Some call it a “bromance.” Others call the duo “brotus.” Regardless of the appellation, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have developed a unique and close personal friendship. Evidence of this bond between the two is portrayed in situations and photos that capture rare glimpses of their closeness.
Very few former presidents established a strong personal relationship with their VP. They established solid professional rapport with their VP, evident in policy collaborations and being tasked by the president to head important projects. None, however, comes close to the kind of friendship that Obama and Biden shares. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were close until the Monica Lewinsky and impeachment scandal. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were close until that closeness dwindled in Bush’s second term over several issues, such as Hurricane Katrina and the I. Lewis Libby controversy. The most notable bond was between Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale who were particularly close. Carter treated Mondale as a political equal during his administration and the two remained friends for more than three decades after vacating the White House.
The Obama-Biden friendship has undoubtedly seeped into the consciousness of many who ponder about the nature of their bond. How deep does it extend? What is clear is that their friendship transcends the politics of D.C., and that the Obamas have broken their “no new friends” mantra of the 2008 presidential campaign.
How can two seemingly different men forge such a strong friendship?
The generational difference between both men is a factor to cause doubt of such a possibility. Nonetheless, they share the same ideological and philosophical ideals.
“The president and I debated 13 times in 2008 trying to get the nomination, and if you look back on it, the only two people who didn’t disagree on a single substantive issue were the president and me….So it started off where I know I was simpatico with the president-elect,” Biden said in a speech at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, where he announced he would not be seeking the candidacy for president.
Their personalities are wholly different making them an unlikely pair. Obama is personable, impassive, disciplined, and is a thinker. On the other hand, Biden is jovial, emotional, and is a backslapping politician. Two different people, yet they have shown that it is possible to function through mutual respect, openness, trust, partnership and love.
The lessons in friendship that Obama and Biden convey are lessons that young people and millennials can apply to their own personal and social lives.
Forging a friendship takes time, but the Obama-Biden friendship reveals that a shared vision and partnership is a great place to start with building a bond. Their friendship was forged on a common vision to tackle the major challenges faced by the Obama administration. At the beginning of his term in office, the administration was burdened with huge financial challenges. Biden came to play a major role as Obama’s advisor. Once per week they have a private lunch together, and Biden regularly attends briefings, many at Obama’s request.
“Look, I spend between, depending on the season, four to seven hours a day with the president. I attend every meeting the president has at his request. I did not ask to do that, but at his request,” Biden said in 2008.
Cementing their partnership along the way, Obama has tasked Biden with spearheading vital initiatives, both domestic and international. Oftentimes, Biden plays the role of buffer not only between Obama and House Democrats, but between him and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well. The latter was vital, with a Republican increase in the Electoral College and heightened tensions around issues in the Middle East and Europe; Biden was instrumental in reinforcing intervention in the Middle East, an issue Obama tends to avoid. Furthermore, fights about increasing the debt ceiling and balancing the budget were often left up to Biden to broker compromises.
Obama and Biden demonstrate that the foundation of a solid friendship can indeed emerge from shared goals and a partnership fostered through trust and dependability.
The Obama-Biden relationship has shown considerable resiliency, evident in a friendship that remains unwavering in events of gaffes on the part of Biden, and Obama’s jokes at Biden’s expense. Many friendships, new and old, are often tested in tense moments, and Obama and Biden’s is no different. During the 2008 campaign, the off-the-cuff speaker Biden spouted to his audience that Obama’s youthfulness would make him a target that would be “tested” by other foreign leaders.
In another instance, in May of 2012, Biden shared with Meet The Press host David Gregory that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex unions, causing the President to three days later publicly support gay marriage, completing his evolution on the issue.
Seemingly unable to stop himself from making one gaffe after the next, a few months later Biden shocked his racially mixed audience in Virginia, when he told them that the proposed Wall Street regulatory policies of then GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney would “put ya’ll back in chains.”
The fundamental dynamics of the Obama-Biden friendship in politics and their personal lives appears immutable in spite of these tense moments. Biden is sometimes the source of amicable banter in Obama’s speeches. An example is their visit to Techmer PM in Clinton, Tennessee, where they observed a sports car manufactured with a 3-D printer.
Obama teasingly joked, “We lost Joe’s attention when we laid eyes on that 3-D printed sports car….Biden started pulling out his aviator glasses and we had to explain to him: You don’t get to drive on this trip.” Biden responded, “It ain’t my Corvette, but it’s ok.”
Thus is the nature of their friendship, in that, Biden took no offense in being the butt of Obama’s joke, and he reinforced it by joking himself. They know each other and they adapt to each other’s personality and style.
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This deep personal closeness between Obama and Biden transcends Capitol Hill, extending their friendship into a meaningful family relationship. Biden’s granddaughter Maisy is in the same grade as Sasha Obama, and the girls have formed a bond of their own. The girls are teammates on a basketball team and it is not farfetched to think that the girls’ friendship further strengthened the bond between Obama and Biden. The personal closeness and the extent of their friendship was revealed by Biden in an interview with CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, when he talked about how concerned Obama was when he mentioned that he was worried about caring for his son Beau’s family after he had suffered a stroke in May of 2010.
In one of their regular weekly lunches, Biden mentioned that he and his wife Jill may have to sell their home in Wilmington, Delaware, but Obama pushed back at that idea.
Biden recalled, “He got up and he said, ‘Don’t sell that house. Promise me you won’t sell the house.'” “He said, ‘I’ll give you the money. Whatever you need, I’ll give you the money. Don’t, Joe — promise me. Promise me….'”continued Biden.
Beau Biden went on to complete his second term as the attorney general of Delaware. However, in January 2015, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and died of the disease in May. In this time of tragedy and grief, the highlight of the Obama-Biden friendship and the culmination of their bond were made visible. Shortly after Beau’s passing, Obama issued a statement in which he told the Bidens they “have more family than they know….They have a family right here in the White House.”
Obama was asked to give the eulogy, but it was not without statements of love and gratitude to Joe. Open and free with his emotions, Obama offered these words to Joe at Beau’s funeral in the St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington saying, “Joe you are a brother. I’m grateful everyday that you’ve got such a big heart and a big soul and those broad shoulders. I couldn’t admire you more.” At the end of the eulogy, Obama walked humbly over to Biden, held each other in a close cheek touching embrace, and then parted with Obama giving Biden a kiss on the cheek. In that moment, Obama’s walls came down, and the love, loyalty and values that bind their friendship were made visible.
The eulogy request by Biden and Obama’s delivery of it underscored the magnitude of their personal relationship and how much it has evolved beyond their political partnership during the course of his administration. Both men genuinely love and respect each other. They have a bond that is uncharacteristic of a president and his vice president. They are often relaxed in their interaction with each other, where Obama switches off his “presidential self” and Biden forgets that the president is his boss.
Both men have exemplified some of the best elements of a solid friendship. So, scratch the “no new friends” policy and replace it with “new friends through partnership, resiliency, and family bond.” Take a page from the Obama-Biden book.
Sherline Duncan is a freelance history and politics writer. She earned a B.A. in History from Adams State University and an M.A. in Public Affairs from New Mexico Highlands University.