The lost art of loyalty


The New York Times

There is a futuristic cop show starting soon on Fox called Almost Human, produced by J.J. Abrams.

It’s set in the year 2048 and features an attractive black robot who is highly evolved, logic-based and designed to be as human as possible, partnering with an attractive white guy, who is all too human, prone to saying the wrong things and getting into scrapes.

Fox is billing the show as the first Robromance.

But, of course, it’s not the first. We have one in the West Wing.

When Barack Obama partnered with Joe Biden, Biden felt it was his mission to inject humanity — or “intensity,” as Hillary Clinton called it — into Obama’s android air. The ebullient political veteran was eager to help interpret the erudite Obama to Joe Sixpack.

In a capital known for hogging credit and stealing turf, Joe Biden has provided his boss with a rare loyalty over the last five years. Even behind closed doors, the vice president tries to elevate the president. His friends stress that Biden is not a golden retriever, but a sled dog, pulling his weight, chipping in, doing whatever he can.

And the two men, buffeted by problems, have grown closer after a rough start when Obama was dismissive or eye-rolling to his vice president often enough for it to merit a satirical takeoff on Saturday Night Live.

As Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write in Double Down, Biden worried that he would be cast as the buffoon, calling it the “Uncle Joe Syndrome,” and he confronted the president about it at a weekly lunch.

It’s fair to say that Joe Biden has not been given the respect he deserves in the White House. It’s the story of the ultimate team player who has not been treated that way himself.

The West Wing young bucks never fully appreciated the fact that if you have a president who turns up his nose at working with Congress, it’s nice to have a vice president who enjoys being a pol, who can pick up the phone and persuade Arlen Specter, at the cost of his political career, to help pass Obama’s stimulus.

Biden has bent over backward to put the president in a good light, even as the president and Obamaworld have bent over backward to treat Hillary like the rightful successor to Obama.

They say loyalty is its own reward, and, in the case of Biden, it will have to be.

On the CBS morning show last week, Bill Daley, Obama’s former chief of staff who is now a CBS News contributor, acknowledged the story in Double Down that he had pushed to poll to see if Biden should be dumped from the 2012 ticket and replaced with Hillary, something he never told Biden; this, even though the vice president was the best friend and one of the few defenders the unpopular chief of staff had in the White House. Daley had been Biden’s national political director on his ’88 presidential bid.

“The chief of staff and the vice president were a pair of plump green peas in a pod: both Irish Catholic sexagenarians with old-school tastes, old-school tendencies and old-school values,” write the Double Down authors. In the hypermodern Obama White House, they write, Biden and Daley “were like the gray-haired hecklers in the balcony on The Muppet Show, the Statler and Waldorf of the White House.”

Except in this version, Waldorf considers pushing Statler off the balcony.

Daley defended himself to The Times’ Jonathan Martin this way: “You have to remember, at that point the president was in awful shape, so we were like, ‘Holy Christ, what do we do?’”

You scapegoat Uncle Joe, of course, even though he had nothing to do with the president’s low standing.

When Biden blurted out his support for gay marriage, after the poll-driven Obama had dithered about revealing his position in favor of it for eight years, controlling Obama staffers punished the vice president with friendly fire, anonymously trashing him. Double Down reports other slights to Biden: Obama, fearing leaks, cuts the size of his re-election strategy meetings, excluding Biden, even though, as a 40-year veteran of politics, he would have had plenty of insights. And David Plouffe dresses down Biden, who was going on a 2012 campaign fundraising swing in California, for wanting to meet with Hollywood and Silicon Valley big shots who could help if he ran in 2016. “We can’t have side deals,” Plouffe tells him.

That’s rich, given the fact that Obama let Hillary move her team of image-buffers and political aides into the State Department. She was allowed to do side deals, like the time she had a political aide at State send invitations to prominent Irish Democrats who had raised millions for her past campaigns to accompany her on a diplomatic trip to Dublin and Belfast.

Biden loyalists believe Daley added insult to injury by dishing to the Double Down authors.

Noting with dark humor that in the Boardwalk Empire days, such disloyalty in the Irish tribe would have been met with a kneecapping in a dark alley, one asked: “How does Bill Daley get out of bed every morning?”

© 2013 New York Times News Service

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