By Sam Youngman - 04/28/10 10:00 AM EDT
When pressed on hypotheticals, President Barack Obama and his senior aides are fond of saying they don’t have a crystal ball.
They might want to borrow Vice President Joe Biden’s.
Biden, as well-known in Washington for his humorous gaffes as his foreign-policy expertise, likes to make predictions. While they make administration officials cringe, Biden’s handicapping skills are sometimes dead on.
That prediction led White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to joke: “He’s an optimistic man, and that’s why we like him.”
Jay Carney, Biden’s spokesman, echoed Gibbs.
“The vice president is an optimist,” Carney said. “He believes that the American economy, having been hit by the worst downturn since the Great Depression, has begun to improve and will continue to get stronger — thanks to the resourcefulness and resilience of the American people and to the policies this administration has put in place.”
Biden has had some success in predicting job growth.
Last November, Biden went out on a limb when he told Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” that the economy would be adding jobs early in 2010.
“We had 740,000 jobs lost the month we took office ... it continues to go down,” Biden told Stewart at the time. “We’ll be creating jobs by February or March of next year.”
After two years of dismal job numbers, the economy added 165,000 jobs in March.
Biden himself didn’t predict that the stimulus law would cap unemployment at 8 percent, but that prognostication was included in an Obama administration report last year.
“At the time, our forecast seemed reasonable. Now, looking back, it was clearly too optimistic,” Biden said in June.
Biden has also learned the hard way that his predictions, while often prophetic, can cause negative political backlash.
Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) campaign had a field day with Biden’s prediction during the campaign that Obama would be tested internationally within six months of being elected.
“Mark my words: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” Biden said. “The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”
Shortly after that, Obama said: “I think Joe, sometimes, engages in rhetorical flourishes.”
Last fall, Biden said it would be the “end of the road” for the White House’s agenda if the GOP gained control of the House in the midterm election. While
Biden was not predicting Republicans would be running the lower chamber, his quote would be noted this fall if they do.
The White House is quick to defend Biden for his candor and experience. The vice president carries a hefty portfolio, including the stimulus package and the Iraq war.
A senior administration official said Biden “is one of the most effective advocates for this administration’s agenda precisely because he calls ’em like he sees ’em.”
The official added, “His candor sometimes ruffles feathers among the political chattering class in Washington, but it’s also why he’s among the president’s most trusted advisers.”
Carney acknowledged in an e-mail that Biden “speaks plainly and candidly.”
“That attribute has served him well throughout his career — in negotiations with members of Congress, in sensitive discussions with foreign leaders and in conversations with regular Americans across the country,” Carney said.
While some pundits question the wisdom of Biden saying what is on his mind, others say the White House seems to appreciate it.
“There certainly has not been any conspicuous effort to shut him up,” said Ross Baker, an expert on the presidency and a political science professor at Rutgers University.
Baker said Biden’s open methods and enthusiasm present a stark change from former Vice President Dick Cheney, and for the time being, the White House is happy about that.
“He’s a cheerleader,” Baker said. “And part of being a cheerleader is to make hopeful predictions for the future. The problem is, they’ve got to be fulfilled.”