Last week Vice President Biden blurted out in an interview that the Obama administration misread the economy, thrusting President Obama into yet another round of Biden damage control a few days later. “No, no, no, I would actually, rather than say misread – we had incomplete information.”
On a late-night television show I joked that gaffe-prone Biden was kind of like Chrissy, from “Three’s Company,” always stumbling into a laugh at her own expense. Having had more time to think about that analysis, I’d like to take it back. Chrissy was unintentionally hilarious, much like Biden, but Chrissy was also dumb as rocks. And, as much as I like to criticize his judgment, Joe Biden is not dumb. He just lacks a filter.
So then it hit me: Biden isn’t Chrissy – he’s Kramer. As I put the pieces together in my head I was almost ashamed I hadn’t seen it earlier. Joe Biden is Cosmo Kramer, Jerry Seinfeld’s awkward, and tactless but loveable neighbor, whose mouth is constantly getting Jerry into trouble.
First, there are the obvious, superficial similarities – bizarre hairstyle, kooky grin, a close relationship with their mother, a soft spot for public transportation. Kramer even runs for president in one episode. True, it’s Del Boca Vista condo board president, but still, his ambition, like Joe’s, is inarguable. (See “Kramerica Industries,” the make-your-own-pizza-pie business, and his oil bladder invention.)
But the parallels run far deeper.
Kramer, like Biden, says the things you’re just not supposed to say. When Biden told a wheelchair-bound Missouri state senator to “stand up,” it was no different than Kramer telling George’s girlfriend she needs a nose job. When Biden said that FDR went on television in 1929 to talk about the stock market crash, it was the same as Kramer telling some tourists that Central Park was designed in 1850 by Joe Pepitone. When Biden said “J-O-B-S” is a three-letter word, it was like Kramer saying, “It’s like a sauna in here.” As he’s entering a sauna.
There’s also the lack of sensitivity to what’s appropriate and what isn’t. When Kramer fails to understand why Jerry is uncomfortable living in the same apartment building as his ex-girlfriend, Jerry suggests Kramer might be an alien. “You see, you're not normal. You're a great guy, I love you, but you're a pod. I, on the other hand, am a human being. I sometimes feel awkward, uncomfortable, even inhibited in certain situations with the other human beings. You wouldn't understand.”
When Joe Biden joked about Obama’s botched oath of office during a swearing-in ceremony for White House staff, it actually earned a stern nudge from the president. And when he joked later about the president relying on his teleprompter, many in the media rightly said Joe doesn’t seem to understand exactly where he is.
It’s also a general attitude that seems to tie these two characters together. The numerous allegations of plagiarism against Joe Biden, and his proclivity for the kind of exaggeration that borders on deception, is mirrored in Kramer’s willingness to bend the rules, and his on-again, off-again relationship with the truth. As Dr. Van Nostren, he dons a butcher’s coat and pretends to be a “Julliard-trained dermatologist.” He pretends to be Elaine’s boyfriend so she can get out of a relationship with her psychiatrist. He insists that renovating the restaurant on top of the Chrysler Building was his idea. And he tells the gang he is at the top of his karate class, but fails to mention he is fighting 10-year-olds.
Both Biden and Kramer have a surprisingly endearing tendency to oversell themselves, and as a result there’s a slick salesman quality to both that doesn’t make either of them completely trustworthy. Kramer is loyal and generous, but unreliable. He promises to pick Jerry up in Long Island but arrives hours late because he didn’t write down the address. He brags about the accuracy of his “biological alarm clock,” but it fails to work after a dip in the hot tub. He promises to build levels in his apartment, but then, to no one’s surprise, he decides not to.
And Joe Biden falls into this same trap occasionally. After he and Obama were elected, he said that as vice president, he would advise and counsel the president on every crucial decision he made, something that undoubtedly gave Obama a hearty chuckle. Biden, who admitted he was bored by school, and not very good at it, is bad at substance, but very good on the ground. He’s good at selling, glad-handing and whistle-stopping. As Howard Fineman of Newsweek said, “Biden is not an academic. He’s not a theoretical thinker. He’s a great street pol. He comes from a long line of working people in Scranton – auto salesmen, car dealers, people who know how to make a sale.”
For the Biden-as-Kramer comparison to work, the show itself also needs to align – and it does. Jerry is of course, Barack Obama, easy-going, cool-as-a-cucumber, risk-averse and hesitant to commit to much of anything. Elaine Benes is Hillary Clinton, a smart, but elitist, post-feminist academic who is often a casualty of her own myopia. George “T-bone” Costanza is Rahm “Rahmbo” Emanuel, manipulative and crafty, disliked and mistrusted. One can almost imagine Emanuel saying, “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.” The Obama administration is a “Seinfeld” episode, a quirky cast of characters whose inglorious flaws, idiosyncrasies and mistakes aren’t just dismissed, they’re celebrated.
Jerry’s immaturity, Elaine’s apathy, George’s penchant for deception, and Kramer’s lack of social graces don’t constitute the tragedies in their lives, but the heroic comedies. Similarly, Barack Obama’s lack of experience isn’t his downfall for the left, it’s his bona fides! Hillary Clinton’s past failures as a political operative don’t make her unsuccessful, they make her qualified! Rahm Emanuel’s reputation for being a brute and a jerk isn’t a turn off, it’s an entrée! And Joe Biden’s lack of filter doesn’t make him a detriment, it just makes him Joe!
Whether they were waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant, looking for their car in a mall parking garage, or complaining about their folks, “Seinfeld” examined the banality of life, irreverently refusing to tie up loose ends, tug at the heart strings or deal with anything of real substance. It was unabashedly superficial. It was truly a show about nothing.
The Obama administration thus far has likewise been more style than substance. Where does the president stand on Iran? What will become of North Korea? Is President Obama a gay advocate or not? If he rejects the Bush policies, why is he implementing so many of them? So many questions yet unanswered. But the administration has renamed the war on terror. It has appointed czars. It does infomericals and glossy townhalls with pre-screened questions. It has spent a ton of money, but on what, exactly, we’re not sure.
In the end, of course, there’s far more at stake for the Obama administration than there was for Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer. But in trying to solve the particular peculiarity that is Joe Biden, the analogy is helpful. As is the case with Obama and Biden, Kramer doesn’t ever pay for the things he says, Jerry does. Only time will tell if Biden is merely just a nuisance, comic relief, the Kramer to Obama’s Jerry. Or if he’s a guy who legitimately holds the president back, one gaffe away from a major meltdown, one security breach away from catastrophe. Stay tuned….
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