Obama: “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to fuck things up.”

Obama: “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to fuck things up.” By Alex Thompson. Some interesting insights into Obama and Biden.

Obama is a technocrat, and autocratic:

Former FBI Director James Comey recalled in his book that “Obama would have a series of exchanges heading a conversation very clearly and crisply in Direction A. Then, at some point, Biden would jump in with, ‘Can I ask something, Mr. President?’”

Comey continued: “Obama would politely agree, but something in his expression suggested he knew full well that for the next five or 10 minutes we would all be heading in Direction Z. After listening and patiently waiting, President Obama would then bring the conversation back on course.” …

obama thinking

Biden’s own academic career was unimpressive — he repeated the third grade, earned all Cs and Ds in his first three semesters at the University of Delaware except for As in P.E., a B in “Great English Writers” and an F in ROTC, and graduated 76th in his Syracuse Law School class of 85 students. He’s the first Democratic nominee since Walter Mondale in 1984 not to have an Ivy League degree. …

Biden’s tendency to blurt out whatever was on his mind rankled Obama … The gaffes were only one side of the story, though. …

Aides recall that Obama and Biden took almost polar-opposite approaches to policymaking, Obama always seeking data for the most logical or efficient outcome, while Biden told stories about how a bill would affect the working-class guy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born. When a deal was finally made, Obama would bemoan the compromises, while Biden would celebrate the points of agreement. …

Biden also decried the snobby intelligentsia that had taken over the Democratic Party. “It seems to me you’ve all become heartless technocrats,” he said. “We have never as a party moved this nation by 14-point position papers and nine-point programs.”

That sensibility is part of what separates him from Obama. “It really is the difference between street smarts and, you know, Harvard smart,” [Leon Panetta, Obama’s secretary of Defense] said. …

Biden is an old style politician:

Obama would often convey a weariness with the traditional obligations of political leadership: the glad-handing, the massaging of egos. Sometimes he couldn’t hide his disdain for part of the job he signed up for.

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2013, in front of a roomful of journalists, Obama joked, “Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ I’m sorry, I get frustrated sometimes.”

Biden, former aides say, didn’t get why that was funny. Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir that likely “the single most important piece of advice I got in my career” came from the late Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) who told him, “Your job here is to find the good things in your colleagues—the things their state saw—and not focus on the bad.”

Mansfield added: “And, Joe, never attack another man’s motive, because you don’t know his motive.”

Thus, Biden invested time in developing those relationships that Obama never did.

Denis McDonough, Obama’s former chief of staff, said Biden “always wanted to have had two conversations with someone before he would ask that person for something. … Once in a while you’re like, ‘Hey, can we get through those two touches so you can make the ask here,’ but he just wouldn’t do it. That’s the kind of operation he runs.”

Advance staffers recall that Obama’s speeches were arranged to be delivered alone on the stage with voters behind him, while Biden would push to include every local elected official up there with him, knowing they would love the exposure to the vice president—a chit to cash in later.

Obama liked and respected Hillary, but Biden not so much:

Biden aides acknowledge that Obama didn’t do nearly as much for Biden in 2020 as he did for Clinton in 2016. …

Yet searing, anonymously sourced quotes from Obama kept appearing through the race. One Democrat who spoke to Obama recalled the former president warning, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to fuck things up.” Speaking of his own waning understanding of today’s Democratic electorate, especially in Iowa, Obama told one 2020 candidate: “And you know who really doesn’t have it? Joe Biden.” …

Biden’s style worked:

One former Clinton aide noted that Biden’s ability to cultivate personal relationships paid dividends at the primary’s end: Bernie Sanders saw Biden as one of the few people in Washington who took him seriously before his 2016 run for president. After it was clear Biden had an insurmountable delegate lead, Sanders decided not to drag out the fight the way he did against Clinton in 2016.

“That relationship is why Bernie got out in March,” said the former Clinton aide.

“I don’t know who saw him sailing to the nomination,” said Psaki. Biden’s old-fashioned style of politics, she reasoned, “still taps into something in the American electorate. And maybe we’re not seeing that because I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with a bunch of upper middle-class white people.” …

[Strategist David Axelrod] echoed this view in his memoir. “Few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies,” he wrote of Obama’s style. “That hint of moral superiority and disdain for politicians who put elections first has hurt Obama as negotiator, and it’s why Biden, a politician’s politician, has often had better luck.”