Joe Biden Could Have An Influential 15 Months

by Chris Tognotti

On Wednesday afternoon, Joe Biden broke the news that America (and especially the Democratic Party) had been waiting to hear: He won't be running for president in 2016. This likely brings to an end any further dreams of national office for the two-term vice president and longtime Delaware senator. But his speech didn't entirely reflect that — it almost sounded like the speech he would've given if he were running. Which makes it clear that he's not done just yet. Here are four ways Joe Biden can actually contribute over the next 15 months, lame-duck vice presidency be damned.

Biden didn't just tell the world he wasn't running; he also gave a brief, broad-strokes rundown of what a Biden presidency would've looked like. Specifically, he made a few remarks which seemed to be directed at Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, denying that the Republicans should be considered Democrats' "enemies." This echoes criticism by recently-withdrawn Democratic candidate Jim Webb.

He also revealed what legacy he would've desired most, and it has a compelling personal touch. He wanted to be the president who "ended cancer," a touching statement in the aftermath of his son Beau's death from brain cancer in May. Here are some things Biden can do to advance both the conversation and politics alike, now that he's officially out of the race.

1. Urge Congress To Supercharge Cancer Research Funding


Undoubtedly, the most moving and most specific reference in Biden's announcement was about his desire to end cancer, the disease that claimed the life of his son. Here's what he said:

... I believe that we need a moon shot in this country to cure cancer. It's personal. But I know we can do this. The president and I have already been working hard on increasing funding for research and development, because there are so many breakthroughs just on the horizon in science and medicine, the things that are just about to happen. And we can make them real with an absolute national commitment to end cancer, as we know it today. And I'm going to spend the next 15 months in this office pushing as hard as I can to accomplish this, because I know there are Democrats and Republicans on the Hill who share our passion, our passion to silence this deadly disease. If I could be anything, I would have wanted to have been the president that ended cancer, because it's possible.

Biden made it clear that this isn't some hypothetical — he made it sound like he plans to actively engage with the GOP-controlled Congress on cancer research. And make no mistake; if Congress wanted to increase funding for such research, they could do so in a big way. It's an issue which Biden can speak about from compellingly personal experience, and he's notoriously well-liked on a personal level by Democrats and Republicans alike.

2. Continue To Champion The Obama Legacy


Biden never mentioned Hillary Clinton by name in his speech, but he did reference her obliquely, at one point warning that Democrats would be making a huge mistake in turning their backs on his administration's record:

I believe that President Obama has led this nation from crisis to recovery, and we're now on the cusp of resurgence. I'm proud to have played a part in that. This party, our nation, will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy. The American people have worked too hard, and we have have come too far for that. Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record. They should run on the record.

This is good advice, for very obvious reasons that politicians sometimes lose sight of. Nobody who really hates Clinton because of Obama's policies is going to be convinced to do a reversal, and it's a real spirit-killer for a party's voters to listen to their candidate run down a successful and historic eight years. It's almost always a boneheaded play, as the 2014 midterm elections demonstrated pretty vividly.

And frankly, Clinton (or any Democratic contender) defending the administration's signature achievement is important as can be, because if the Republicans win the White House and retain both houses of Congress, the Affordable Care Act will almost surely find itself on the chopping block.

3. Influence Hillary Clinton's Candidacy


One of the great things about not running for president is that people apply a little less scrutiny and a little more good faith to your arguments. In short, Biden gets to tell it like it is during his last 15 months in office, because he's got no more campaigns to run.

This also means that he can act as an outside force to try to sway Clinton's campaign on some key issues. Even just the way his announcement has drawn attention to cancer research, college education, and bipartisan decorum is a great example of the kinds of conversations he can still start, even on the outside of the race. Each and every one is a thoroughly political issue that Clinton's campaign ought to bear in mind, especially if they ever plan on asking Biden to campaign for them. According to the polls, his strengths are her weaknesses, after all.

4. Keep Showing Americans His Soul


It's no secret why so many people had such an emotional desire for Biden to run. Regardless of your political opinions of him, he's a profoundly open man, and one willing to share his devastating heartache with the American public. For me, his interview with Stephen Colbert last month was the most surprising, evocative interview I've ever seen from someone in the executive branch. He wove together his own history of personal tragedy with Colbert's, bringing a deeply touching, human moment to a late night talk show circuit typically stuffed with empty, vapid political interviews.

That's Joe Biden, right there. The same one who stunned the political world with his raw, powerful speech to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) back in 2012. And Biden can communicate and elicit other feelings in us — the feeling progressives had when he was caught calling the Affordable Care Act a "big fucking deal" was positively jubilant.

But whatever the emotion, it's from that unvarnished willingness to bare himself fully that Biden gets his political strength. If he stays emotionally engaged with the public throughout the rest of his term, it'll make any goal he sets that much more achievable.