One way the national media demonstrate their ardor for Obama is a string of stories suggesting Vice President Joe Biden is not an embarrassment. His gaffes are forever being recast as misunderstood wisdom and honesty. The latest in this string came from the Chicago Tribune's Peter Nicholas in a story headlined "Biden is a linchpin of Obama's presidency," like that's a positive. He may be an old war horse instead of Hope and Change, but he's an asset:
Yet with a new political order in Washington, the success of Obama's presidency hinges more and more on the negotiating skills and political instincts of his No. 2.
Facing a revived Republican Party, the White House is expected to increasingly deploy Biden as a presidential surrogate to find compromises and coax reluctant lawmakers into crossing party lines. Even Biden's penchant for veering off message is being re-evaluated inside the White House as a bridge to ordinary voters who appreciate blunt talk.
A model for Biden's role in the next session of Congress was the recent passage of the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Biden, who built a reputation as a foreign policy expert during his 36 years in the Senate, prevailed in an internal White House debate over whether to press for ratification in the lame-duck session. Some White House advisers had worried that the votes weren't in hand and that a defeat would weaken the president at home and abroad.
But Biden argued that ratifying the treaty would only get tougher in 2011, when the Democratic majority in the Senate would shrink by five votes. He then made about 40 calls to Republican senators, helping win the required two-thirds vote that gave the White House a major foreign policy victory at the close of the year.
David Axelrod, a senior advisor to Obama, said Biden proved to be "an all-star player."
There's more anonymous White House spin where that came from:
Inside the White House, aides have developed a special Biden rule. Rather than squirm over the latest Biden gaffe, the administration treats it as plainspoken candor that may appeal to a portion of the electorate that is unmoved by Obama's disciplined, explanatory rhetoric.
The rest of the White House is coming around to the idea that sometimes what the vice president says that's off-message is just a really blunt and colorful way of expressing a truth, and they should embrace that," said an administration official who requested anonymity to speak more candidly about the matter.
"It's a big administration, and we can have more than one voice and more than one style," the official added.
Since taking office, Obama has handed his vice president at least three high-profile assignments: the Iraq war, the economic stimulus and the New START treaty. With each one, Biden has found a measure of success.
Last June, the Washington Post ran one of these: "Biden's image has been transformed from bumbler to big blanking deal." He is forever "still gaining acceptance," to use the old Dana Carvey phrase for Dan Quayle.