Viewpoint: Joe Biden: Underpaid?

March 15, 2010

As everyone knows, the key roles played by vice presidents are to go to funerals and to say things that serve as fodder for comedians.

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it."-Mark Twain1

In a dramatic turn of events, the Civil War interrupted commercial traffic on the river, and out of necessity Clemens moved to San Francisco, where he became a newspaperman. From an economic perspective, the new occupation was a major step down. Clemens made the mistake of being candid and truthful, writing about political corruption and other topics that aroused the ire of many of the leaders of that city, and he was fired.

Things eventually turned around for Clemens, who began writing humorous stories and books under the pseudonym Mark Twain and became a highly paid lecturer. He hated lecturing, but did it for the money.

All of this, of course, begs the question of what exactly is the huge sum that we pay our vice president? The U.S. Constitution limits the role of vice president to becoming president should the president become unable to serve (due to death, resignation, or medical impairment), and to presiding over the Senate, with the ability to cast the deciding vote should there be a tie.

But, as everyone knows, the key roles played by vice presidents are to go to funerals and to say things that serve as fodder for comedians. My own view is that any of us, if followed around all day by reporters and asked to speak a lot, would come across sounding like fools (remember Dan Quayle and "p-o-t-a-t-o-e"?) Current Vice President Joe Biden already has gotten himself in trouble a few times when speaking extemporaneously.

In return for his great performance in 2009, we taxpayers rewarded Vice President Biden with a salary of $227,300.2 This compares with the median salary of an ophthalmologist in the United States, which is reported to range from about $250,000 to almost $300,000.3-5

By Clemens' standards, we ophthalmologists should be pretty happy with our paychecks, because most of us earn more than the vice president. Plus we don't have to attend a lot of funerals, or sit behind the president during the State of the Union speech and feign interest.

And taking a lesson from Clemens' unsuccessful tenure as a newspaperman, articles written for today's periodicals, such as Ophthalmology Times, should go to the greatest lengths possible to eschew candor and avoid truth.