Over the past four years Biden has insinuated himself into the White House, while seeming hardly to try, in a way that no other vice president in memory has done. He and Obama, both consummate pragmatists though they tend to be liberal in outlook, have achieved something close to a mind meld across a whole range of issues, including foreign policy, the economy, and political strategy. Biden said it outright in his speech during the presidential campaign: "I literally get to be the last guy in the room with the president. That's our arrangement." That's no small thing in a town where power is often measured in minutes of presidential face time.
It wasn't long ago that Biden's predecessor, Dick Cheney, was seen as the gold -- some might say sulfurous -- standard in vice presidential power. Biden himself, ironically enough, once described Cheney as "probably the most dangerous vice president we've had" because of what many observers saw as Cheney's undue influence over George W. Bush.
But in terms of the sheer number of issues Biden has influenced in a short time, the current vice president is bidding to surpass even Cheney. Fiscal issues and guns are only a small sampling of this vice president's portfolio. Back in 2010 it was Biden's office that, in the main, orchestrated the handover to the Iraqis. It is Biden's view of Afghanistan that has, bit by bit, come to dominate thinking inside the 2014 withdrawal plan. On financial reform it was Biden who prodded an indecisive Obama to embrace, at long last, Paul Volcker's idea of barring banks from risky trading, according to Austan Goolsbee, formerly the head of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. The VP also tilted the discussion in favor of a bailout of the Big Three auto companies...
...In an interview in the fall of 2010, Biden could hardly contain his enthusiasm for his partnership with Obama. The phrase "Barack and I ... " fell from his lips naturally, with no hint of diffidence. He told me then that to his continuing surprise Obama has continued to "turn over big chunks" of policy to him to handle, whether it's Iraq, middle-class issues, overseeing the recovery act. At an early meeting, "all of sudden Obama stopped. He said, 'Joe will do Iraq. Joe knows more about Iraq than anyone..... The [Economic] Recovery Act, he just handed it over" to Biden, according to a senior administration official who attended the meetings and would talk about internal discussions only on condition of anonymity...
...The vice presidency is a job that has tried to be taken seriously throughout U.S. history -- and usually failed. John Adams, the nation's first vice president, bitterly derided his job as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived." Like Adams, it was often men who had tasted real power who had the most disdain for the job. John Nance Garner, a former House speaker and FDR's equally slighted No. 2, declared the job wasn't "worth a bucket of warm spit" (it's believed he used an even saltier term). In modern times the vice presidency began to grow in stature, especially as the hair-trigger calculus of the Cold War required presidents to keep their putative replacements informed. But the job remained for the most part a funeral-attending, snooze-inducing post, barren of almost all constitutional duties.
The previous two vice presidents, Cheney and his predecessor, Al Gore, significantly changed that power dynamic. But on Biden's watch the "OVP" -- Office of the Vice President -- has become something even more: almost a conjoined twin to the presidency, organically linked and indivisible from the Oval Office. Cheney succeeded for a time by creating a kind of shadow presidency, yet there's nothing shadowy about Biden. Indeed Biden remains, in many respects, the anti-Cheney.
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