The vice presidency redux

Joe Biden, in a press conference and interview he has carried out over the past few days, has stated his intentions to redefine the role and the powers of the vice president from what it is now to something we haven’t seen in some 8 years. He wants to actually scale back the office at a time when most vice president-elects are looking with eager eyes on how to have the biggest impact. It’s near unprecedented, but certainly valid. And most definitely a good and proper thing to do. Vice President Dick Cheney, in taking office, intentionally sort to increase the role of the vice president from day one. He had a leading hand in policy making, in getting legislation through the Senate, in the directions that the administration took. He was dangerous in his role.

Biden is right to say, in the interview, that the team of Cheney and President Bush have failed. He is also right in saying

The only value of power is the effect, the efficacy of its use. And all the power Cheney had did not result in effective outcomes.

He’s right. By expanding his powers through Washington, Cheney should have been able to effect more positive and better outcomes and results. He didn’t. He has been part of a failure of eight years on all policy points. We know that Cheney was picked to boost experience on the ticket in the same way Biden was used to boost Barack Obama’s ticket with experience. But we will find that the capabilities and efficiency of the Presidents will drastically alter the way vice presidents act. Bush couldn’t control Cheney, had too much to do on his own and so let him do whatever. Bush was a partner in his presidency. With Obama and Biden, I expect we will find a president who is not only capable of the job, but able to do his job on his own. The ‘experience’ that Biden brings won’t be experience on getting things done in Washington, it will be as an adviser.

Another important point to come out of the interview is that Biden declared (though we all already assumed it) he has ‘no intention’ of running for president in 2016. He will be 74 years old then, so he is hoping that this is the ‘worthy capstone’ in his career. This alternatively means that Obama has a friend in D.C. who isn’t out to advance their own agenda or look to get personal political gain out of decisions and policies. This also ensures that he doesn’t turn into another Al Gore. Advise from Biden, we can expect, will be frank and honest. These advisory session will come in the form of weekly lunches between Obama and Biden (one of the preconditions that Biden laid down in accepting the #2 spot). Another precondition was that he and his staff be able to broadly contribute in various policy areas, instead of being pidgenholed to one or two. This works both ways – Biden gets to get in on what he sees he can contribute the most on; Obama doesn’t look like he is relying in his VP on 2 or 3 policy areas for direction.

I particularly liked this quote from David Axelrod – an Obama campaign founder and now senior adviser – who had this to say about Cheney:

Cheney essentially served the president as chief of staff

I suspect, as more and more gets into the public’s hands, that this will turn out to be an understatement, and that Cheney had more of a role than we suspected. I look forward to the next years not just for the Obama presidency, and the Biden vice presidency, but as bits and pieces come out about the Bush administration and what the heck was going on behind those doors. It will make for either the best comedy or the scariest horror story. But I have faith that with a Vice President Biden, the world will have a proper and honest vice president (the first in a long, long time), with a restored office and a true voice in Washington, D.C., to help Obama when he needs it.



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