Biden’s Laziness Problem

Matt Stoller
Apr 8 · 4 min read

A lot of commentary has gone into Biden’s potential 2020 run, and the debate seems to come down whether one believes, as Valerie Jarrett does, that Joe Biden is a lovable scamp who served as VP under Obama, or if he’s a creepy predator out of touch with the new generation.

There’s no question Biden has enormous natural talent, and would, had he dedicated those talents coherently, been a significant public servant. The guy was in the Senate since 1972, and served as VP for eight years. But despite this immense opportunity and talent, Biden has a relatively small number of important accomplishments, and many of them — like the war in Iraq or the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005 — are deep policy failures.

Obama and Biden share similar politics. They are both deal-cutters who largely enjoy being famous, pursue a moderate form of social liberalism, and eschew any strong ideological challenge to corporate power. And Biden did serve as Obama’s VP, so Obama-world has an interest in seeing Biden not run, or if he does run, drop out and not be totally humiliated. What reflects on Biden reflects on them. But they know something important about why Biden is a bad candidate. Obama was exceptionally disciplined, and Biden is not.

I’m struck by this Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns story in the New York Times, which hits that basic point. It goes through Biden’s basic indecisiveness, how he hasn’t reached out to potential enemies or allies, and hasn’t dealt with political problems he knows he’ll encounter (like his presiding over the Anita Hill hearings in 1991). His advisors are getting a bit frustrated.

The line that hit me, though, is this. Martin and Burns write that Biden hasn’t staffed up, and “he has not deployed researchers to review his vast record, because he has not hired any.” That, to any insider who has worked on campaigns or in politics, is a super duper screaming red flag. It says to any good operatives thinking of working for Biden that this man is unmanageable. You have to know how people are going to hit you. You just have to know what’s true and what isn’t about your own record.

Basically, Biden combined two traits that work against each other. He’s lazy. Staffers can deal with that, if the lazy person is willing to delegate. But Biden doesn’t delegate important decision-making authority. He won’t write a speech beforehand to clear it with political allies, and he also won’t just read the damn talking points.

This means important things don’t get done, because he won’t do them, and he won’t let others do them. It is a nightmare to work for someone like this, because the staff never knows if there’s going to be a scandal. They never know if the boss is going to straight out lie to their own staff about it and have them ruin their own reputations and connections with political allies. They will not be able to defend Biden because it’s impossible to defend someone who isn’t trustworthy, unless people go full Trump and deny reality openly.

This theme of laziness and obvious deception courses throughout Biden’s career. He was driven out of the 1988 race for plagiarism, which is a very strange scandal to be enmeshed in. The standard for plagiarism in politics is extremely low, for good reason. This is not a profession in which originality matters, at all. It’s not academia. But Biden copied, straight out.

Why wouldn’t he hire a speechwriter? Why wouldn’t he just copy, but alter slightly, someone else’s words? Why wouldn’t he just quote the guy? No one cares. But no, Biden just lied, for no reason except he thought he could. I have no idea if staffers knew, or tried to talk him out of it. It doesn’t really matter. That’s just an unmanageable candidate.

As far as I’m concerned, former Biden staffer Jeff Connaughton wrote the book on Biden. In Connaughton’s telling, Biden is exceptionally talented, but wouldn’t bother to pick up the phone to help his people, just because he didn’t feel like it. He didn’t bother to address the financial crisis, because he didn’t really care. He would tolerate people using his name if they raised him money. He didn’t do call time, even after he committed to it. Biden is all about shortcuts and ego.

With immense raw political talent in a weak field, that might, as it did for Trump, work. But it certainly doesn’t make anyone want to work for him. I don’t know if that matters, as campaigns are overrated. But Biden certainly won’t be able to run the government if he does win. In that, he’s a lot like Trump. Good at weird and obvious displays of dominance, largely incapable of anything else.

Matt Stoller

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