As attack dogs go, Joe Biden is more chocolate Lab than Doberman pinscher. The Vice President will perform the traditional wet work assigned to presidential running mates, but never with the cold dispatch of his predecessors Dick Cheney and Al Gore. Like a great snuffling puppy, he can't help getting too enthusiastic. When he was a younger man, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was assigned the unpleasant task of eviscerating Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. His long-winded, half-apologetic, nonquestion questions left witnesses befuddled and had millions of Americans longing for a muzzle. More recently, set loose on Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, he went bounding eagerly up and over the line, adopting his version of a preacher's drawl to tell an audience that included many African Americans that the GOP wants to "put y'all back in chains."
That one set off a howling of rebuke and fevered talk of dumping Biden from the ticket. Not gonna happen. The Democratic ticket is too finely balanced to tinker with it. Biden's exuberant too-muchness warms the cool reserve of the man he calls "my boss." Not to overdo the pet analogies, but there is something catlike about President Obama when he levels that gaze that seems to say, I don't need your love--it's your vote I'm after.
Biden is Dixieland swing, Obama is Miles Davis. Biden's a banana split, Obama is grapefruit sorbet. Biden's a bubble bath, Obama a dip in a Minnesota lake. In the coming campaign for the hearts and minds of America's remaining undecided voters, the hearts part is Biden's brief.
Desperate to hold on to the ticket's evaporating 2008 victory margin, Biden campaigns one vote at a time. As the liberal Democrat handpicked by Strom Thurmond to deliver the ancient conservative's eulogy, he has shown there is no one on earth he won't work to win over. See him in Martinsville, Va., one recent day, striding toward the door of the Coffee Break Caf. Biden loves diners and firehouses and high school football fields. He has been alerted that stock-car king Glen Wood is inside the Coffee Break; it's where Wood hangs out when he is not busy running his world-class NASCAR team, Wood Brothers Racing. So Biden bursts through the door with his hair plugs waving and a big smile and booms, "I heard somebody in here won the Daytona!" Wood Brothers took the flag in 2011 with Trevor Bayne behind the wheel.
And guess what? Biden wishes he could be Glen Wood. "This guy did what I dreamed of, man," Biden emotes. "I'd trade being Vice President in a heartbeat for having won Daytona."
He has other wishes too. During an impromptu stop at a high school football practice in South Minneapolis recently, he confided to the boys, "I'm Vice President, and let me tell you, I'd trade it all to go back and play my senior year again."
Granted, the vice presidency is not Biden's fondest wish. He has run twice for the top job and may run again. But all things considered, he has seemed happy enough to shepherd the Administration's unprecedented stimulus billions through the gate, and he took obvious joy at helping seal the Democratic Party's "BFD" of government-supported health insurance for all. Why these reveries, then, about trading it all away? Some politicians try to relate to voters. Biden claims to want to switch places with them.