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Light on Leadership

Biden's mission impossible

Vice President Joe Biden has one of the toughest choices in politics today. He can either stand aloof from his party's campaign collapse, or pick up the hatchet and join past vice presidents as the slasher-in-chief. If he picks up the hatchet and wields it skillfully, as so many other vice presidents have, he'll stay on the ticket in 2012. If he fails to mount a credible defense of the endangered Democratic House majority, he'll have to fight to stay.

Biden has been an impressive vice president thus far. He's no Dick Cheney, but that's been a good thing. Biden has been a mostly quiet but tough voice inside the White House on foreign and domestic policy alike. Although he's known for wandering afield and for occasional gaffes, he has taken firm control of a job known more for irrelevance than impact. He's well on course to joining the short list of great vice presidents (yes, there have been great vice presidents, including Nelson Rockefeller, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Al Gore).

The vice presidency has changed greatly since Hubert Humphrey described the post as like standing naked in a blizzard with nothing but a match to keep you warm. Biden has had all the access he can handle. He sees all the paper moving in and out of the Oval Office, has regular confidential meetings with the president, occupies prime real estate in the West Wing, and has a formidable staff.

Biden has used that access to significant effect. He shaped the final decisions toward ending the war in Afghanistan, did his share of heavy lifting on health care reform, and has played the devil's advocate on a number of lesser decisions. True, he hasn't made much noise as the designated czar to rebuild the middle class, but it is hardly his fault alone.

Biden's biggest challenge over the next six weeks is to swallow his pride and start behaving like the attack dogs who came before him. It's not an easy or pretty job, but someone has to do it. Cabinet secretaries get to talk about accomplishments, but vice presidents have to dish the dirt. That's how they earn respect inside the White House and an invitation to a second term.

Richard Nixon did just that by savaging the Democrats in the 1954 campaign and stayed on the ticket as a result; Humphrey used his formidable oratorical skills to defend at least some key seats during the 1966 midterm debacle; Spiro Agnew created an entirely new alliterative vocabulary by describing Democrats as nattering nabobs of negativism in 1970. Every vice president since has followed the script, albeit with simpler sentences. Even Dan Quayle gave it a feeble try.

At least thus far, however, Biden has been underutilized. He's been tough for sure, but has yet to hit stride. His job is not in jeopardy per se, rumors of an Obama-Clinton ticket notwithstanding. But he needs to get tougher in three ways.

First, Biden has to find a consistent message. He is always charming and friendly, but has to stay on his talking points on the impact of a Republican House majority. He has to make a clear case against the Republicans. Biden's Democratic colleagues are wrong to think that their party might benefit politically by putting Republicans in the governing crosshairs. That is proverbial whistling past the graveyard. A Republican House would make President Obama's defeat in 2012 even more likely than it already is.

Second, Biden needs to get mad, pound the lectern, and call out Republicans for their intransigence. Others have the happier task of waxing poetic about the Obama administration's achievements; Biden has to go negative.

Third, Biden needs to take his own party to task. The Democratic Party is frozen right now, unsure how to explain the jobless recovery, the rising federal debt and the recent breakdowns in government performance. They are doing more ducking than a battered prize fighter.

Blaming Republicans for all that ails the country is not a strategy; it is an excuse. Democrats have taken big money too, and have their own cozy relationships. Yes, they asked Republicans for help on the stimulus package. But Democrats had the votes to shape the agenda and used them poorly. They folded at a very low price.

Biden has more than enough talent to use a hatchet. At the same time, he has good reason to play the more comfortable role of an elder statesman. Why tarnish his career by becoming another Agnew? But somebody has to do the dirty work and push the Democratic Party to take responsibility for its own contribution to the public distrust. Biden is the one to do it. This is his mission impossible.

By Paul Light

 |  October 7, 2010; 7:39 PM ET |  Category:  Federal government leadership , Leadership advice , Public leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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What is sad is that Biden is supposed to be the experienced member of this dynamic duo and he is failing miserabily. He has got to be drinking heavily at home at night after having to watch his fearless leader demonstrate his ineptness, inexperience, unpreparedness, and general self-absorbtion. Biden might wish he had stayed in Congress at night. At least he would have some say in governing the Nation.

Posted by: staterighter | October 12, 2010 1:47 PM

Joe Biden's message should be, "Republicans are anti-gay, anti-immigration, anti-union, anti-healthcare reform, anti-unemployment insurance, anti-bank and wall street reform, anti-corporate regulation, anti-medicare, anti-social security, anti-middle class tax cuts and taxing of the wealthy! Barrack Obama is the first Black American President. If you vote for Republicans come November or don't vote at all, and allow Barrack Obama to be lynched by the Republican party, then you deserve everything that will follow!"

Posted by: sunrise2 | October 12, 2010 12:38 PM

paul light said...

"Blaming Republicans for all that ails the country is not a strategy; it is an excuse. Democrats have taken big money too, and have their own cozy relationships. Yes, they asked Republicans for help on the stimulus package. But Democrats had the votes to shape the agenda and used them poorly. They folded at a very low price."

Posted by: DwightCollins | October 12, 2010 10:23 AM

I like Joe Biden..

Has no problem swinging back..


Yes but he keeps hitting himself in the nuts.

Posted by: jblast2000 | October 11, 2010 12:51 AM

I think Biden is doing a Great Job....for the Republicans. Keep up the stupidity, gaffes and incompetence the Republicans appreciate it.
Obama just called his Democrats audience the most ignorant group his talked to. And the Democrats blast and put down the ordinary tax payers who are against this outrageous spending and have come together as the Tea Party. They're headed over the cliff and the pin headed professor Light is clueless.
It's all good.

Obama/Biden aka Tweedledee/Tweedledum, take your choice...

Posted by: jblast2000 | October 11, 2010 12:49 AM

Biden has not called for Obama's hidden history and might just be remembered as treaon if he won't be an American about it and demand it.
What is so bad about transparency Mr. Biden?
Is Obama guilty as shcitt of something?
If Biden wants the oval office he has to ask to see zeeeee papers for US Americans to find him credible.

Biden actually holds the future of the Democratic party in his hands. Will he be the staunch American or the traitor that ends the Dems forever?
Biden asks for the pepers to open and makes his case, not only will X dems go back, but X gop will vote for him also.

Posted by: dottydo | October 10, 2010 8:43 PM

Biden has been an impressive vice president thus far. He's no Dick Cheney, but that's been a good thing. Biden has been a mostly quiet but tough voice inside the White House on foreign and domestic policy alike. Although he's known for wandering afield and for occasional gaffes, he has taken firm control of a job known more for irrelevance than impact. He's well on course to joining the short list of great vice presidents (yes, there have been great vice presidents, including Nelson Rockefeller, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Al Gore).

Also, Biden's handwriting is good and he combs his hair every day.

Are we done with the praise?

Reminds me of something Ike said about Nixon. When Ike was asked about any specific decision that Nixon had taken part in, Ike said,"Give me a day or two and I will think of something."

Posted by: rjpal | October 10, 2010 8:11 PM

Joe Biden is doing one hell of a job. He is really a great VP. Keep him around and give him as much authority as he needs. He'll get the job done right.

Posted by: wilson0004 | October 10, 2010 6:50 PM

jake4u25 /// I was tempted to ignore your partisan screed. Perhaps you'd do yourself a service by NOT regurgitating DNC talking points and actually think for yourself.

You want to give Obama the credit for saving US, yet by his own admission, it was the Bush Administration that created TARP. Again, it was the Bush Administration that began the bailout to save GM and Chrysler.

It was policies begun and expanded by the Democrats that lead to the real estate bubble that was at the bottom of the economic crises. It was a significant group of Democrat supporters - large contributors to Obama, who made risky business decisions that along with bad SEC accounting rules caused massive financial losses, job losses and business closings.

I understand that it's easier to just blame the Republicans, but sometimes in life you're required to stand up and actually use your own brain to see the light!

Posted by: Hazmat77 | October 10, 2010 4:44 PM

Paul Light .. apparently you're that guy who likes and voted for Biden in the Democrat Party Presidential Nominating contest.

f/y/i, Joe Biden is Vice President Lite!

And while I'm on the subject, Mondale, Gore and GHW Bush??? You truly have no acceptable standards in critquing Veeps!

In terms of intellect, political knowledge and competence, Dick Cheney is far superior to all of those great ones you named. Of course you can't get beyond your own political agenda so you'd never be able to evaluate his capabilities and performance.

You're a victim of DNC hate and anger at Cheney. That's quite a shame!

Posted by: Hazmat77 | October 10, 2010 4:36 PM

I find that people will blame the party in office for what is going on, and not at the party that distroyed the economy. Crazy isn't it especially when you see Republicans from day one said this would be the president waterloo. From those words on they have done nothing for the American public, and instead worked with the same people that almost distroyed our country. The large wealthy corperations that are the smae people calling there companies small Business, and yet still ship jobs overseas. Yes there is a proublem in American government and it is called the Republican Party.

Posted by: jake4u25 | October 10, 2010 11:26 AM

I agree. Biden is Light on Leadership.

Posted by: hz9604 | October 10, 2010 9:34 AM

Paul - thanks. The check is in the e-mail.

-Joe B.

Doggone it! The check is in the MAIL. I was writing an e-mail at the time.

- Joe B.

Posted by: hz9604 | October 10, 2010 7:42 AM

And Joe Biden said we should be making things in Wisconsin and not in China. No hyperinflation there Joe!!

This particular column by Pearly and the other guy is the LAST place I would come to hear about leadership.

Posted by: hz9604 | October 10, 2010 7:30 AM

Paul - thanks. The check is in the e-mail.

-Joe B.

Posted by: hz9604 | October 10, 2010 7:28 AM

Chris Cillizza currently has an article up on the WashPo website showing what an inane article this is. The money quotes:

On Tuesday at a fundraiser in Minnesota, he remarked off-handedly: "If I hear one more Republican tell me about balancing the budget, I am going to strangle them." (Biden quickly noted that he was using a "figure of speech.") Then on Thursday in Wisconsin, the vice president joked to a quiet crowd that they were "the dullest audience I've ever spoken to." (And this was at another fundraiser.)


Posted by: gorams1 | October 10, 2010 7:27 AM

Union Joe Biden is a disaster. But if he is removed from the ticket, then clearly Obama is a bad decision maker because Obama had a very deliberative process to select his VP.

I clicked on this ridiculous article (Paul Light - who gives a bleep?) and who do I see but Steven Pearlstein-- easily the dumbest business columnist in America.

Posted by: hz9604 | October 10, 2010 7:24 AM

Who is Paul Light and is he nuts? Slow Joe is a dolt. Paul says Joe helped shape the Iraq strategy. Sure he did - after saying he wanted to cut the country into 3 pieces for years.

Give me Dick Cheney over "Three letter word: J-O-B-S, JOBS!" Biden any day.

Posted by: gorams1 | October 10, 2010 7:18 AM

Joe Biden should be the poster child for TERM LIMITS. I am so sick and tired of career politicans. Biden is an arrogant know-nothing. Unfortunately, he thinks he's smarter than everyone else and he thinks he can get away with saying anything he wants to say. Outside the BELTWAY, this guy is a real joke!

Posted by: georges2 | October 10, 2010 12:18 AM

Joe Biden scares the heck out of me. The Scarecrow on the way to Emerald City had more brains than this moron. He couldn't find water if he fell out of a boat. Seeing him behind Otrauma with that determined look on his face and not an apparent brain cell in his head sends the chill down my leg. Be afraid, America .. very afraid.

Posted by: MDDem1 | October 9, 2010 11:52 PM

Biden still can't find his butt with both hands, but he leads the Democrats food stamp nation.

Posted by: billybeer6 | October 9, 2010 8:20 PM

...hey, let's just listen to Palin and the failed GOP, and go back to cut taxes / cut govt that we tried for the 3 decades of the Reagan/Bush era. In fact, let's get ANOTHER big tax cut to the wealthiest as we did in 1981 and 2001.

I mean, that worked SO well to deliver Trickle Down prosperity. Almost nobody is unemployed now. And the banks and oil companies and health insurers, heck - they POLICED THEMSELVES!!! Get government out of the WAY by golly!

Abe Lincoln would have said;
"You can fool some of the people, ALL of the time"... ;^)

- Balkingpoints / www

Posted by: RField7 | October 9, 2010 4:44 PM

What is impressive is the number of Post readers not coming to Biden's defense. It sounds promising to me.

Posted by: lastword | October 9, 2010 4:12 PM

Yeah, Biden's really won me over with his latest: "If we lose, we're going to play hell." That statement is on par with Obama's threat that if the Republicans take over the House, he's going to engage in "hand-to-hand combat."

Why are Obama and Biden campaigning on fear and threats rather than all the legislation they supported? Perhaps they, like the majority of Americans, recognize that the so-called legislation is only a "win" for themselves and their ideology--not for the citizens they were elected to serve.

Posted by: judithod | October 9, 2010 3:28 PM

"He shaped the final decisions toward ending the war in Afghanistan..." Really? I didn't know the war had ended. Please write another column and tell me how things turned out.

The problem with Biden is he is recognized and remembered more for his hyperbolae than for anything else. Remember, "This stimulus bill is working much better than even I thought it would!" or one of my favorites, "I GUARANTEE the Democrats will retain the House and the Senate!"

He made a big deal about policing fraud and waste in the stimulus hand out program, but has failed to document one instance (although there have been many noted in the media).

I do agree that he has been provided "unprecedented" (one of Obama's favorite words) access to the President and the decision making process. The mission impossible is your attempt to argue about how effective he's been, while the population revolts against the policies of his boss, presumably all agreed to and endorsed by Joe Biden.

He's been on the wrong side of history so many times, I don't have enough characters remaining to list them all.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | October 9, 2010 2:43 PM

If you think Biden has been an impressive VP then there is something wrong with your state of mind. This man has made a mockery out of the office of vice president. He says one stupid thing after another and has never been given an assignment he can complete and show some results. I believe that even the idiot-in-chief has no confidence in him. He will be gone in 2012. As for your state of mind. I'm sure you went to college, but you are a prime example of education at its worst.

Posted by: lori9 | October 9, 2010 1:42 PM

This article is so far off reality that it sounds more like someone's wishful thinking.

First of all, Obama is uncomfortable with Biden. I think its age related, race related and culture related. They couldn't be more different in every way.

So Obama treats Biden like the drunken uncle that shows up for family functions. He knows he has to let Biden show up to the party, but he hustles him out as quickly as he can, and the door is locked at all other times.

But Biden, like drunken uncle Joe, wants to help, so they give him the kinds of jobs that no one will take. Joe does some of them, but not too many, and doesn't always succeed. And he embarasses the white house because he's, well, drunken uncle joe.

This idea that there is a well-planned mission for joe is so silly that it's laughable.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | October 9, 2010 1:25 PM

Joe Biden - whose main amd most important job assignment from obama was to track the TARP money - is still looking foolish, arrogant and non-essential!!
Where's the money Joe??? :-)

Posted by: thornegp2626 | October 9, 2010 11:24 AM

I really like Senator Joe Biden. He was intelligent, honest, active, and one heck of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman.

Vice President Joe Biden is an embarrassment. When Obama tells him to, he takes off his suit jacket when standing next to the president. If he was black and Obama was 100% white, Joe would be Obama's "boy". It is a shame a man who was once so respected has become a bad joke in a serious business.

Joe, retire with what little dignity you have left. We understand you did what you did thinking it was best for the country. But time is up. You can't save the ship of fools that is this administration.

Posted by: dskiff | October 9, 2010 10:11 AM

Telling members of your own party to "buck up" - "quit whining" - treating them like children is not my idea of any way to rally the crowd. Perhaps if we could hear some straight talk and actual plans and programs from the administration we could have some hope.

Instead we get platitudes, and platitudes don't supply jobs.

Posted by: Utahreb | October 9, 2010 8:40 AM

Watch the Democrats decry what they label as hate from the right while Biden threatens to "strangle Republicans" to cheers. Watch the WaPo cover the first ad nauseum and ignore the latter.

Posted by: edbyronadams | October 9, 2010 7:44 AM

Joe Biden isn't very effective doing the job you describe because very few people, other than some in the press, care what he says...

Posted by: Illinois4 | October 9, 2010 4:37 AM

Biden isn't a very effective person for the job you described because few people, other than the press, pay very much attention to him...

Posted by: Illinois4 | October 9, 2010 4:32 AM

Obama has destroyed the Democratic Party, will take years to recover...if they ever stop digging themselves deeper.

Posted by: JCM-51 | October 8, 2010 11:41 PM

In the last 65 years we have had the following Vice Presidents:

Harry S. Truman · Alben W. Barkley · Richard Nixon · Lyndon B. Johnson · Hubert Humphrey · Spiro Agnew · Gerald Ford · Nelson Rockefeller · Walter Mondale · George H. W. Bush · Dan Quayle · Al Gore · Dick Cheney · Joe Biden.

The only good one in the whole bunch is Truman. The rest were lousy second bananas. With the exception of Truman - they were all worth about a bucket of warm spit.

Posted by: alance | October 8, 2010 9:24 PM

Prostitution is indeed dirty work. But, we know who does it and who pays for it.

Posted by: gone2dabeachgmailcom | October 8, 2010 7:20 PM

Joe Bidden was placed on the ticket because George Soros knew he was about the only guy in Washington that could put his foot in his mouth more often than Clueless Comrade Barry.

It's a tough job but someone's got to do it.

The Ruling Class must perpetuate that myth that they are the “best and “brightest” in order to give them license to organize and legislate against the interests of those whom they are supposed to serve. They are neither and their Beloved Dear Leader Clueless Comrade Barry is, in fact, nothing more - or less – than a complete dullard.

In the third line of his Inaugural Address, Clueless Comrade Barry stated,

“Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.”

Actually, 43 Americans have taken the presidential oath. The reason why Comrade Barry is considered president number 44 is because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is thus counted as president number 22 and 24.

You can maybe, sort of, make the excuse that Comrade Barry was tired and misspoke with his "we’ve now campaigned in all 57 states" remark but his statement: “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath" is still posted at Whitehouse.gov.

Incredibly, we're 20 months post hoc and he still doesn't know who Grover Cleveland is!

There can be no doubt. Clueless Comrade Barry has less than a schoolboy's understanding of American history.

And this is a mind that you admire?

Now comes even more evidence that Clueless Comrade Barry went straight to the White House without even a schoolboy’s understanding of history.

Addressing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, The Clueless One said, "Long before America was even an idea, this land of plenty was home to many peoples. The British and French, the Dutch and Spanish, to Mexicans, to countless Indian tribes. We all shared the same land."

Actually, the United States of America declared its independence on 4 July 1776

Thirty-four years later, Mexico declared its independence on 16 September 1810.

What we have in the White House today is nothing more or less than an ignorant, incompetent, narcissistic Marxist miscreant - the living embodiment of The Peter Principal in (Affirmative) Action – who the media refuse to hold accountable for anything.

If that does not strike you as incredible, you’re either brain dead… or a member of the Ruling Class.

See also http://spectator.org/archives/2010/07/16/americas-ruling-class-and-the

Nevertheless, the American people are beginning to catch on and all the state-controlled media propaganda in the world will not change a dimwitted Marxist dullard into an effective president.

By the way, Kool-Aid Drinkers, they speak German in Austria (not “Austrian”), the automobile was invented in Germany (not the U.S.) and Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

Posted by: LePauvrePapillon | October 8, 2010 6:59 PM

Bufoon biden....
25 days

Posted by: civilemik | October 8, 2010 6:25 PM

“I guarantee you we're going to have a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate.”

Joe Biden 9/23/2010

25 days until Election Day. See you at the polls, Dims.

Posted by: screwjob21 | October 8, 2010 5:35 PM

I looked up Light's bio. I was correct.

Posted by: illogicbuster | October 8, 2010 5:25 PM

Whomever wrote this column has ZERO experience as a leader (senior exec) and is SO partisan as to be embarrassing. What are the credentials of the author?

Posted by: illogicbuster | October 8, 2010 5:21 PM

You mean diarrhea of the mouth Joe? Every time he opens his mouth, he shoves his leg in it. Yeah, that's great "leadership" alright.

Posted by: morningglory51 | October 8, 2010 3:25 PM

Is this column the Hillary instruction to Joe?

Posted by: peterroach | October 8, 2010 3:16 PM

The Democrats are simply following good sense with Biden. Sacrifice your least importent.

Posted by: jdonner2 | October 8, 2010 3:10 PM

I like Joe Biden..

Has no problem swinging back..


Posted by: vettesport | October 8, 2010 2:50 PM

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