Barack Obama and Joe Biden Gaffe Machines

August 24, 2008, 8:05 am
Filed under: Obama and Veep = Gasbags | Tags: , , , , ,

by Yuval Levin, NRO

For me, the most striking line in Obama’s introduction of Biden today was: “Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be – a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.”

Hmmm…now who do we know who pretends to be a statesman?

The entire event made roughly the same point: boy, Obama is inexperienced and light. The Biden pick is obviously meant to compensate for precisely that worry, but it seems far more likely rather to exacerbate it. Biden, after all, is not in fact some kind of celebrated statesman, and not a single person in America (except perhaps Joe Biden) thinks he is. But even he might appear that way in comparison with Obama.

Biden is not without his advantages of course. He does know at least as much about foreign policy and defense issues as John McCain does, and far more than Obama. (To call him experienced is probably to overvalue the Senate, where calling a hearing is some kind of accomplishment; but McCain’s foreign policy experience is of the same sort after all, even if it offers evidence of better judgment.) Biden’s also pretty likeable in small doses, and appeals to a different audience than Obama. And he’s able to muster genuine contempt for his opponents, which Obama does not do well.

On the other hand, Biden implicitly emphasizes Obama’s inexperience (and did so explicitly too in the primaries); he obviously doesn’t fit into a new fresh energy in Washington theme; his ‘give me a break’ demeanor can’t really meld very well with the messianic Obama appeals; he largely takes the issue of McCain’s age off the table (unless the idea is that McCain is precisely six years too old to be president); he makes it far more difficult for Obama to talk about Iraq (since Biden voted for the war, and then bitterly criticized Obama’s withdrawal plans in the primaries); and he makes it tough to argue that Washington is the problem, as he has been there a good bit longer than McCain. Add to that Biden’s utter inability to control what comes out of his mouth and the fact that he rarely strays from his favorite subject (himself) for more than a few sentences at a time, and you end up with a pretty peculiar VP pick.

The combination of these pluses and minuses suggests some degree of panic in the Obama campaign. Picking Biden is not an act of confidence, driven by a sense that the public likes what it sees in Obama and wants more of the same (as, for instance, the choice of Al Gore was in 1992). It is a sign, rather, that Obama recognizes that he is suddenly in some serious trouble, and will not be able to win the election the way he won the primaries. He is trying to do something to compensate for what he takes to be the causes of the stall his campaign is experiencing. The trouble is, the Biden pick looks very unlikely to do that.

The McCain campaign probably won’t go after Biden himself much, and will instead use him as a means of attacking Obama-who suddenly looks awfully weak and vulnerable.

Quick Two Cents
August 23, 2008, 7:57 am
Filed under: Obama and Veep = Gasbags | Tags: , , ,

by Jay Nordlinger, NRO

I am quite surprised — nearly shocked — at the pick of Biden. I believe Obama has made an error — not just hope so, believe. And he had so many good options for the veep slot (unlike John McCain). He could have gone Kaine, Bayh, Sebelius, Boren, Edwards (Chet) — he had many good options. It was practically impossible to screw up.

I never thought that Biden was a decent option. James J. Kilpatrick used to call Howard Metzenbaum “Senator Obnoxious.” (He would write, “Senator Obnoxious (D., Ohio).”) Biden is another Senator Obnoxious — boastful, boorish, self-loving. The file on Biden is very thick.

Pat Caddell, back when he was a golden-boy political handler, loved Biden — thought he could make him president. Biden always looked good on paper — but then got in his own way.

I believe that Barack Obama will not wear well. Indeed, I think his act has been wearing thin for weeks. And I think that his vice-presidential nominee will wear even worse. I’m not sure why he went with Biden — maybe he likes him, personally, which is not the worst thing in the world. It’s helpful if a president likes his vice president (or at least doesn’t dislike him). But I don’t see what Biden gains him. Biden is a slightly risible figure, what with his hair plugs (or whatever) and his many, many examples of public obnoxiousness.

All politicians have sizable egos, but this may be the most self-loving ticket ever. There’s an old saying, “He’ll die in his own arms” — that can apply to both of them. (I’ve thought of it in connection with McCain, too.) And Obama and Biden are two of the gassiest politicians in all the land — they are rhetorically impossible.

The verbiage ticket, this is, and the arrogance ticket, and the emptiness ticket. McCain and his running-mate-to-be should really take them. Don’t you think?

Of course, McCain can screw up, too. And I caution that I’ve been wrong before: I thought Bill Clinton would be a one-term president, an accident of the Perot candidacy, which won almost a fifth of the vote. Still: I don’t believe that Obama’s choice will serve him well.

Blast from past: Leftist New Republic blasts Biden in 2001
Rhetorical Question

by Michael Crowley,  The New Republic

Published: October 22, 2001

It’s a bright early October morning on Capitol Hill. Joe Biden is bounding up the steps of the Russell Senate Office Building, wearing his trademark grin. As he makes for the door, he is met by a group of airline pilots and flight attendants looking vaguely heroic in their navy-blue uniforms and wing-shaped pins. A blandly handsome man in a pilot’s cap steps forward and asks Biden to help pass emergency benefits for laid-off airline workers. Biden nods as the men and women cluster around him with fawning smiles. Then he speaks. “I hope you will support my work on Amtrak as much as I have supported you,” he begins. (Biden rides Amtrak to work every day and is obsessed with the railroad.) “If not, I will screw you badly.”

A dozen faces fall in unison as Biden lectures on. “You’ve not been good to me. You’re also damn selfish. You better listen to me…” It goes on like this for a couple of minutes. Strangely, Biden keeps grinning–even fraternally slapping the stunned man’s shoulder a couple of times. When we finally head into the building, Biden’s communications director, Norm Kurz, turns to me. “What you just witnessed is classic Senator Biden.”

Meet the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Democratic Party’s de facto spokesman on the war against terrorism. No other Democrat has been as visible in the weeks since September 11, and Biden, who began promoting himself almost immediately after the attacks, is likely to speak, for the foreseeable future, for a party lacking in foreign policy experts. That’s good news for a man who is thinking seriously about running for president in 2004. But is it good for the Democratic Party? Biden is tough and he’s an internationalist. Unfortunately he’s also legendary for speaking impulsively and leaving others to clean up the mess. “He lacks the filter,” says one Democratic strategist. Or as a senior Senate foreign policy aide put it: “Biden is an unguided missile.” Not exactly the persona you want out front when the country is at war.

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O’Biden! O’Biden! O’Biden!
August 23, 2008, 6:28 am
Filed under: Obama and Veep = Gasbags | Tags: , , , , ,

by Jonah Goldberg, NRO

Since we’re at the beginning of this story, let me say — again (or again) — I have something of a weak spot for Biden. I think he’s an honestly smart guy. I think he’s a bleeding heart in many of the best — and worst — senses of the term. I saluted him for wanting hearings on the Iraq war. I think his behavior during the Bork and Thomas hearings was beyond disgusting and dishonorable. But we can get into all of that later.

I think it is an outright terrible decision on Obama’s part to pick Biden. Yes, he helps balance Obama’s inexperience on foreign policy, but he also reminds people of it.  Yes, Biden could conceivably be effective as an attack dog. But Biden is such a gasbag he makes the Hindenburg look like a sack of rocks. Obama doesn’t need to increase his lip-flapping quotient. Biden is a gaffe machine and Obama is bad explaining faults, and his VP’s faults will inevitably become Obama’s in the Fall campaign. Biden will be fantastic at convincing people already eager to vote for Obama to vote for Obama. His ability to convince the undecided is much, much weaker, in my opinion. There’s more than a small risk that Biden will reinforce the sense that this ticket is all about hearing itself talk. I wouldn’t be surprised, two months from now, that we’ll hear a lot of talk about how Obama’s mistake in picking Biden can be explained by Obama’s inherent weakness, and love, for talky-talk-talk.

Another possible, perhaps even likely storyline: Barack Obama has just picked his Dick Cheney.

Biden’s profile as a blue collar Scranton guy sounds great on paper, and some of it probably speaks well of him as a human being, but as a political fact Joe Biden is a Senator. He talks like a Senator. He thinks like a Senator. He is a Senator. In a race where at least three of the candidates are Senators, he is the most Senatorial of them all (barring the unlikely scenario where McCain picks Bob  Dole in order to make himself seem youthful).

All that said, I think Biden will give a phenomenal speech at the convention and for a week or two people will think it was a great pick.

I will leave you at this late hour with my description of Biden from a while back, which I see little need to embellish:

He says interesting things, from time to time. I think he makes a fair point here and there. He was correct, for example, that Congress needed to have a real deabte over the war. I think he has some obvious verbal intelligence. But, again, what’s fascinating — and what might be distracting some folks from seeing his underlying-yet-occassional smarts — is that he lets his ego and vanity get in the way. The man loves his voice so much, you’d expect him to be following it around in a grey Buick, in defiance of restraining order, as it walks home from school. He seems to think his teeth are some kind of hypnotic punctuation marks which can momentarily disorient the listener and absolve him from any of Western civilization’s usual imperatives to stop talking. Listening to him speechify is like playing an intellectual game of whack-a-mole where every now and then the fuzzy head of a good point pops up from the tundra but before you can pin it down, he starts talking about how he went to the store and saw a squirrel on the way and it was brown which brings to mind Brown V. Board of Ed which most people don’t understand because [TEETH FLASH] he taught Brown in his law school course and [TEETH FLASH] Mr. Chairman I’m going to get right to it and besides these aren’t the droids you’re looking for..