There are, as everyone knows by now, two Joe Bidens.
There is the generally competent and affable, if long-winded, vice president we actually have.
And there is Onion Joe, creation of the satirical newspaper the Onion, who has been banned from every Dave & Busters and likes to wash his Trans Am in the White House driveway.
The only trouble is that occasionally Onion Joe intrudes into the actual world. Take the already widely circulated clip from Danville, Va., of Vice President Biden telling voters (the town, the L.A. Times notes, is about 50 percent black) that the Republicans are “going to put y’all back in chains.”
Onion Joe! Get back in the box!
This is, quite frankly, not the sort of thing a Serious Person could ever say and hope for anything less than a public pillorying.
Bad enough to insinuate that your opponent intends to enslave a section of the populace. How mortifyingly divisive. And with that single twanged y’all, this whole interaction became even more awkward than it needed to be. But this is so far from the sort of thing that anyone in a position as lofty as the vice presidency would be expected to say that one’s first response is a sort of mirthful discomfort. Can he hear himself? you wonder. You cannot help feeling that if he could hear himself he would stop at once.
That is the trouble with Joe.
He inspires the sort of discomfort one feels upon introducing one’s fiance to Grandpa after he has had a scotch too many.
“Please,” you mumble under your breath. “Please, please don’t say anything.”
It is not that Tipsy Grandpa has any sinister intent. It is just that his list of Acceptable Ways To Phrase Things has not been updated since 1943 or so. Routinely, in the company of the family, he makes Pole jokes and everyone laughs politely. Sometimes, when the spirit moves him, he recites limericks that imply his opinion of the Irish is low. Every few years you steal his prized lawn sculptures, but he always finds replacements. It is impossible to make him see what is so wrong about them.
I am not saying this to excuse Onion Joe’s periodically alarming outbursts. And sometimes he is completely right. But my instinctive response is to wince apologetically at his cringe-inducing gaffes, not denounce the man. He inspires less anger than embarrassment.
“All right,” you say, after he finishes. “Well, that was — very — informative, Joe. Who wants dessert?”
Except he’s the vice president.
Yes, the office isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit. You need to be alive for it, but that is about as far as the requirements go. A child could do it, provided the child were over 35 years old. But that’s not the point. Sure, the veep may have no real authority, but the position does at least mean one thing: People are listening. Your words matter.
So except for occasionally presiding over the Senate and possibly running a duplicitous shadow government, the main requirement of the job is simple: Shut up. Don’t make wild, flailing statements that will do no one any good. Better to keep silent and be thought a gaffe-prone Onion parody than open your mouth and remove all doubt.
But try telling that to Onion Joe.