By Frank Bruni
New York Times
Many politicians seem intent on holding themselves as far back from us as possible, on parceling themselves out in only the smallest and most controlled bits. Even as they implore us to love them and insist that we trust them, they're stingy. Cagey. Coiled.
Not Joe Biden. Where others say too little, he says too much. Where others depend on extravagantly compensated swamis to contrive their authenticity and coax them toward it, Biden needs help tamping down his irrepressible self.
How I've loved watching him over his decades in public life.
How I'd hate to see him enter the presidential race and punctuate those years with a final defeat.
Biden, Biden, Biden. The drumbeat swells, coming from all directions, even from Dick Cheney. He recently did an interview with CNN, the first snippets of which were shown on Monday, and offered Biden the following counsel about 2016: "Go for it." This is probably the most compelling evidence that Biden shouldn't. When Cheney itches for an intervention, beware.
Biden's own moves, including a scheduled appearance next Thursday on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, further stoke speculation and hopes.
But while many Democrats have enormous respect for him and he's done plenty to deserve it, this isn't really about him. It's about Hillary Clinton: her presumptuousness, the whole email mess, the sloppy administration of the Clinton Foundation, the sense that scandals are as inextricable from her political identity as pantsuits.
Some Democratic leaders and operatives would desperately like an alternative — an alternative, that is, with better general-election prospects than a 73-year-old socialist with little support from minorities. Martin O'Malley hasn't come through: He might as well be an apparition for all the impact he's made. Someone else is needed. Cue the Biden talk.
We journalists eagerly amplify it, because nothing improves a narrative like the addition of an especially colorful character. We disingenuously pretend that his favorability ratings and other flattering poll results have the same meaning as corresponding numbers for Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
They don't, because he's a hypothetical candidate and they're actual ones, and it's the difference between a courtship in its dawn and a marriage in its dusk. Once someone has really moved into the house and is leaving dirty dishes in the sink, the electricity dims and everything droops.
Even while drooping, Clinton holds onto a great deal of support, and she stands on the very territory that Biden, to get the nomination, would need.
"He's neither to the left of her, where the energy of the party is, nor is he newer than her," one Democratic strategist said. "He personifies neither progressivity nor change. And you need to have one of the two - preferably, both - to win." Clinton's familiarity is mitigated by the possibility that she'd make history: the first woman in the White House. Biden has nothing like that going for him.
He's a profoundly awkward fit for this strange political moment, this season of outsiders and insurgents.
Voters are sour on career politicians, and Biden's career in politics spans about 45 uninterrupted years.
Voters are anti-Washington in particular, and more than 42 of those years have been spent in the national's capital, as a senator from Delaware and then as the vice president.
Aspects of his legislative record are more troubling for him now than ever before. As Nicholas Fandos noted in a recent story in The Times, Biden pushed for, and later crowed about, tough-on-crime legislation in the 1980s and 1990s that preceded the mass incarceration of today. That would be a wedge between him and the Democratic Party's black voters especially.
And as Steve Eder noted in another recent story in The Times, Biden was, of necessity, an ambassador for the financial services industry in Delaware. That hardly positions him to win the favor of liberal Democrats who yearn for a crackdown on Wall Street.
Biden has twice before pursued the Democratic nomination and never won a single state. The last time, in 2008, he got less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses and then quickly dropped out.
And while much about circumstances and about Biden has changed since then, what hasn't, at least not significantly, is the uncorked, uncensored quality that contributed to his troubles before.
He rolls his eyes. He reaches out with his hands. He talks and talks, in sentences that sometimes go too far, with words that haven't been weighed as carefully as they could be. The route from his brain to his lips is direct and swift. None of the usual traffic cones there.
Sometimes this is enervating. Mostly it's endearing. For better or worse, it's not the means to a promotion, not for this remarkable man at this remarkable time.