Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Exploring the Origins of the Legend of Joe Biden

R4mwavvavo9wwznwziwo
AP Photo / Ron Sachs

Biden's been in Washington for a really, really long time - 41 years to be exact. (He was elected to the Senate just before he turned 30.) Through that time he's been a generally highly respected, occasionally controversial Senator who was known to have a reasonably high opinion of himself but also to be one of the sharper guys on Capitol Hill and a leader on foreign policy and judiciary issues. I did a lengthy sit-down interview with him in his office in either late 2003 or early 2004 for a piece I was writing for The Atlantic about John Kerry. He was voluble, smart, appealing. I was charmed and impressed. Partly because he told me several times how impressed he was with me - which, yes, I suspect is a not-unique interview technique.

But for all this, all the time in the Senate, I don't remember ever hearing of "Joe Biden". 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.

It even came up at this year at the White House Correspondents Dinner with the Julia-Louis Dreyfus/Biden video...

Perhaps the ur-document is the Onion's Biden 'autobiography' "The President of Vice: The Autobiography of Joe Biden." But President of Vice, published in early 2013, was only possible because the Biden Legend was already in full bloom.

As "Joe Biden" put it in the forward to the satirical faux-autobiography ...

"Amigo, you're just one click away from buying Uncle Joe's tell all autobiography. My sweetest guitar riffs, bustiest lays, wildest benders, and sexiest appropriation bills, it's all in there. You'll not only hear about me and my buddy Barack, but I guarantee you'll pick up some tricks that'll serve you well in the sack. Plus, I'm deep in the hole right now and really need the scratch."

So how did this start? I think I'm right that this really never existed before the VP Biden era. Yes, some rep for ill-considered comments and excessive candor. But not the "Joe Biden" today. So first, am I right? What do longtime Washington or politics watchers think?

And assuming I'm right, when and where did it start?

Now, this now iconic photo from 2012 might have something to do with it. But again, I would date the Biden Legend well back into Obama's first term.

Alas, and I find no end of disappointment in this, it turns out this biker gal wasn't sitting on Biden's lap, but a separate chair in front of him. (I hear ya: no one is more disappointed than me.)

So where did it start? How did it start? I need to find the answer to this.

Editor's Note: Some of your responses below ...

TPM's own Tom Kludt reminds me of this epic highlight reel "Joe Biden's Friskiest Moments from the Senate Swearing-In." Here's the actual video ...

Two thoughts in response to your responses. One thing I didn't realize was just how big a role The Onion had in this, quite apart from the aforementioned bio. The other thing though - perhaps the most interesting part of the story - is the very apparent feedback loop which emerged between "Joe Biden" and Joe Biden. In short, as the "Joe Biden" legend emerged, real Joe Biden was clearly aware of it and embraced it. Indeed, it may not be too much to say that Joe Biden saw "Joe Biden" and decided to scrap the old Joe Biden personality in favor of this new one. Or perhaps this was always the inner-Joe Biden. We're still gathering evidence.

3:18 PM - Meanwhile a number of you have flagged this as the possible genesis point of the Legend of Joe Biden, this May 2009 Onion piece "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am In White House Driveway".

3:21 PM - From Twitter, it appears that as early as November 2010, the Times Jeremy Peters was writing about the emergence of "Joe Biden" Legend, mainly driven by The Onion.