Byline: Niall Ferguson
What Laughing Uncle Joe doesn't want you to know.
The character of Selina Meyer--the fictional vice president in Armando Iannucci's comedy series, Veep--reminds us that Americans usually don't take the job of deputy commander in chief too seriously. Whereas presidents elicit respect even from their political opponents, veeps and would-be veeps have been providing gag writers with material for generations.
Current veep Joe Biden certainly sought to play last Thursday's vice-presidential debate for laughs. Embarrassingly for Democrats, the laughs were mainly his own. Guffawing, chortling--all but slapping his thighs and wiping away the tears--Biden might equally well have been arguing about the relative merits of whiskey and poteen in a hostelry with a name like "The Shamrock."
This was old-school Irish-American politics. If Biden had passed around a hat at the end to raise money for famished nuns in County Cork, it would not have seemed out place.
His opponent, by contrast, was more like the earnest young parish priest who has been sent to coax wicked Uncle Joe out of the pub and into the church. Father Paul did his best, but his appeals fell on deaf ears. I lost count of the number of times Biden interrupted his Republican rival. Paul Ryan's patience was more than priestly; at times, it was almost saintly.
It was predictable that Biden would bring up Mitt Romney's now notorious reference at a fundraiser to the "47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what, ... who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it ... [and] who pay no income tax." Biden added a jab at Paul Ryan, accusing him of having said in a speech that "30 percent of the American people are takers."
"These people are my mom and dad," fulminated the vice president, "the people I grew up with, my neighbors ... They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now ..."
Last year, in the heyday of Occupy Wall Street, it was all about the 1 percent and the 99 percent. But now Democrats want to make membership of the 47 percent a …