Obama expected to speak at Mandela memorial. Joe Biden, not so much. (+video)
President Obama is off to South Africa for a global extravaganza honoring Nelson Mandela. Joe Biden got left behind – but is that so bad?
Linda Feldmann is a staff writer for the Monitor based in Washington.
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More than 70 world leaders, and three American ex-presidents, are expected to attend the service for the late anti-apartheid crusader and former South African president, who died last Thursday. But for Mr. Obama, this is especially personal. Mr. Mandela is one of the president’s heroes, a man he credits with inspiring him to become politically active – a turn that put him on a path to becoming his nation’s first black president, like Mandela.
So there was never any doubt that Obama and his wife, Michelle, would drop everything to fly across the world to honor, as he put it, “one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.”
And it was also likely that Vice President Joe Biden would get left behind to tend the home fires – which is what happened. Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, visited the South African Embassy Monday to deliver the nation’s condolences. Monday afternoon, the Bidens hosted a reception for the diplomatic corps at the State Department. Monday evening, the Bidens will preside over the Congressional Holiday Ball at the White House. On Wednesday, Biden will speak at a memorial service for Mandela at the National Cathedral.
That’s not a bad consolation prize for someone whose own presidential campaigns didn’t go far. But to some in the media, it’s another excuse to give Biden a bit of a ribbing.
“Where’s Vice President Joe? Ditched by B.O.” writes Neil Munro of the conservative Daily Caller.
Of the two receptions on Monday, “neither will generate any useful video that would help decorate his expected 2016 run for the presidency,” writes Mr. Munro. “Instead that expensive and unique visual will go on Obama’s trophy wall.”
Munro is famous (in Washington, at least) for interrupting – some said heckling – the president during a Rose Garden announcement last year on immigration policy toward children. So we wouldn’t expect much love from Munro toward Obama’s No. 2.
But the Biden-bashing over being “left behind” seems unsporting. After all, marking the passing of an iconic figure like Mandela easily qualifies as a two-man job. The Obamas go to Johannesburg, the Bidens cover the home front – during an especially social time of year.
"On behalf of the American people, our deepest condolences to the people of South Africa for the passing of Nelson Mandela," Biden wrote in the condolence book at the South African Embassy in Washington. "But more than that, our profound gratitude – for his compassion, his humility, and his courage. Through his unflagging, unflinching commitment to human dignity and his willingness to forgive, he inspired us and challenged us all to do better."
The Congressional Holiday Ball is also important. In fact, it is Congress's consolation prize after the annual summer picnic at the White House was canceled. Maybe Biden, a long-serving senator before becoming vice president, can jolly up the Republicans a bit at a time of intense partisan polarization.