Who is Joe Biden? And, more importantly, what does he do?
With the 2012 presidential election drawing closer, all elements of President Barack Obama’s administration are open to scrutiny: his record on the economy, his foreign policy decisions, and yes, his administrative personnel. With public support waning, Obama would be wise to consider replacing current Vice President Joe Biden, a move that by virtue of its boldness could stimulate disheartened Democratic and independent voters.
There are many inauspicious signs for the president. Obama’s job approval, despite slight recent improvements, was for weeks on a seemingly implacable decline. He faced a personal low of 41% quarterly approval average in his recently completed 11th quarter in office. This is attributable to many factors, as Obama is dealing with an obstinate economy, an uncertain situation in Libya and elsewhere, nationwide Occupy Wall Street protests, and a slew of GOP hopefuls all hoping to see the president fail.
Compounding Obama’s trouble is the widespread belief that Biden is a major contributing factor to Obama’s image and approval woes. This belief is not altogether unfounded: Biden has proven to be a weak negotiator with an unfortunate tendency for putting his foot in his mouth, so to speak. As early as 2008, a Huffington Post op-ed highlighted Biden’s gaffes and second-guessing nature, both of which make Obama appear weak and have only continued in recent years.
Biden is something of an enigma, to be certain. After his abortive campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Biden was selected by Obama as his running mate. He initially impressed with strong debate performances against Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and appeared a stable political veteran who complemented the youthful, energetic Obama. But recently, Biden’s significance, not to his mention utility, is highly questionable.
A series of gaffes have earned Biden a level of media ridicule incommensurate with traditional media criticism. These gaffes include his qualification of Obama as the first “mainstream” African American and repeated instances of cursing on open microphones. While ostensibly humorous missteps, the frequency of these episodes reflects negatively on both Biden and Obama. Furthermore, Biden’s age is a consistent source of unease: the vice president will be 70 later this month. And, most importantly, his effectiveness as an actual political figure is relatively weak. Although the vice presidency is historically a comparatively weak position, Biden has taken a relatively innocuous role to new lows. Indeed, when he involves himself in significant policy debates, Biden often hinders the process and harms the president.
In the summer’s 2011 debt ceiling crisis, Biden was poised to affect positive negotiations with Republicans in Congress in order to reach a comprehensive, bipartisan agreement on the debt ceiling issue. However, the negotiations reached a major impasse and Republicans walked out of the Biden-led talks, citing the inability of the parties to reach a mutual consensus. In fact, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) cited his desire for Obama to “take up the mantle” in the debt ceiling negotiations – a clear indication that Biden’s leadership was ineffectual.
Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that there have been not inconsequential calls for a vice presidential shakeup. In a recent Huffington Post article, Stewart J. Lawrence highlights two potential replacements: Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo. In fact, Lawrence suggests that Obama may actually opt for a switch, with Hillary Clinton – who initially had designs on the vice presidency after her own failed presidential campaign – replacing Biden as VP and Biden then assuming her former role as Secretary of State. Should Clinton assume the vice presidency, Obama would likely enjoy a surge of support from dwindling constituencies, including women and Latinos.
New York Governor Cuomo would be another adroit replacement. Cuomo has enjoyed consistent “sky-high” approval ratings. Although he is a tough negotiator with a penchant for fiscal reform, Cuomo has not inspired the ire of public union workers, unlike fellow governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin or John Kasich of Ohio. He is a political moderate who would arguably shore up even more of the traditional Democratic support that has recently abandoned Obama than would Clinton.
Replacing Biden alone obviously won’t win an election. There is still plenty of time for Obama to make a decision, and replacing his VP probably won’t be one of his top priorities. Yet, if there is no marked improvement in the economy or his job approval ratings, Obama may need to sacrifice an ally if it will garner even the slightest advantage in what may well be a tough reelection cycle.
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