Biden will turn 74 in 2016, and his poll numbers have sagged since he took office, but he and his people have been hinting that he might have another presidential bid in him. Some political observers regard this prospect as ludicrous: They see Biden as a clownish gasbag. Others greet it with delight: They see him as a national treasure. This is how it’s always been for Biden, with opinions about him diverging radically as if at a fork in the road of life—one that seems as fundamental as whether, deep down, you’re a Beatles or a Stones person.
But the truth about Biden is, in fact, more subtle and complex: that his greatest asset, what Obama strategist David Axelrod calls his “bluntness and ebullience,” is equally his gravest liability; that his old-school m.o. makes him almost uniquely unsuited to this postmodern political-media moment; that in a culture that pines ardently for authenticity and then punishes it cruelly, his utter incapacity for phoniness (and, yes, his grievous inability to control his yap) endows him with enormous charm and guile—and also renders him a human IED.
Biden is acutely sensitive to all of these perceptions of him. Some he shares, some he tolerates, others drive him batty. What he can’t abide is the concept that he has reached the end of the line. In a career riddled with tragedy and disgrace, with episodes of emotional, political, and even physical disaster and defeat, Biden always recovered, because he always had something left to prove. And whether it comes to Ryan or 2016, he apparently still does. “My friends are always kidding me about it—I can’t fathom the idea of thinking of retiring,” he declares. “Hell, man! I can still take ya!”