It may be hard to believe, or maybe it’s all too believable; but here in Washington the chattering classes are beginning to ask a question that, elsewhere in America, might seem premature: After Obama, what?
Of course, since we read the Washington Post and the New York Times, we know that the Republican party, or what’s left of it, is in hopeless ideological disarray, and seems destined to nominate either the reincarnation of Joseph McCarthy (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) or better yet, stage a coup d’état financed by the Koch brothers.
But what about the Democrats? Two ambitious East Coast governors—Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York—are clearly off and running. But the smart money seems to be settling on ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden.
We know this because the Post ran a speculative piece last week about a Biden candidacy, with all the standard features: Fellow Democrats saying nice things about him, anonymous sources pointing out his liabilities. But in case readers feel especially naïve and uninformed at this stage, The Scrapbook is here to say that the 2016 presidential election is exactly three-and-a-half years away, and in the immortal words of the late British prime minister Harold Wilson, “A week is a very long time in politics.”
Better yet, in The Scrapbook’s opinion, the author of the Post piece, White House correspondent Philip Rucker, made an amusing error which should comfort those who worry that members of the Washington press corps know something they don’t know. “People close to Biden,” wrote Rucker, “laid out several considerations on his mind, starting with fundamental political concerns: Would the country effectively turn backward by picking a baby-boomer white man to succeed a youthful black president?”
Well, Joe Biden is unquestionably a white man, and we’ll accept the proposition that Barack Obama—who turns 52 this August—is “youthful.” But from the all-important social/chronological perspective, Rucker has it exactly backwards: It is Obama (b. 1961), not Biden, who is the baby boomer. Biden (b. 1942) is a dues-paying member of that pre-baby boom phenomenon, the Silent Generation. Which may seem ironic in the case of our garrulous vice president, but it’s still true.
And it raises an interesting point. George H. W. Bush (b. 1924) was the last of the eight World War II veterans in the White House but was succeeded not by a member of the Silent Generation (that is, anyone born between 1925 and 1945) but by the arche-typal baby boomer Bill Clinton (b. 1946). The presidency, in effect, skipped over the Korean War veterans, the college students of the Eisenhower era, and those who came of age and started families before the Beatles and the Summer of Love. The 2000 election of George W. Bush (b. 1946) continued the trend, which seemed permanent by 2008 when baby boomer Obama defeated the Silent Generation’s John McCain (b. 1936).
So yes, a Biden presidency—strictly theoretically, of course—would be a reversion of sorts; but contrary to Philip Rucker, away from the baby boom, not toward it. Which, now that we think of it, raises the profile of another eligible vice president, Dick Cheney (b. 1941).