Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that President Obama voiced his belief that gay and lesbian couples deserve equal marriage rights today in part because Vice President Joe Biden said as much over the weekend before the administration tried to take back his comments, suggesting they were some sort of gaffe. “Shirtless, drunk-with-power Joe Biden spotted on roof of Naval Observatory, shouting commands at pedestrians below,” Washington observer Delrayser joked on Twitter.
When Biden was tapped as President Obama’s vice presidential candidate in 2008, the reasons were obvious: he was an older, blindingly white Senator with a strong, long list of credentials including helping to torpedo Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, an event that took place the year before Obama entered Harvard Law School. His penchant for gaffes—he had previously described Obama as “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”—was acknowledged and considered a worthwhile risk given the other qualities he brought to the ticket.
And instead of being an enormous liability, Biden’s volubility became something of a meme. He made the rounds at Inaugural Balls quoting Seamus Heaney. To The Onion, he was a gold mine. The fake newspaper churned out stories about Biden washing a Trans Am shirtless, or getting banned from Dave and Buster’s, or fleeing to Mexico. Biden was apparently aware and appreciative of the stories. The Vice President was a perfect subject of cultural jokes, a tendency that couldn’t have been predicted (ditto for the sudden coolness of Hillary Clinton), but that in retrospect is very, very useful for taking heat off a president accused of being a celebrity and a lightweight. The Vice President is never supposed to overshadow the President, but in matters light and weighty alike, Biden does seem to have created space for Obama.
And so there’s something fitting and hilarious about the fact that Biden is headed to Jeopardy, off to be his likable self for a generation of viewers who weren’t going to be impressed by President Obama Slow Jamming the News with Jimmy Fallon and the roots. Part of this administration’s appeal has been its ability to bridge generations, but whether your thing is trivia games or mic drops, Biden and Obama’s collective arrival at this point is a reminder that we don’t, and shouldn’t, have to wait for generational turnover to see stances, policies, and lives change.