controversial policies of George W. Bush’s Administration. Now, that isn’t quiet correct. It’s clear now that George W. Bush had far more control of his Administration than people gave him credit for and that Cheney’s power and influence was largely neutralized in Bush’s second term as Cheney’s allies were forced out of the Administration and Bush became more confident in his duties.
As for Vice President Biden, he took the role as Barack Obama’s running mate with the promise that he would have the President’s ear. Biden wanted to scale back some of the seemingly limitless power that Cheney supposedly held at the beginning of George W. Bush’s term, but Biden also wanted a real role in the Obama Administration and he has had one. Because of his lengthy experience in the Senate and political connections, and Obama’s relative inexperience, Biden has been called upon time-after-time to close the deal on important legislation from the Affordable Health Care Act to the negotiations over the debt ceiling and economic policy. Biden is the Mariano Rivera of the Obama Administration — a superstar legislative liaison with a unique skill set that most Vice Presidents have lacked. Vice Presidents Mondale, Bush, Quayle, Gore, and Cheney all served in Congress, but none of them had the experience on Capitol Hill that Biden had. And none of them built relationships with Senators and Congressmen like Biden did for nearly 40 years. He has been more than active and influential — Joe Biden has been invaluable to the Obama Administration.
I’m looking forward to reading the book. I didn’t get an advanced copy of Double Down: Game Change 2012, so I probably won’t get a chance to read it until the beginning of next week.
I’m not surprised that the Obama campaign thought about dumping Biden for Hillary — it’s politics, and while Plouffe said they never seriously considered it, I’m sure they did because there was a point where it looked like Romney could actually win the election. But as I said last year when I was asked whether they SHOULD dump Biden for Hillary, Joe Biden has been a hard-working, loyal, and incredibly influential Vice President. They only reason that they should have done the switch and made Hillary VP and Biden Secretary of State is if Biden wanted to do it. He deserved that much. Biden has been the closer on several significant pieces of legislation with Congress. Obama has needed Biden, no matter how much Biden might tend to go off page (and I think his tendency to speak his mind if both overrated and refreshing).
By the way, there’s no way Hillary Clinton would have taken the Vice Presidency in the second term of an Obama Administration. She spent most of her time as Secretary of State traveling the world, and the best possible strategy for her potential 2016 run was getting the hell out of government. If she was Vice President, whoever her opponents are in 2016 (both Democrat and Republican) could tie her to whatever goes wrong in Obama’s second term.
I think both parties need to dump their leadership in both chambers of Congress in order for things to have a shot at turning around. We are in the midst of a strange situation — the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate are abysmal, don’t have the influence or power to whip their caucuses in line, aren’t respected by junior members within their own party, can’t work together effectively with the opposition or the President, and yet they are entrenched in their respective leadership positions. It’s as if the coach of a football team was terrible at his job, couldn’t win a game, lost the respect of his players, had no chance at out-coaching the opposition, but couldn’t be fired for some reason.
The House of Representatives isn’t a legislative body; it’s a tar pit. The Senate is no better. A big part of the blame belongs to us. It is our job to toss out shitty, ineffective, inefficient members of Congress. The Senate is tougher to do that with because they have six-year-long terms and only a third or so of the Senators are up for reelection every two years. But we have the ability to make changes in the House of Representatives every two years. We could fire every single member of the House and replace them with someone new in 2014. Will we? Of course not. The voters are partly to blame.
The senior members of the House and Senate — on both sides of the aisle — are largely to blame for the day-to-day bullshit that has brought the government to the place that it has been in for the last six years or so. Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer should not have jobs. They are the party leaders of the worst Congress in American history. I didn’t include the Senate whips — Dick Durbin and John Cornyn — because I think those two are the only party leaders in Congress who are worth a shit, but I wouldn’t put up a fight if they lost their jobs, too.
The party leaders in the House and the Senate should have control of their respective caucuses at all times. If not, they aren’t leading. I’m stunned at how little respect many of the junior members of Congress — even freshmen in the House of Representatives! — have for the leaders of their own party. Raul Labrador, a Republican member of the House, was elected in 2010. In 2011, as a freshman Congressman, Labrador stood up in a GOP conference told John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, “I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team.” That’s right, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives — one of the five most powerful positions in the country when there is someone useful in the job — implored his fellow Republicans to work together, a freshman Congressman from Idaho straight up told him no in front of every other House Republican. Speaker Boehner should have remembered that disrespect and in 2012, he should have CRUSHED Labrador. He should have withheld RNC money from Labrador. He should have built up a primary challenger against Labrador. He should have pulled together every powerful Republican that can breathe and walk, flown them to Idaho, and campaigned against Labrador. Instead? Nothing. Labrador was reelected last year. That’s just one example.
The Democrats are just as bad. They control the Senate and they have a Democrat in the White House. But Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader and the Democrat from Nevada is, hands-down, the worst Majority Leader in American history. Nobody is intimidated by him, nobody is influenced by him, nobody respects him. And why should they? Why should the White House defer to him? In 2011, Vice President Biden met with Senator Reid to help pass the two-year extension to the Bush-era tax cuts. The White House wasn’t ecstatic about the deal that they made with Republicans to extend the tax cuts, but politics require compromises. Progress requires compromise.
So, when the Democratic President sent his Vice President to settle the issue with the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, how did Harry Reid decide to help out his President and Vice President? He said this to the President and Vice President of the United States:
"You guys went and did this deal. You go sell it. Not my deal, not my problem. Not telling you I’m against it, not telling you I’m for it, not yelling at you, just saying you guys made this deal. Hope you can line up the Senate Democrats behind you because I’m not going to."
Harry Reid wasn’t taking a stand because of a strong, ideological position that he was absolutely opposed to compromising on. No, Harry Reid was acting like a fucking baby because the White House closed a deal that Harry Reid simply couldn’t do on his own. If FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 were President, Harry Reid would be working in a pawn shop in Las Vegas tonight. But Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader.
I know that I am ranting, but the whole subject pisses me off because the problems are so clear and the solutions are so simple. The party leadership — Majority and Minority, Democrats and Republicans — from both chambers of Congress — House and Senate — NEED TO GO.
There is one more person who deserves some blame for how shitty the 112th Congress (9% approval rating, by the way) was and the 113th Congress has been, and he’s not a member of Congress: President Barack Obama. As I mentioned above, every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, would have absolutely smashed individual members of the House and Senate, specific blocs of voters, and each chamber of Congress as a whole if they had been as intransigent, disrespectful, and ineffective as these last two Congresses have been. It wouldn’t have gotten as bad with many of those Presidents because they either had a mastery of the legislative process or they used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to win the public opinion war. President Obama has done none of these things. Junior Senators and freshman House members from Obama’s own party have no problem openly criticizing the President or opposing Administration goals. That should NEVER happen. Joe Manchin should be working in a coal mine in West Virginia instead of taking shots at his own President whenever he feels like it. Manchin’s predecessor, Robert Byrd, earned the right to be independent whenever he wanted, but even after 50 years in the Senate, Byrd knew to support his President. What’s even worse is that Obama’s top Cabinet members are legendary Senators — Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Whenever a President wants something from his Democrats on the Hill, he should get it. If not, Biden, Kerry, and Hagel should be laying the "Johnson Treatment” on anyone who needs it. They have to because Obama obviously doesn’t have that weapon in his arsenal. As embarrassing as Obama’s influence with his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill has been, can you imagine how bad it would be without Joe Biden doing the dirty work with Congress over the past four years?
There’s a lot of anger in this post and I know that it is all over the place, but I am truly angry about this subject. As I said, the problems are clear and the solutions are obvious. And the past 80 years of Presidential/Congressional relations are a blueprint for what works and what doesn’t. We need new party leaders on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress. And we need a President whose approach to dealing with useless Congresses and intransigent, disrespectful Congressmen is more FDR/Eisenhower/LBJ than Carter/Obama.
"Remember, I got criticized for saying I support gay marriage….I just decided I couldn’t be quiet about it anymore, and everybody was stunned that that’s where the public is. And I’m not stunned; it’s where the public’s been for a while. Talk to any of your kids, for God’s sake."
This is one of the best ideas that I’ve heard in a long time. Pope Joe I would be awesome and might actually get me to Mass. I’d love to see what the first inappropriate thing Biden would say in Latin.
By the way, for people who appreciate history and historic happenings, Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is something that you should really take some time to process because something taking place for the first time in 600 years is about as historic as it gets. And, whether you’re Catholic or not, the tradition and history and ritual that takes place when the Holy See is sede vacante and the College of Cardinals gather in Rome for the Conclave is fascinating to watch. Of all of the things that I’ve experienced as a history-lover, watching Pope John Paul II’s funeral (in the middle of the night) was one of the most memorable. And, even as an atheist, there was something really exciting about watching CNN to see if the smoke from the Sistine Chapel was white and the bells started ringing at St. Peter’s and then hearing “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a Pope!”) and waiting to see who emerged on the balcony at the Vatican and what regnal name the new Pope chooses.
Pay attention over the next few weeks because this is some really interesting, seriously historic shit. And, this time around, we don’t have to look at a dead guy for a week and have it be such a downer.
I think the VP debate is far more important this year than in other years, especially right now because the momentum is in Romney’s favor. If Ryan wins the debate handily, Obama better pack a lunch and be ready to decimate Romney in the second and third Presidential debates because that’s what it will take to reverse the momentum.
In my opinion, the Obama campaign has to let Biden be Biden tonight. In the past year, the media (particularly Drudge) salivates every single time Biden gets in front of a microphone because they think he’s going to say something that derails the campaign. Here’s the thing that Democrats should think about, though: in all of those “gaffes” that Biden has made, when has he said something that we don’t agree with? Health care reform was “a big fucking deal”. His comments on gay marriage weren’t indefensible; instead, he pushed the President to take a definitive stand on the right side of history. People aren’t worried that Biden is dumb or offensive; they’re worried that he’s honest. Biden is what Harry Truman would be like had Truman lived and served in this time.
In 2008, the campaign muzzled Biden at the VP debate because they were worried he would beat Sarah Palin so badly that people would start feeling sorry for her. Everyone knew that she was out of her league during the debate — even SHE knew she was out her league in the debate. All Biden had to do was let her talk and he would win. The campaign was smart in 2008 because, if Biden was unleashed, it would have become uncomfortable. Americans are fine with seeing someone get destroyed, but there is that point where you start worrying when you see the victor standing there covered in blood and laughing while everyone is saying, “Wow, I feel sorry for her.” They did what they had to do in 2008, and Biden knew his role and played it perfectly, even though that’s not Biden’s natural state. That’s why he stepped off the stage at the debate with Palin and told his campaign staff, “You guys owe me. You don’t know how much restraint that took.”
Four years later, the Obama campaign not only owes Joe Biden, but they NEED him. Paul Ryan is not Sarah Palin. Yes, he looks like creepy-ass Gabe from The Office and I don’t agree with his ideas, but he actually HAS ideas. Paul Ryan doesn’t simply memorize talking points and prep for the debate like it’s a junior high school play; he formulated much of the opposition’s policy in Congress, particularly when it comes to the budget. Ryan is one of the Republican Party’s intellectual centers and a guy who is not only smart enough to formulate his party’s policy, but ballsy enough to propose and defend it, will be a formidable opponent. This isn’t a slam dunk (Copyright ©2003 George Tenet), and Biden will have to be on his game. Yet, Ryan cannot underestimate Biden, either. Biden is such a nice, charming, likeable guy that it’s easy to forget that he is a lifelong overachiever. When he was elected to the Senate in 1972, he didn’t reach the Constitutional age minimum for taking his seat (30 years old) until two weeks after his election. He’s one of the longest-serving Senators of all-time. He is tough (widowed just after his Senate election and a single dad during his early years in Washington) and honest (that’s what his “gaffes” are, pure honesty). And he is experienced. It is not a coincidence that the biggest legislative victories of the Obama Administration have been projects where Biden has played a major role as a liaison between the White House and the Capitol. I think President Obama needs Joe Biden more than most people realize, and tonight’s debate is another situation where the loyal VP might have to save his President’s ass.
In order for him to do that, the safety has to come off. Biden has to be able to be Biden because he can and will frustrate and surprise Paul Ryan. Ryan is a numbers guy, Biden is an empathetic, I-feel-your-pain, blue-collar politician. We see the pictures of Paul Ryan in his hunting gear or wearing his Green Bay Packers colors, but I do not believe that Paul Ryan can out-blue-collar (I just made that phrase up, so let’s just accept it) the Scranton-born, Wilmington-raised, Amtrak-riding, Capitol creature that Joe Biden truly is. And this is a debate which focuses on domestic issues and foreign policy. Congressman Ryan is the GOP’s guiding light on economic and budget issues, but he cannot hold a candle to Vice President Biden on foreign policy. Biden became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Paul Ryan started kindergarten in 1975. For Biden’s final 10 years in the Senate, he was either the chairman or ranking member of the powerful committee. The Vice President will chew Ryan up on foreign policy, so the GOP’s VP candidate is going to do his best to score his points on domestic policy and the economy.
I’m very much looking forward to this debate tonight. I think it will be much more interesting than Obama and Romney because the VP candidates will be far more likely to take some risks. I’m sure Biden is spoiling for a fight and aiming to prove his worth once again by recapturing the momentum lost by the President last week. Ryan is a brilliant young Congressman who does the one unique thing that makes him stand out amongst the 535 members of the House and Senate — he leads and stands on his ideas, not his party’s ideology.
Biden shouldn’t have to restrain himself tonight and Paul Ryan is not Sarah Palin, so this won’t be like 2008 which felt more like Fisher-Price’s “My First Debate” so that Biden couldn’t make Palin cry. I’m pumped and I’ll be doing a Smart-Ass Commentary™ tonight (I’ll probably post it early tomorrow morning).
ADDENDUM: If Paul Ryan wanted to throw the Vice President off his game tonight, he should come out and pull the Palin bit, wink at the camera, and then turn to Biden and say, “Can I call ya Joe?” That would be awesome.
The other thing that would be awesome — and I don’t know why a candidate doesn’t try this just to be completely condescending — is if Biden just referred to Ryan by like 15 different names, as if he is just a cookie-cutter House Republican (which Ryan actually is not). How annoyed would Ryan get if Biden would refer to him as, “My opponent, Mr. Cantor” or “I’m going to have to disagree with you, Congressman McCarthy”?
That last paragraph is probably a good example of why nobody has ever asked me to help with debate prep.
If you missed Part I, featuring John Kerry, you’re lucky. If you survived Part I, you’re now in a better place because it’s time for my favorite member of the Obama Administration, one of my favorite Democratic politicians of my lifetime, and, let’s be real, the greatest thing to ever come out of Delaware (even though he was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania — Dunder Mifflin represent!) — the 47th Vice President of the United States of America, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.!
•People can disagree about politics and policies and social issues and a myriad of other flashpoints, but how can anyone dislike Joe Biden? Sure, maybe you wouldn’t vote for him, but wouldn’t you love to hang out and watch a football game with him? It’s easy to hammer him about his gaffes, but I would wager that no one who has worked closely with him has ever said, “I hate that Biden guy.”
•And he immediately sweet-talks his wife. This is a man who knows where his bread is buttered, if I can use a phrase that makes me sound like an 80-year-old man.
•Wow, it’s taken me this long to realize that the Vice President’s daughter is hot? What’s my problem? Hello, Ashley Biden.
•With that said, I feel it’s important to note that Abby Huntsman still holds they key to my heart. Also, a restraining order.
•No current American politician is as good as Bill Clinton, but Vice President Biden is a very underrated speaker with a similarly natural, folksy delivery. Sure, he slips up from time-to-time and says something dumb, but I still feel like he’s an underrated orator.
•Joe asked Jill to marry him five times and “I don’t know what I would have done on that fifth time had you said no.” Come on, how can you not love Joe Biden?
•As a speaker, Biden is usually hot or cold. When he’s cold and undisciplined, he trips up and says something goofy. Just a few minutes in tonight and the VP is on fire. Great delivery so far.
•As good as Clinton was on Wednesday night, Biden’s speech is tighter, less rambling. This is one of his better speeches ever.
•I’m glad John Kerry showed up earlier so that I could be mean-spirited because I don’t have much to be a smart-ass about with the Vice President.
•”Loyalty” is definitely the one word I’d use to describe the Biden Vice Presidency. By the nature of the office’s historical evolution, it is the recent VPs, particularly Mondale, G.H.W. Bush, Gore, Cheney, and Biden (and, to a lesser extent, Nixon and LBJ), who stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. I think Cheney was more powerful, but Biden is better and more helpful to his President. If I were to rank the “best” Vice Presidents in history, I think it would be Gore at #1 and Biden at #2.
•Speaking of Al Gore…where the hell has he been? He split with Tipper and there were those allegations of some misconduct with a masseuse and now he’s Democratic persona non grata, isn’t he?
•I wonder if Gore, John Edwards, and Jimmy Carter are sitting somewhere all pissed off because the Democratic Party intentionally gave them the wrong directions.
•I can just imagine those three calling and trying to make arrangements for the Convention while Debbie Wasserman-Schultz tells them, “Oh, that’s weird…we totally sent your tickets to you…..Yeah, those were the only ones available, so if you can’t find them, I’m really sorry………You know, there’s a lot of television coverage and that’s much better than being in the arena………No, of course we’re not hiding you like the GOP hides George W. Bush during Convention time.”
•If any party delegates — Republican or Democratic — are reading this, do you realize how silly your dumb hats look? Nominating a President and building a party platform is important work; it’s not New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
•The Vice President is giving one hell of a speech. This is way better than I expected.
•It drives me crazy to see people in the audience watching the speech through their phone or iPad screen. IT’S HAPPENING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! JUST EXPERIENCE IT!
•”God love Jennifer Granholm. Wasn’t she great?” — No, I’ve gotta disagree with you there, Mr. Vice President, she came across like a lunatic. I thought she was going to end her speech with “Cocaine’s a helluva drug.”
•Oooh…I want one of those circular UAW Obama/Biden signs! Those things look badass!
•Damn, they got a whole wheelchair section on the floor of the Convention hall. They should call it the “FDR Section” just to be cute and see if anybody complains.
•Biden halted the crowd when they booed Mitt Romney’s name and said, “I don’t think he’s a bad guy.” Thank you, Mr. Vice President. We don’t have to hate each other to disagree with each other’s politics. Except for Rick Santorum. We should definitely hate him.
•”Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” really is a good tag line.
•With Biden’s reputation for verbal gaffes, I bet President Obama and his aides hold their breath every time the Vice President gets that smirk on his face before he finishes one of his punchlines.
•The Vice Presidential candidate’s usual role at Conventions is to be the hatchet man (or woman), but Biden’s not doing a hatchet job; he’s giving a very focused speech.
•I’m sorry, guys, I just don’t have much to poke fun at here. I’ve been a fan of Vice President Biden for a long time, but I’ve never seen him like this. That was undoubtedly the best speech of Joe Biden’s life and I think it even rivaled President Clinton’s barn-burner from Wednesday night. Damn solid speech, Mr. Vice President. I’m proud to have Joe Biden on my side.
We’ll finish this up in Part III with the main event as President Obama accepts the Democratic nomination for a second term as President.
Well, there have only been three Catholic nominees: Al Smith in 1928, JFK in 1960, and John Kerry in 2004. It’s tough to get elected if you can’t get nominated.
Why haven’t more Catholics been nominated? The United States had a strong anti-Catholic attitude in the 18th, 19th, and early-20th Centuries. Many Americans distrusted Catholics because they felt that Catholics were loyal first to the Church and the Pope, and then to their country. Even when JFK was running for President, there was a real fear that the Catholic belief in Papal infallibility would lead Kennedy to take marching orders from the Vatican.
Even with the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant tendencies of the 19th Century, it is odd that we’ve had so few Catholic nominees and only one Catholic President. Since JFK’s the only Catholic President, that means of the 38 Presidents who have been elected to terms in the White House, just 2.6% have been Catholic despite the fact that 22% of Americans are Catholic.
An even stranger fact: although the first Catholic President wasn’t elected until 1960, the first Catholic Vice President wasn’t elected until 2008 as Joe Biden is the first Catholic elected to the Vice Presidency.
No. Joe Biden is a good Vice President, and he has been a loyal member of the Obama Administration. I have a lot of respect for Vice President Biden. I think it would be totally unfair to dump him from the ticket. Plus, it would look like a total panic move (which it would be), and it would leave the President open to criticism about the first really important decision he made as the nominee, make it possible for the opposition to say that he was blaming Biden for his troubles, and suggesting that he needed Hillary to save his ass in 2012.
Thank you. I definitely recommend reading the book, Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption. I’ve actually always been a huge admirer and fan of Biden and if it weren’t for Obama, he would have been my horse in the 2008 Presidential race. With that said, I still learned so much about him and came out of reading the book with much more respect for him. I think, in the past, I just liked the guy; now, I’m really inspired by him. Great book and Jules Witcover is a great historian/journalist.