Joe Biden May Be a ‘White Boy,’ but He’s Got His Black Card

He might never be president, but he’ll always be the honorary first black vice president.

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 Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden made headlines twice yesterday.

He told ABC’s Barbara Walters that he won’t be standing down in the 2016 White House race, even if Hillary Clinton jumps in, saying that “Whether she runs or not will not affect my decision.” And that’s—as Biden might say—a pretty “gutsy” call.

On a lighter note, at a Black History Month event Tuesday night, Biden joked with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson—a former NBA all-star—that “I may be a white boy, but I can jump.”

And as the vice president also might say, “God love him.”

Because even if the election of President Barack Obama didn’t wind up ushering in a “post-racial” era in American politics, what it did bring about, as I wrote a couple of years back, was a sort of post-racial vice presidency. Biden might never actually make it to the Oval Office himself, but he’ll always be remembered in black history as the honorary first African-American VP. Here’s why:

He’s got Obama’s back. Obama had Biden’s back, picking him as his running mate even after Biden gaffed that the then-new-on-the-scene Obama was “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” to run for president.

And in turn, Biden has had Obama’s back ever since, playing the role of the president’s affable older brother through six long years and two tough presidential campaigns.

He might be more comfortable around black folks than Obama. Obama’s had a few rocky moments with black audiences, like his poorly received “put on your marching shoes” riff at 2011’s Congressional Black Caucus weekend.

But Biden couldn’t be more comfortable talking to black folks, like at his 2012 NAACP keynote, where he was introduced onstage with Earth, Wind and Fire playing in the background, and he told the crowd, “It’s good to be home,” bragged about being “the only white employee on the East side” of Wilmington, Del., and shouted out buddies from the old days sitting in the convention hall’s front row.

And then there’s the coming-of-age story that Chana Garcia recalled in The Root a few years back, and that Biden recounts in his memoir, Promises to Keep, about lifeguarding one summer at the local pool, and having to figure out how to achieve détente with a local tough guy named “Corn Pop”—but without getting the cops involved—and how that earned him cred with his black friends and co-workers.

This administration has the FLOTUS-SLOTUS connection. Plus, there’s the warm relationship between first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. They’ve worked side by side to bring attention to the challenges of military families—and they just look like they have a really good time hanging out together:

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First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden joke together while taping a Joining Forces public service announcement in the East Room of the White House, April 4, 2011.

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Biden has the Vegas factor. And if you want someone to make a “gutsy” call on sending Navy SEALs across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to take out Osama bin Laden, then Obama’s your guy.

But “God love him,” Obama’s not really anyone’s idea of the life of the party. And if you’re a bunch of guys headed to Vegas for the weekend on a G5, you’re probably not looking for No-Drama Obama to roll, but you do want Biden along for the ride.

He goes a step over the line sometimes, like his melodramatic “put y’all back in chains” remark on the 2012 campaign trail. But if I can forgive Ted Nugent for “subhuman mongrel,” then there’s no question that Biden gets a pass, too.

He’s a nonstop gaffe machine, but everyone—not just black folks—loves Uncle Joe.

Being the first VPOTUS for the nation’s first African-American POTUS wasn’t an easy assignment—and it won’t be easy to be the first white president to follow Obama.

Whoever it is—as Biden would say—they’ll probably be a “big f--king deal.”

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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