Onstage at the Democratic National Convention in July of this year, Vice President Joe Biden teared up as he spoke of his late son, Beau, who died in May of 2015 of brain cancer at the age of 46. Beau Biden had introduced his father at the 2008 convention.
“I know I sound like a dad, but you got a glimpse of what a fine young man Beau was,” he remarked to an audience on its feet in a standing ovation.
Vice President Biden is one of a cast of characters — ranging from politicians to the news personalities who report on them and the comedy hosts who satirize both — whose legacy has been cemented by a memorable election year. Most recently, Biden has emerged as the subject of a series of memes encapsulating his internet-imposed reluctance to yield the White House to the incoming administration.
The persona of Biden as an impish prankster plays into a character that either Biden or the internet on behalf of Biden has been cultivating for years: a lovable paternal figure, lacking in guile and self-consciousness, a liberal flasher of the thumbs-up gesture with a tendency to refer to those under 50 as “kid.” His air of likeability has led to a more pressing question in the aftermath of dark horse Donald Trump’s unprecedented defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton: Could Biden have won?
It is customary in post-election discourse for alternate scenarios to be evaluated, but the implications of a Biden candidacy carry a great deal of weight. Biden, born in an industrial Pennsylvania town, has long appealed to the white, working-class contingent that listed in Trump’s direction this election and was revealed, albeit postmortem, to be the Achilles heel of Clinton’s carefully waged campaign. He was considered to be a viable candidate in the 2016 election until his official demurral in October of 2015.
His reasons were captured in a heartfelt interview with The Late Show host Stephen Colbert, who presented a startlingly impassioned case for Biden to run. Colbert’s advocacy embodies Biden’s curious appeal in mainstream media and begs the question of what the vice president’s viability would have been as a candidate in the 2016 election.
Biden is not a stranger to the art of the presidential campaign. He embarked upon his first presidential campaign in 1987 but was stymied by a plagiarism scandal; 20 years later, he vied with Clinton and President Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and dropped out due to a series of costly gaffes.
It is this paradoxical figure that has, in the waning days of the Obama administration, captured the internet’s fancy: a politician who has lobbied tirelessly for sexual assault victims, has captured in vivid detail the far-reaching implications of a parent’s layoff on an American family who also has the tendency to forget when his microphone is on. Biden possesses an air of relatability and humanity in an age of slickly packaged politicos; he has suffered publicly and has faced the dilemma of returning to work in the face of single parenthood and abject grief.
The reality is that Biden is 73-years-old, and his chances at a presidential run in 2020 are negligible. His surge in viral popularity speaks to a different phenomenon — the affection for the outgoing candidate and the subsequent expunging of past flaws. Were he to campaign again in earnest, it is possible that early scandals would rear their heads, but in this post-election climate, Biden is safely ensconced in internet memes that prefer to memorialize him as an affable and loyal figure.
NBC News broached the possibility of Joe Biden filling the seat of former disgraced Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, citing Biden’s well-established track record of rising to the needs of his party and country, even to the subversion of his own. Biden has yet to comment on the likelihood of this.
[Featured Image by Cliff Owen/AP Images]