Joe Biden’s Happy Warrior Speech

Sure, he rambled some, teared up and kept calling his wife “kiddo.” But maybe the veep’s messy warmth is the perfect complement to his boss’s cool perfection. By Michelle Cottle.

Tom Pennington / Getty Images

Now aren’t you ashamed of yourself for suspecting that Vice President Biden might go off the reservation and screw up his boss’s big night? Oh, sure, Joe has a tendency to floss with his own shoelaces. But in the clutch—and after polishing the heck out of a meticulously vetted speech—the man is an old pro.

Thursday night’s showing was more or less smooth and shiny. No big gaffes. Only the occasional stumble over his tongue. Did Joe wander off the prepared remarks now and again? Well, duh. And there was a moment or two in the early going when it seemed like he might be veering into dangerous territory. (Like, say, when he quipped that he and the First Lady know the president “obviously” from different perspectives.)

But, considering the curve we’re grading on, the veep was downright disciplined this night.

Like a good soldier, Biden ticked all the boxes he was supposed to. He did that whole outreach to the white working class thing that he does so well, both in discussing the president’s bailout of the auto industry and, just as importantly, telling those oft-repeated stories about his own modest upbringing. (The one about his dad having to come home and explain that he had lost his job is always a heart-breaker.)

As the administration’s resident foreign policy senior statesman, Biden also reassured us that he always had complete confidence in Obama’s handling of the bin Laden mission.

Then came the pivot to taking on the opposition, which Biden did with his customary relish: smiling rather than sneering. Joe is, at heart, a happy warrior.

Perhaps even more importantly, Biden brought to the task his trademark passion and goofiness. (Calling his wife “Jilly” and “kiddo”? Professing his love for Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm? Getting teary-eyed. Messy emotion and low-level rambling are in many ways the perfect balance to his boss’s cool perfection.

Assuming the rumors of Biden looking toward 2016 are true, the VP didn’t do himself any harm tonight. And all that talk about how much time he sits at the president’s elbow may well be aimed at positioning himself to inherit the big chair.

All that said, Biden’s performance seemed to lack a certain something. It wasn’t boring exactly—and certainly not lifeless. A Biden speech rarely lacks for passion, and this one was no exception. That said, the veep lacked a certain snap, crackle, and pop. He was good but not memorable. Adorable, but not inspirational.

Of course, considering how closely everyone was watching to see if Biden did some way too interesting, perhaps this was in fact the perfect outcome for his boss.

As an Obama insider told me shortly before the speech: Joe didn’t really need to do the heavy lifting. Bill Clinton had already taken care of that.