Finding something for the vice president to do is a challenge every President of the United States since the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804 has had to face. The duties of the vice president are often defined as “breaking ties in the Senate and inquiring daily as to the health of the president.” John Nance Garner, vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, famously described the office as not being worth “a bucket of warm piss.”
It’s a vaguely defined, mostly useless office. The V.P. is the pinch hitter who never sees a pitch. Presidents down through the years have employed a variety of strategies to keep their understudies busy. John Kennedy put his nominally in charge of the space program. George W. Bush put his surreptitiously in charge of the country. Barack Obama has found another sort of role for his V.P., Joe Biden: the trusty sidekick.
Two days ago I received an email from President Obama’s Organizing for America outfit. The note, ostensibly written by the man himself, thanked me for my support this past year (I’ve made no financial contribution, but put my name to several petitions circulated by the White House to push things like health care reform or ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), and offered to mail me a thank-you card. An honest-to-goodness expression of appreciation from the First Family, to hold in my very own two hands. Well, shit, I’m not made of stone. I paid no attention to the donation page that popped up after I hit “submit,” but I gave ‘em my mailing address and was shortly informed via another form email to expect my card in 4 to 6 weeks. (Remember when everything took that long to get here?)
Now then. Yesterday I got an email from Joe Biden. This one also offered to send me a thank-you card. But not a thank-you card from him — a thank-you card from Barack Obama and family. A day after the president sent me an email asking if I wanted a thank-you card, the vice president had sent me an email to say, “Hey, Barack wants to sent you a thank-you card.”
And now that I think of it, every email I’ve ever gotten with Biden’s name on it has been like that. There will be some issue or piece of legislation to push, I’ll get one of those form emails from Organizing for America, in the president’s name, asking for my support, and then a few hours later or maybe the next day I’ll get an email from Biden that reiterates what the president’s message just said.
I’m not naïve enough to believe the president even sees, let alone writes those emails. But with Biden I’m not so sure. I imagine exchanges like the following. Obama is doing something in the Oval Office when there’s a knock on the door, and in steps Biden.
“Hey, Boss. What’s up?”
“Oh. Hey, Joe. Nothing. Just catching up on some O.F.A. stuff . . .”
“Ah. . . . Anything interesting?”
“Not really. . . . I mean, they’re sending out thank-you cards to supporters. From me. I guess I should try to sign a few of them or . . . whatever.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Have many gone out yet? The thank-you cards?”
“I don’t know, actually. I’d assume we’ll send out a good many. They tell me these things are pretty popular.”
“. . . You want me to send something out to the mailing list? Like, reminding them that they have a thank-you coming, making sure we have their addresses? Something like that?”
“Well, I think they already did that.”
“. . . Still. Couldn’t hurt for ‘em to hear from the vice president.”
“Can you write something to the mailing list? Just a reminder about this thank-you note thing, to make sure we have everyone’s mailing address?”
“Nobody messes with Joe!”
“ . . . Okay! There ya go.”
And then Joe runs off to write the email himself. What else has the guy got to do?