In the Seinfeld episode, “Bizarro Jerry” Elaine befriends a group of normal, outgoing friends who physically resemble George, Jerry, and Kramer, but treat her exactly opposite. This is where Jerry informs her that in the Bizarro World, up is down, down is up, and people say hello when they leave, and goodbye when they arrive.
On January 1, headlines announcing that a Fiscal Cliff deal had been struck thanks in part to the handy work of Vice President Biden’s eleventh hour heroics were not only surprising, but left some thinking they have entered the realm of the backward.
First, the president should be grateful that the deal took place after the election. Biden’s tenure in the Senate has proved that he is the broker who possesses the skills and abilities needed to make such a deal. At the same time, it exposed the fact that the president still does not possess the trust, ability or interest in getting big things done without help from his more experienced number two man.
Second, the adult you are going to need in the room for any significant deal during Obama’s second term may not be the learned Constitutional law professor who is guarded and careful with his words, but the gaff-prone former Senator who is as well known for his convenience store owner impersonations, as his headlines in The Onion.
Separately, Biden’s ability to do in hours what Harry Reid was unwilling or unable to do in years, further hobbled the majority leader. Unless both parties can regroup and agree to advance legislation by regular order, Republican leaders should automatically bypass the Senate leader, and deal directly with the Vice President.
Third, the “No Drama Obama” title is more than a cute handle, but a symptom of a more serious problem – the president is emotionally detached from his duties.
This detachment was displayed immediately after the fiscal deal was done. The president, itching to get back to vacation, held an ‘atta boy’ press conference where he thanked the vice president for his work and boarded Air Force One so quickly that his autopen had to finalize the deal.
It was also present in the aftermath of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. On the heels of what the president described as the “worst day of my presidency”, the president handed over the follow-up responsibilities to his number two man.
These actions are symptomatic of well known, documented problems. Biden is affable, Obama is aloof. Biden is an accomplished lawmaker, Obama gives good speeches. Biden knows Capitol Hill and its players, Obama couldn’t find Boehner’s phone number during debt-ceiling negotiations. Joe Biden is the Bizarro Obama – and Bizarro Obama can get things done.
Media outlets looking to squeeze as much news as possible out of the fiscal cliff situation were quick to write about Biden’s extraordinary power, his accomplishments, and what this means for his chances leading up to the 2016 election.
Regarding his power within the White House, Biden is clearly not as powerful or independent as Dick Cheney (it is doubtful that Biden would ever submit a separate brief, as President of the Senate, to the Supreme Court in opposition of an administration position), but he does wield a certain amount of power that others in his position have rarely attained.
In terms of accomplishments, he does have a record to tout thanks to his many years of service in the U.S. Senate. Looking ahead, if he is able to broker additional deals to restructure the tax code, rework the entitlement program structure, and find agreement with Republicans on gun control measures, his role as problem-solver-in-chief will bode well against serious problem solvers like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, or John Hickenlooper of Colorado.
Should Biden consider a run, voters will inevitably ask themselves after eight years: ‘Is the vice president that good, or was President Obama that bad?’
Only in the Bizarro World, would one even have to ask this question.
Keelen is founder and president of the Keelen Group, a full service lobbying firm located in Washington D.C. DeFlaviis serves as the organization’s account manager and communications director.