Joe Biden and the Mighty Media Buzz Machine

Political commentary by NewsWorks.org's Dick Polman

So the big news lately — if you can really call it news — is that Joe Biden is "talking to people" about a potential presidential bid.

But I think this story — if you can really call it a story — has all the substance of cotton candy.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe The New York Times and The Huffington Post and National Journal and various other components of the mighty media buzz machine are onto something big. Maybe the Veep really is serious about taking one last shot at the job he has coveted since the '80s. Maybe his friends (the usual anonymous sources) are right when they say that Joe dislikes the Clintons' cash-and-clout ethos, and that Joe is a go because he was advised to do so by dying son Beau.

But I still don't buy it. This speculative boomlet feels like one of those ephemeral summer squalls, the kind that happens in the heat when the press gets bored.

Biden whispers have persisted for months — "Biden may run" is a freebie story, fed by Biden loyalists who want to have skin in the game — but the buzz got ratcheted up this weekend when columnist Maureen Dowd momentarily parked her standard anti-Clinton snark long enough to write that Biden is "talking to friends, family, and donors about jumping in. (He) has been having meetings at his Washington residence to explore the idea."

Here's the thing, though: "Biden is talking to friends" is about as newsworthy as "dog bites man." This is what politicians do, they game out scenarios. Joe Biden has been "talking to friends" about his ambition since the era of videocassettes. But talking about it is a far cry from doing it. If we are to judge Biden not by what he says in private, but instead by what he does in public, the inescapable conclusion is that he's taking a pass.

Biden has done nothing to nurture any kind of candidacy. Which makes total sense, because — his anonymous loyalists notwithstanding — grass roots Democrats aren't clamoring for him to run. Last I checked, Hillary leads Biden by 43 percentage points. I can't fathom what his niche would be. Hillary is strong with Democratic women and people of color; Bernie Sanders is strong with the white upscale lefties who wanted Elizabeth Warren. That wouldn't leave much for Biden.

Plus, he's even older than Hillary (at the end of a second term, he'd be 82), and he couldn't hope to compete on the money front with Hillary (in the second quarter of '15, she raised $45 million).

And for all the Democratic angst about Hillary's campaign baggage — the emails, the Clinton Foundation money, the bad poll numbers on trust — there's no rational reason to believe that Biden would suddenly soar on the trail. Lest we forget, he bombed in 1988 (when plagiarism charges drove him from the race) and in 2008 (when he drove himself from the race after finishing fifth in Iowa, with less than one percent of the vote).

One more reality check: If he were to run, he'd tick off the president. He wouldn't want to do that.

Reportedly, Barack Obama has put his thumb on the scale for Hillary, not for his Veep. Consider this passage, in a recent Politico profile of Biden:

"As Obama’s first term drew to an end and the 2012 campaign geared up, Biden seemed to recognize he needed to move beyond his tiny circle if he wanted a political future. Yet nearly every move to expand his political team was blocked by Obama’s sharp-elbowed protectors ... Biden didn't ask for much, just a few side trips to see potential 2016 donors, a schedule that took him to battleground states where he could build his blue-collar brand. But Obama's campaign hands set the tone early on: This was an all-for-one operation, and the one was Barack Obama, not Joe Biden."

When Hillary left the State Department, Obama lavished her with praise. He has praised Biden as a great Veep, but he has offered no public encouragement for a Biden candidacy. It doesn't seem plausible that Biden — a guy who prizes loyalty — would defy his boss by launching a late candidacy and sparking a roundelay of media stories about a "Democratic civil war."

But hey, buzz is fun. It's empty caffeinated calories, but it goes down easy. And if the latest reports are correct — that Biden won't make a real final absolute decision until summer's end — then we're all free to imbibe. Just try not to get hooked.

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