By A.B. Stoddard - 01/11/13 09:09 PM EST
Ever the bridesmaid, Vice President Biden has suddenly blossomed into a bride. After four years in the White House and 36 years in the Senate, Biden — at age 70 — has finally graduated from sideshow to statesman, becoming his party’s most capable (perhaps sole) Mr. Fix-It and suddenly a serious presidential contender.
True, it still makes you giggle. Even a year ago, the idea of Biden running in 2016 was a side-splitter. But now, if Hillary Clinton chooses not to, it’s hard to imagine why the Democratic nomination won’t belong to Biden if he wants it.
Biden, always a policy heavyweight as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has rarely been viewed as one since he became vice president. And his ability to negotiate the last-minute New Year’s deal to extend most of the Bush tax cuts was honed in years of backrooms and hearing rooms, where respect was earned and trust was built, no matter who was in the majority. His hard-earned relationships have saved the Obama administration from the collapse of negotiations between not only the president and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell would never willingly deal — let alone beg publicly on the Senate floor for a dance partner and declare Biden that partner — to be locked in a room or on the phone throughout the night with Biden if he was as vacant, silly and partisan as his Republican critics would have us believe.
In addition to his success at closing deals with Republicans when all else has failed, Biden’s early position on the war in Afghanistan, with which Obama disagreed when he doubled troop levels there in the 2009 counterinsurgency surge, nonetheless appears to be the one that ultimately prevailed within the Obama administration as the war is now set to wind down. Biden was alone in arguing for a smaller footprint in Afghanistan and urging the president to concentrate more resources in a counter-terror strategy in Pakistan, where al Qaeda was thriving. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the late Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, all reportedly opposed the Biden plan.
That doesn’t mean Biden’s reputation as a gaffe machine, and even sometimes a goofball, isn’t well-earned. Indeed, at this point he has overdosed on humble pie — having to apologize to Obama in 2007 for describing him as "the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” and then again in 2012 after declaring on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he had no problem with gay marriage, which publicly forced the question upon his boss.
There have been thousands of examples of his bloviating in between and since, and more will follow as the sun comes up tomorrow, which is why so many people are petitioning for Biden to have his own reality show. Joe knows he can’t cure his foot-in-mouth disease, and it doesn’t bother him all that much. Indeed, nothing bothers him all that much. Biden’s ebullience and unrelenting jollity is almost unsettling. But he has earned that too, through losing his wife and child in a car crash, nursing his young sons back to health after the accident as a newly sworn-in senator of age 29 and later suffering his own brush with death when a brain aneurysm and a subsequent blood clot in his lungs nearly killed him.
So whether herding new gun controls through Congress — an ugly task with dim prospects — hugging granny at a coffee shop, visiting with world leaders or trying to convince the U.S. Congress not to let the nation default but to instead raise the debt ceiling, Biden will bring the same amount of enthusiasm to every day. But from now on, he will be taken far more seriously by Democrats, even if Hillary runs.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.