Josh Marshall at TPM wants to know: Where did the legend of Joe Biden come from?

And by that I mean, the current wildly popular Biden alter-ego or maybe the real guy — not sure — the sixty-something, aviator-glass wearing, Camaro-driving bad-ass who has become a staple of DC and political junkie culture over the last half dozen years. There are variants. The Mustang driving geezer stocking up on Schlitz, Viagra, Camels and ammo for a mad weekend.

The first thing I’d say is that this Joe Biden is popular only among Democrats. There is another Joe Biden who is … well, I’m not sure I understand the conservative vision of the vice president, but I’m sure it involves impressive levels of incompetence and stupidity.

My second thought is that although the immediate source of the Biden image seems to be The Onion, it’s obvious that it ultimately derives from the vice presidency itself. All veeps become ridiculous; the only question is how. That applied to poor hapless Dan Quayle, who was a perfectly respectable senator until George H.W. Bush selected him, and it applied to Hubert Humphrey, who was one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century until Lyndon Johnson elevated him, if that’s how to describe it. When Bush occupied the post under Ronald Reagan, “Doonesbury” said he had “placed his manhood in a blind trust.”

What matters is that once the Onion came up with the image, it seemed to fit really well. I think we can thank Biden for that. But we can also thank Richard Ben Cramer’s classic description of the Delaware senator as over-the-top, impulsive, and filled with awesomeness (at least if you’re sympathetic) that wasn’t quite under control. See Chapter 17, “The Night of the Bronco.”

As I’ve said, all of that makes Biden ideal for the vice-presidency. He comes ready-made for late-night comics, but he also (notwithstanding his conservative avatar) is about as ready for the presidency in an emergency as anyone could be, even though his past presidential campaigns make it clear that no one really wants him in that role. Which is why my advice, mostly tongue-in-cheek, is that whoever the Democrats nominate for president in 2016 should keep him on — and that the Republican nominee should give serious thought to asking him to stick around, too. He really is the Practically Perfect Veep.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.