By MARSHA MERCER
At the annual Gridiron Club dinner put on by Washington journalists Saturday night, a singer portraying Joe Biden bragged about the tough jobs he has tackled as vice president.
“I’m not Barack! I am Joe Biden,” he sang to the tune of “I am a Rock.” He’ll serve President Obama’s second term, the Biden character proclaimed. “Not gonna wait til two-thousand sixteen.”
Don’t let anyone tell you “There are no second acts in American lives.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote that puzzling line, never knew Joe Biden.
Biden is on track to be one of the most influential vice presidents in history. And, no, that’s not damning with faint praise.
It’s a great time to be Joe Biden.
While the boss’s position was still “evolving,” Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in May that he himself was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage. Nudged, Obama came around a few days later, electrifying gay supporters.
After the Newtown massacre, Obama turned to Biden to explore gun control efforts. While prospects are dim of much action on Capitol Hill, Biden has kept gun control advocates allied with the president.
And it was Biden who rescued the nation from the fiscal cliff. Drawing on his four decades in Washington, Biden negotiated a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., just hours before the Jan. 1 deadline.
No second acts? By proving his own worth as Obama’s right-hand man, Biden’s own star is rising as a leading presidential contender in 2016. Not bad for a guy who had to abandon his 1988 presidential quest amid charges that he had plagiarized other politicians’ speeches.
A video surfaced showing parts of Biden’s campaign speech and parts of a speech by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Biden insisted that he’d failed to attribute the passages to Kinnock only that once, but reporters uncovered similarities with other politicians’ speeches and an unfortunate F in law school for plagiarism.
Voters had all but forgotten that unpleasantness by 2008, when Biden ran again for president. This time he made news by saying what he actually thought about another Democratic contender.
“You got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden told an interviewer in January 2007. “”I mean that’s storybook, man.”
In Washington, saying what you think is a gaffe, and Biden is a gaffe machine. He’s a character – a boisterous, deal-making politician of the old school who loves to hear himself talk. Obama obviously didn’t hold a grudge, and Biden’s loose lips never seem fatal
Biden has known great personal tragedy. He was 29, married with three little kids when he was elected to the Senate in 1972. Weeks later, just before Christmas, his wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car crash in Delaware. His young sons, Beau, 4, and Hunter, 3, survived with serious injuries. Biden was on Capitol Hill that afternoon, interviewing potential staffers.
In his shock and grief, Biden planned to give up his Senate seat and return home, but he was persuaded to keep his job. He took the official oath in his sons’ hospital room and began the daily Amtrak commute from Wilmington to Washington. He continued the routine for 36 years.
No second acts? Biden married Jill Jacobs in 1977, and their daughter Ashley was born in 1981.
After decades in public life, Biden has no shortage of critics. Fox News chief Roger Ailes is quoted in a new book calling Biden “dumb as an ashtray.”
Love him or loathe him, Biden, 70, always seems to be having more fun than most people. At the ceremonial swearing-in of new senators in the old Senate chamber in January, Biden was a jovial, joking host.
“Spread your legs,” he told a new senator’s husband. “You’re going to be frisked.”
Biden’s entertainment quotient was so high that fans petitioned for a C-SPAN reality show trailing him on his daily rounds.
No second acts? Biden perseveres. He may yet have a third.
© 2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.