Joe Biden’s friendship with Barack Obama is a ray of sunlight in the American hellscape known as 2016 C.E. Theirs is a special bromance, defined by Biden’s deep, one-sided devotion, in which the vice president’s unbridled exuberance recalls a dog chasing his owner in a verdant meadow.
With his latest birthday message for Obama, Biden elevates their relationship to giddy new heights. “Happy 55th, Barack!” he tweeted, and attached a photograph of a “Joe” and “Barack” friendship bracelet. “A brother to me, a best friend for ever,” Biden’s message continued, encapsulating these two men’s blissfully un-ironic bromance. Biden’s love feels a bit like an ongoing endorsement: Obama can be everything we’d like to believe he is — and it’s all because of Biden’s admiration. If that sounds a bit insane, just look at William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
For the cynics, yes, there’s certainly a performative element at play. The bracelet comes from a BuzzFeed video titled “5 Things That Are Harder Than Registering to Vote,” and obviously even the most earnest shred of emotion emerging from the White House is filtered by security clearances and the intern minds that think a lot of this stuff up in the first place. That shouldn’t be surprising. It’s also not really an objection.
The vice president has always been little more than a position in need of filling. With Biden, the wheels of the machine are turning, but their gears are spurred into motion by a genuine sense of affection. There is something obviously authentic about Obama and Biden’s bond. It couldn’t possibly read as so absurdly joyful if there weren’t at least a modicum of real joy fueling the broadcasted caricature. It’s easy to forget, but public servants, like celebrities, are still human beings. They can form alliances, though true chemistry is hard to fake for the ever-probing antennae of the American people. (Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi couldn’t even handle filming that final scene for The Good Wife.)
Let us cherish this beautiful brotherhood which has blossomed before us over the past eight years.
Also, regardless of it’s veracity, the broader media reading of Biden and Obama’s bond forms a concrete portrait of the two as pals, one which cements its impact on public perception. There’s the write-ups of the bracelet specifically — such as Business Insider’s “Joe Biden Melts the Internet With This ‘Happy Birthday’ Tweet to Obama” (featuring a photo of Biden eating ice cream) — though this is very much in step with the long-established narrative of their friendship. See: “Joe Biden and Barack Obama, Tied Together” from the New York Times in October, “Obama-Biden Rapport Transcends the Office: This Relationship Is Personal” from the Washington Post in January, or “Obama and Biden Aren’t Ready for Their Bromance to End” from the Huffington Post in March.
The Obama-Biden friendship is very much part of Obama’s legacy, and it means more than a silly, easily meme-able aside. It is a major factor in the way we think of Obama as a person rather than a platform. Consider Obama’s predecessor: George W. Bush, he of the once-endearingly dopey disposition, became a symbol of war-hawking conservatism and government unaccountability. And who played arguably the largest role in that headlong stumble, more so than even Bush himself? The energy vortex known as Dick Cheney.
In stark contrast, Biden and Obama’s brotherhood is the one purely gleeful factor of Obama’s administration outside of his family life, and some of the greatest evidence for his personality as the first “cool” president. It further emboldens Obama’s refusal to allow his sensitivity to threaten his masculinity, his willingness to explicitly embrace feminism, and his understanding of forcefulness in conjunction with compassion. This is a man who would be totally down with wearing a bracelet braided for him by another man, and that’s kind of beautiful, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.
A far more divisive issue is the efficacy of Obama’s presidency. It will take years for the full weight of his impact to settle in, though his time in office has certainly been less transformative than a campaign built on hope promised to be. The recession setting in amid his rise to office was a clear setback that forced victories, like passing Obamacare or adding “13.7 million new jobs over a 69-month streak of job growth” (by his own count), to feel more restorative than revolutionary. Still, his approval ratings have remained relatively steady despite the lack of more tangible change, consistently hovering around 50 percent, unlike the extreme highs and lows of many of his predecessors. While we watched Bush transform from the guy you’d get a beer with to a vessel for everything despicable about the country, Obama has remained largely likeable on a personal level almost regardless of policy, and Biden has been a crucial part of maintaining that coveted public perception.
In the grips of Biden’s twinkling, goofy stare, Obama feels real. Perhaps more real than through any other lens. Sure, we get glimpses of this realness when he drops the mic or pretends to be Spider-Man with a little kid visiting the Oval Office. And it’s swoon-worthy to see him profess love for Michelle. But most often, anything resembling the “true Obama” is cloaked in the seriousness of his job. We’re left to cobble together an idea of “who he really is” based on a series of tidbits that don’t have time to be fully strung together on the national stage. But it all makes perfect sense when looked at through Biden’s loving gaze.
A huge part of our access to Obama is, of course, built on social media. Where there were once fireside chats, there are now intimate Instagrams or Michelle’s “Carpool Karaoke.” Still, the way that Biden and Obama’s connection clicks into that isn’t an automatic extension of the instancy of communication. Bush was seen as the class clown in the grips a sociopathic puppeteer, Bill Clinton and Al Gore held each other in a more comparable level of esteem, though it’s hard to imagine that transferring to Twitter with such ease. The Biden-Obama combination is, by contrast, an organic entity which has just so happened to find a successful marriage in the endless promotion cycle of social media; it couldn’t have been deliberately manufactured from the start any more than mediocre content can go viral.
Ultimately, the Biden-Obama connection helps to make Obama seem accessible, and the combination of their status as pals mixed with social media could forever shift the closeness we hope for between future presidents and their running mates. Donald Trump and Mike Pence seen like a wily superintendent and his constipated vice principal getting on each other’s nerves during a mandatory high school faculty retreat. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine don’t appear to have a relationship borne out of anything other than necessity (though perhaps his own series of dad jokes will work to shift their connection). Friendship bracelets are light years away for either pair. So let us cherish this beautiful brotherhood which has blossomed before us over the past eight years. The two men will fade from the public eye in the coming months, but in America’s heart, and perhaps even in the context of history, Biden will always know that Obama is only an ice cream cone away.