With a relatively unpopular Democratic presidential candidate and an even more unlikable Republican one, the narrative surrounding Vice President Joe Biden this year has been that he’s kicking himself for deciding not to run.
“I’m a fan, so go easy on me,” Biden said when he sat down with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show Thursday night. That was not going to be a problem. After ruffling Donald Trump’s hair and handing literal softballs to Hillary Clinton, Fallon sent Biden off with matching aviator sunglasses and ice cream cones.
Fallon estimated that he’s probably made 347 jokes about Biden, who seemed like an easy target for late-night comedians until Donald Trump came along. The Trump phenomenon has given Biden a chance to rise above the fray, as he demonstrated by reciting an Irish poem by Seamus Heaney to Fallon from memory.
“There’s a stanza in this poem that I think describes where we are now, if we’re smart,” Biden said. “He says, ‘History teaches us not to hope on this side of the grave, but then once in a lifetime, that longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up and hope and history rhyme.’ I really think we’re at that place in American history, if we just have the nerve to seize the moment.”
Without mentioning Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan directly, Biden said, “I wish we would stop talking about what trouble we’re in. We are in a better position than any country in the world to own the 21st century, we really are.”
When Fallon brought up this past week’s presidential debate, Biden crossed himself and said, “Bless me Father, for I’m about to sin.”
“For a while there I thought, I’ve never quite seen anything like that,” Biden said. “I’ve never seen anybody who knew as few facts,” he added, and this is coming from a man who debated Sarah Palin in 2008. As Fallon continued to joke around with the vice president, Biden said, “I’ll be serious for just a second here and maybe that’s dangerous to do on this show.”
“What amazes me about Donald Trump—and he’s probably a decent guy—but it’s his lack of sensibilities,” Biden said. On Trump’s assertion that he was rooting for the housing market to fail, he said, “That’s not business, that’s callous.” On Trump’s admission that paying no taxes makes him “smart,” he said, “What does that make the rest of us? Suckers?”
“Can you think of any president, any president you’ve studied, read about, or knew who would say anything like that?” Biden asked the audience. “Name me one president who would do that. It angers me quite frankly.” He added later, “I mean, just pay your fair share, for God’s sake!”
The vice president said it doesn’t “surprise” him that some people are taking so long to make up their minds on who to vote for, but it does surprise him that Trump got this far in the first place. “I’ve never known of a candidate who knows as little about the world as this man does,” he said. “I don’t even think he understands how much damage he does, by what he’s already said,” Biden added, noting that he has had to travel abroad to assure our allies that NATO will remain intact.
“It’s almost like the guy didn’t really intend to do this,” Biden said, exasperated. “He thought that maybe this was a lark and it will go somewhere and my God, here we go, guys.”
But Biden reserved perhaps his strongest burn for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who this week struggled to name even one world leader. “He thought Aleppo was a dog food or something,” Biden joked.
All of this, naturally, brought Biden back to Clinton. “Hillary is one of the brightest people I’ve ever known, has an incredible amount of experience, and I think she’s going to win and I think we’ll be in good hands,” he said. “Look, nobody’s perfect. Everybody, you know, wants the ideal candidate.”
“By the way, I learned how to become the ideal candidate,” Biden added. “Announce you’re not running for president.”