One of the most interesting sidebars of the VP debate between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan was how infrequently the sitting vice president mentioned the sitting president. Only once in the hour and a half long debate did Vice President Biden use President Obama’s name, and it was only as a throwaway line in a comment trashing Governor Romney. By contrast, the vice president used Romney’s name 26 times in the course of the debate.
Is the vice president ashamed of his president?
Biden has had four years of Obama policy to introduce as talking points in the debate, but instead, Biden chose to speak negatively about Romney and only discuss broad Democratic policy rather than the policies of his president. In theory, the vice president should be defending his administration as vociferously as the president himself.
There are two subtle differences between referencing Obama directly and referencing him indirectly. The first difference is that voters, pundits, and politicians identify with names as a specific brand of policy. In this debate, Biden steered clear of the Obama brand, choosing instead to frame policy in populism. He appeared to ride a hard populist line without giving Obama credit for it. He attacked Governor Romney’s plans without referring specifically to the brand of policy President Obama advocates.
Indeed, Biden used the words “Obama,” “hope,” “change,” and “forward” to describe his administration’s policy a grand total of four times in an hour and a half. In fact, one of the few times Biden used the word “change” was to mention how he didn’t want it to happen:
The idea of changing, and change being in this case to cut the benefits for people without taking other action you could do to make it work is absolutely the wrong way.
Beyond shirking the Obama brand, the lack of mention of Obama from Biden might indicated that perhaps the vice president doesn’t want to be linked to Obama explicitly. This could be for a variety of reasons – legacy, disagreement, embarrassment, political calculation, etc – but any indication that the vice president doesn’t care for the president’s brand should be cause for inquiry.
Why didn’t Biden use Obama’s name? Is the president’s brand so sullied that Biden is attempting to distance his remarks from it?
Biden abandoned the lofty branding of the Obama campaign tonight, so maybe he agrees that Obama shouldn’t try running on his record. Maybe he agrees with the 48 percent of Americans who disapprove of the way Obama has done his job. Maybe he agrees with the quote from Barack Obama that Paul Ryan referenced in the debate:
…if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.
Biden was on the offensive all night long, but why wouldn’t he say the president’s name?