Some Nice Things About Joe Biden
Joe Biden can’t get anything right. After Barack Obama introduced him as him as his running mate, Biden called his partner “Barack America.” Then, infamously, he told Chuck Graham, a wheelchair-bound state senator, to “stand up and let everyone see you.” Responding to the current economic crisis, he reminded voters of Franklin Roosevelt’s decisiveness in going on television immediately after the stock market crash of 1929, which would have been difficult given that the president that year was Herbert Hoover, and that public television hadn’t been invented yet. Finally, Biden did his best to lose Pennsylvania by declaring that he was against clean coal, which might be an important issue to a state that is one of the nation’s major coal producers.
And Biden doesn’t stack up well with his Republican counterpart. Neither candidate really has that much in common with your average American—Biden’s been in politics his entire life, winning his first Senate election at age twenty-nine, while Palin is a “hockey mom” and politician from Alaska, which isn’t a typical career arc. But every American, deep down, wants to be like Sarah and Todd Palin (moose hunter, basketball champion, and beauty queen, in Sarah’s case; Todd hunts and races snowmobiles), and nobody particularly wants to be Joe Biden.
Biden is overmatched, and that’s a good thing, because he is fairly liberal. He agrees with Barack Obama (the most liberal member of the Senate) on almost everything (except, apparently, clean coal). He is certainly not the man we need filling the role of vice president.
Biden’s running mate has a very good shot at winning the election, and he disagrees with me on nearly everything. I’m the last person he could expect to attract—yet somehow, I can’t help but like Joe Biden.
Part of that, of course, is due to his sheer haplessness. His anguished response to his wheelchair gaffe—“God love ya, Chuck, what am I saying”—has a certain ineffectual charm, rather like that of the villain’s slow-witted sidekick in movies. His constant slips: “Barack America”, referring to John McCain as “George”, or his reference to a “Biden administration” (reaction: he crossed himself, and said “believe me, that wasn’t a Freudian slip. Oh Lordy day, I tell ya.”) are a reliable source of amusement. And, of course, his more serious mistakes—“Hillary may have been a better choice than I”, “I don’t support clean coal”, and the like—may end up having serious political consequences for Obama, and it’s hard not to like that.
So a part of Biden’s appeal may be his sheer haplessness. But there is more to like about Joe Biden. In a political environment where most politicians stick close the official positions of their party, Biden is occasionally willing to disagree with his party’s official line. And that’s admirable.
Before the surge, nearly all Democrats opposed the Iraq war and favored a hasty retreat without a thought to the consequences to Iraq. To his credit, Biden didn’t. He did oppose the surge, and did favor a relatively quick pullout, but he proposed a political solution that could have, at least in theory, prevented the civil war that would have arisen after a U.S. pullout. And his plan wasn’t wholly bad—he wanted to split the country into three independent countries—one for the Kurds, Sunni, and Shia.
This plan actually makes more sense than it seems to, and is probably better than the strategy Bush pursued under Rumsfeld. (Question: who else supports—or possibly supported—this plan? Answer: Michael Savage. Politics are strange). As it happened, we didn’t need this plan thanks to the surge—but Biden deserves credit for standing up to his party, and proposing a plan which could have worked.
Biden shows other flashes of honor. He condemned—briefly—Obama’s “computer” attack ad, which criticized McCain for being unable to use a computer. (McCain can’t use a computer—due to the injuries he suffered in Vietnam). Biden later backtracked, after watching the ad—but he did at least find it within himself to condemn his own ad when he thought it unjust.
I naturally hope that Biden loses—but I’m glad that he’s in the Senate (and it’s not like we’re going to get a Republican elected in Delaware anyway). Joe Lieberman was the Democrat vice presidential nominee eight years ago—but he broke with his party to put what he believed was best for his country first. Perhaps Biden will never be tested in that way—but if so, I believe that he, like Lieberman, would choose the honorable course.