Law & Politics

The imperfect union of two presidents

Joe Biden's relationship with Barack Obama, as explored by Gabriel Debenedetti in The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama, is one of the most important and long lived in American political history.

One year into Biden’s presidency, it was 14 years into his partnership with Obama and 49 years into his life in Washington. By the time Biden became Vice President, he had spent 36 years in the Senate. He was thoroughly familiar with its ways and personalities. In contrast, Obama’s working acquaintance with Congress was brief. Consequently, Obama relied heavily on him to get his legislation passed.

Despite what is indicated in the sub-title of the book, the outlook of the two men has been complementary rather than inclined to conflict.

Biden believed that it was institutions which would bring change to Washington whereas Obama believed that it was individuals. When it came to face-to-face relationships with voters, Biden was tactile and affectionate, while Obama was reserved – although he had warm relationships with his family, and later with Biden.

Perhaps Obama’s greatest gift to the world was that idealism could be a powerful political force. Having a black man as president of the United States demonstrated that the world had changed.

More prosaically, the flood of young volunteers who his campaign for the White House attracted delighted the Democratic Party machine.

Such idealism co-existed alongside deep-seated political cynicism....

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