When you read the title of Jonathan Bernstein’s Salon article, “Joe Biden: The ‘practically perfect’ vice president,” you figure he must be joking. However, when you begin reading his story you can see that Bernstein was serious…or was he? Your humble correspondent considers himself to be a good judge of the often fine dividing line between satire and seriousness but in this case I am not so sure. The following paragraph in defense of Biden seems to start out seriously but was Bernstein pulling our legs at the end?
Of course, in real life, Biden’s place is absolutely secure, and not just because presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush learned that dumping a vice president isn’t as easy as one might think. None of that is relevant here. Why? Because Joe Biden is the practically perfect vice president…
Okay, if the paragraph had ended right there I would judge this to be a serious observation although the latter part in bold does put its seriousness in question. However, the paragraph concludes with what can only be a satirical exaggeration…or was Bernstein on the level?
…Truth is, he shouldn’t just stay on the ticket this time around; there’s a reasonable case to be made that he should stay on in 2016 and perhaps 2020, as well. He’s that good of a fit for the job.
Or even 2024 and perhaps 2028. You were joking, weren’t you Jonathan?
If you are now leaning towards judging this piece as obvious satire, the following might pull you back into the serious column:
As far as I know, from 2008 to now, no one has questioned that the former chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and two-time presidential candidate wasn’t ready to step in if necessary. And he’s scandal-free — at least so far.
Another reason to suspect that Bernstein really meant to be serious was this cold sober praise for Biden:
…vice presidents can serve as sounding boards for presidents, making their own case but then loyally supporting the White House once a decision is made. As far as we know, that’s been what Biden has done on issues such as Afghanistan, an issue on which he was reported to have differed with the president.
But just as you are ready to rule that this is a serious story, Bernstein begins to plant suspicions in our minds about his true intent:
He may have been a mostly serious senator for more than 25 years and he seems to have been a serious vice president, but let’s face it: Joe Biden is perfectly cast as a national joke. From his tendency to blurt out things that ought not to be said out loud (what kind of deal was the Affordable Care Act?) to his awkward phrasing and even more awkward sentiments (remember “articulate”?) to, well, the goofiest hair of any politician this side of James Traficant, this is a vice president who can be counted on to regularly amuse everyone, without actually having to shoot a friend in the face to do so. That Biden is a source of amusement isn’t news to those who have followed him for a long time (read the brilliant profile in Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes), but it’s an especially good fit for his current job.
Finally Bernstein ends on a note that makes me lean to thinking it is really satire because he declares that while no one wants him to be president, he is perfectly suited to be vice president:
President Biden? Well, when faced with that option in 1988 and 2008, Democrats had no trouble winnowing him out quickly. And I don’t really remember anyone clamoring for it in 1992, 2000, or 2004, either. Sure, he could do it, but no one really wants to make him president. But the vice presidency? That’s a whole different story: Joe Biden was born for this job.
But isn’t the true purpose of a vice president to be a heartbeat away from the presidency and serve as president should that be necessary? How can one be a good vice president while at the same time being unsuitable for the presidency? As one Jonathan (my middle name) to another, could you please give me a clue as to your intent, Mr. Bernstein? Satire or seriousness?
Perhaps the answer is both. Just like when writing about Anthony Weiner you can intend to be totally serious but it inevitably comes off as satire. This also works for photos. The image at the top of this Post is a picture of Joe Biden that looks obviously photo shopped…except that it isn’t. That really is Biden’s hand on the knee of a state trooper who looks like the spitting image of an irritated W.C. Fields. Perhaps Joe Biden just represents a rip in the space/time continuum where the line between satire and reality is completely blurred.