On Monday, Washington's political class came together to mark Barack Obama's second and last inauguration. On Tuesday, things were relatively quiet on the political news front, probably because most of Washington's newsmakers (and the reporters who bring it to you) were busy sleeping off post-inauguration-night hangovers. By Wednesday, however, the press corps was back up and running and, with Obama sworn in, turned the nation's attention to immigration reform, the gun control debate, the crippling debt, the Benghazi hearings, the fact that Americans were just murdered in Algeria, bringing peace to the Middle East, reports that North Korea is going to conduct more nuclear tests, Iran, health care costs, the impotent economy, reducing unemployment the fact that our 70-year-old vice president may run for president… in 2016.
Of course, plenty of reporters covered Benghazi, gun control, and Washington's budget battles this week. But nothing seemed to get the pulse of Beltway insiders racing as much as a Politico report about Biden being "intoxicated" by a 2016 run, and spending much of inauguration weekend hanging out with politicos from Iowa and New Hampshire. Yes, it's true, Biden has been cozying up to a lot of people you've never heard of who are nonetheless important in Iowa and New Hampshire politics. This, of course, is no coincidence. Successfully running for president requires having lots of friends in those two early-voting states.
In response to questions about whether the vice president's Hawkeye and Granite state engagements were motivated by 2016 ambitions, a spokesperson for the VP barely even attempted to deny what he was up to:
People are reading too much into this weekend. The main focus was on people/states who helped us this year — they also happen to be players in 2016. [Politico]
Come on. While I'm sure President Obama really appreciated the support of those states' voters, winning Iowa and New Hampshire delivered Obama a whopping total of 10 electoral votes. Put another way, wins in Iowa and New Hampshire together made up all of 3 percent of the 332 electoral votes Obama won in 2012. This had nothing to do with 2012 and everything to do with 2016.
Ignoring for a moment the scandalous reality that America's system of electing presidents empowers the citizens of two miniscule states with populations that in no way resemble that of the country as a whole to dictate who the rest of the country is able to vote for, the fact that the vice president is already so obviously jockeying for 2016 shows just how out of control our electoral process has become. Our national obsession with campaigns distracts our leaders and the public from the actual tasks of government. We reward campaigns, not substance. Barack Obama more or less never actually served as a senator because the minute he was elected, he started running for the presidency. And while Joe Biden has been a surprisingly effective VP (mostly due to his boss' shortcomings as a political negotiator), Biden knows that the best thing he can do for his chances is to start campaigning right now… not hang around and try to govern.
The perpetual campaign is a destructive force in modern American democracy. Wednesday morning, The New York Times published a story explaining that second-term president's really only have a year to truly accomplish things. It may not even be that long. I suspect Obama's remaining window to truly lead on the domestic policy front is about six months. By this summer, members of Congress will be focused on the midterms and will be reluctant to take any tough votes that might rock the boat and compromise their chances of re-election. And the minute the midterms pass, the 2016 race will kick into high gear and the focus will shift (again) to endless numbers of debates (even more this go-round since the Democrats will actually have a race for their nomination)… and so on.
Even if liberals think Joe Biden is the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt (and he is not), I would urge these Democrats to demand that the vice president focus on the job he has now rather than the job he wants in four years. Otherwise, the vice president and/or his friend, Hillary Clinton, will start doing things like locking up precinct captains and begging for endorsements, which will lead other important presidential hopefuls to throw themselves into the campaign for fear of being left behind.
Along those same lines, the media should resist the temptation to cover the horse race already. America needs to focus on solving problems today rather than amusing ourselves with speculation of who might solve them tomorrow.
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law and writes about U.S. politics and policy for TheWeek.com. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for Frum Forum/New Majority. Follow him on Twitter (@JGolinkin) and email him at email@example.com.