Joe Biden is reportedly getting more serious about a presidential run in 2016. That’s good news for the Democrats and the White House. They’re better off having him run for president for 2016 — even if his campaign fades out well before he has to run for president in 2016.
Democrats are better off because even a pretend competitive campaign is better than a walkover. Nomination campaigns are critical opportunities for parties to make choices and for new voices to push new issues into the party conversation. It wouldn’t be healthy for the party to go four more years (or even eight more, if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination by acclamation and then goes on to win in November 2016) without a national nomination process, and if she does win, it wouldn’t be healthy for the party to have Clinton win the nomination too easily without the party constraints that come with a contested nomination. Granted, there are other candidates out there beginning to run proto-campaigns, but it’s not clear that any of them can really make it a competitive race.
It’s good for Barack Obama, too. To the extent that second-term presidents have problems, it’s probably in large part a function of presidents thinking past the next election and toward “legacy.” That’s a terrible idea for presidents; it removes them from the clues to good policy that are basic to the electoral system. Anything that can realign the White House with the electoral system is a good thing, and so a vice president running to succeed the term-limited incumbent has got to be better than nothing. And that’s not just good for Obama; it’s good for the nation for the president to be governed by electoral incentives instead of whatever he happens to think would look good in his presidential library.
Both of those benefits should happen even if Biden eventually decides that a full national campaign isn’t a good idea; indeed, they’re good enough consequences that Biden should probably fake it even if he knows he’s going to back off sometime in 2015.