New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich, who specializes in profiles of prominent pols, again held back his trademark irreverence when it came to an easy Democratic target: Vice President Joe Biden, in Sunday's "How This Got to be a Biden Moment – In a few short months, the vice president has become a star."
Leibovich is known for being nice to Democrats and nasty to Republicans in his political profiles, and his account of how Biden has become a cheesy pop culture symbol is one of the "nice" ones, though it's definitely on the irreverent side.
President Obama had just finished taking the oath and the Marine band played “Hail to the Chief” and the cameras panned to children waving little flags. Inaugurations are momentous things.
And then, after the benediction, I opened an e-mail from my friend Matt, who had extracted another unalienable truth from the proceedings:
“Biden is a testament to the transforming power of successful hair plugs.”
Well yes, he is, though the hair plugs are not a new Biden phenomenon. What’s telling here is that at a spectacle so potent and on a stage so crowded, the eye would be so naturally drawn to the goofball understudy. In that sense, Matt represents a cultural wave.
“Transforming” is the key word. In a few short months, the motor-tongued, muscle-car-loving heartbeat-away hell raiser has been transformed from gaffe-prone amusement to someone whose star shines as brightly as his teeth. He is the subject of viral C-Span videos, sitcom infatuations and an “autobiography” of his Onion-inspired alter-ego, “Diamond” Joe Biden, “The President of Vice.” (In his spare time, Mr. Biden also helped avert the fiscal cliff, is spearheading the White House plan to reduce gun violence and might even run for president in 2016.)
Yet Leibovich never took advantage of Biden's gaffes in the way that he attacked Republican politicians like Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Paul Ryan.
He may not be the most popular politician in America. Mr. Biden’s approval rating stands at 49 percent in the latest New York Times/CBS poll; not bad, but still a shade lower than his boss’s (51 percent). Mrs. Clinton trounces him in early surveys of Democrats eyeing the prospective field for 2016. Yet Mr. Biden wins in a landslide in an unscientific snapshot of comic appreciation, cult appeal and of-the-moment awesomeness. The White House recently received a petition from citizens insisting that a new reality show be created featuring the vice president (2,482 signatures at this writing).
Personally, my favorite image from the whole Biden Moment occurred during a brief interlude at the end of the Senate swearing-in parade. When there were no more senators left to initiate, photos to mug for or moms to hug, Mr. Biden stood at the front of the chamber looking out at the emptying room. For a split second, he looked lost, maybe even sad. He folded his hands at his waist, twiddled his thumbs and then, with his eyes twinkling again, put out a last plaintive call: “Anyone else want to be sworn in as a Senator today?”
It's not Leibovich's first celebration of all things Bidenesque. His March 2009 front-page profile of the new vice president actually buttered up Biden, trying to convince readers that, Biden was an active player in the Obama administration. The front-page photo caption read: "The influence Vice President Biden wielded in the debate on Afghan war policy is a signal of his stature in the administration." Leibovich said President Obama "has come to see Mr. Biden as a useful contrarian in the course of decision-making" despite his occasional "unhelpful" remarks.
By contrast, his profile of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was hostile to the subject.
"'I’m sort of a PowerPoint guy, so bear with me,' he said the first time he did this, in Orlando, Fla., by way of apologizing for his apparent inability to communicate without his security blanket. Though his PowerPoint presentation is an extremely basic four-slide tutorial that shows how much the national debt has risen since World War II -- something that many fifth graders could grasp -- his home crowds invariably nod and praise him for his faith in their ability to grasp hard truths.
Leibovich even used that profile to take an arbitrary and snotty swipe at the "let’s say, knowledge-averse bent" of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.