In Praise of Biden

When Barack Obama visited Iraq last month with Senators Hagel and Reed, it was uncertain whether or not he should visit the wounded troops, given that his trip was at least in part a campaign event.

So his Republican opponent John McCain, not wanting to be without an attack ad ready on the topic, created two: one ripping Barack for visiting the troops on a campaign trip, and another attacking him for not visiting them.

As it turned out, the Obama camp decided it was more appropriate not to make the visit (although Barack had visited wounded troops on numerous other occasions without the press in tow.)  So McCain duly released the second attack ad.

What can we say about this sort of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t, damned-whatever politics?  It’s unseemly to complain about the inescapable attacks, but it really does reflect on the integrity and character of the attackers, who really don’t have a position on what is right or wrong, but only a roomful of little Roves who spend their days calculating how best to negatively spin any move their opponent might make.

I was reminded of this phenomenon recently as we watched the Republican spinners react to Obama’s eminently sensible choice of Senator Joe Biden as a running mate.  You just know they had snide analyses prepared for whether the choice turned out to be Bayh, Kaine, Clark, Hillary, Richardson, or whoever.  (We can speculate what those were in the comments section)  But the best line they could come up with for the Biden choice was: “His choice of a running mate with lots of foreign policy experience PROVES Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience!”


But a wondrous thing it was, to hear ALL of them immediately spout this same bizarre line in unison – from the Fox / talk-radio demigods all the way down to our own Larry Gilbert.  Do these people have conference calls every morning or what?

The ever-scheming Matt “Jubal” Cunningham chimed in on his new personal blog [which he calls “GUNS & ROSARIES: Clinging Bitterly to our Conservative Principles”  No I am not making that up.  Click on it!]  “Time to excavate all the Democratic criticisms of George W. Bush picking Dick Cheney to add foreign policy heft to his ticket.”  As I responded to Matt, I don’t think there’s anything to “excavate” there.  Across the spectrum as I remember, everyone just thought it made good sense for this callow Texas governor to pick an old foreign policy hand to help guide him in his decisions.  (Of course this is before any of us could guess how deranged and power-mad Cheney had grown over the decades, but that’s another story.)

Was our political discourse that much more reasonable and civilized eight years ago?  Or do Democrats just not spend all their time calculating how best to put the worst light on any decision of the Republicans?  Um… the latter.  And in any case, compared to the indifferent and incurious W. of 2000, Barack’s knowledge of foreign affairs is encyclopedic; with the addition of Biden it’s just grown by “an order of magnitude.”

My first choice of Obama running mates was, for various reasons, General Wesley Clark (who quite sensibly pointed out last month that McCain’s record as a POW, while making him a hero, does not necessarily mean he has the judgment or experience to be Commander-in-Chief.)  But in retrospect Biden is a better choice.  For one thing Clark has a sort of otherworldly, unblinking, genius quality.  Which Obama shares.  We needed a lovable “regular guy” on the ticket to bring it down to earth.  (Click here for all the Biden regular-guyness you can handle.)

And perhaps most important for the campaign, Biden brings his storied pugnacity, his love of and skill at political battle.  Obama, whose goal is famously to “bring all of us together,” needs an attack dog at his side while he faces the rabid wolves over the coming months.  As TPM puts it,

 … Biden brings another key strength: He’s extremely effective when he goes on the attack on foreign policy. Rather than whine about how mean Republicans are when they hit Dems on national security, as so many Dems do, Biden has a real talent for responding with an appropriate mixture of mockery and contempt…  When Biden takes aim at Republicans on foreign policy, he exudes a strong sense of authority on the topic that tends to shrivel his target into a cartoonish figure rather quickly.

The most famous recent instance of this is his lampooning of Rudy Giuliani as “a noun, a verb, and 9/11.”  After Rudy rashly shot back that Biden lacked foreign policy knowledge, Biden demolished him WHILE CHEWING FOOD AND WALKING TO HIS CAR.  (hat tip Ezra Klein)


(Note: If you don’t know why that’s so absurd, don’t feel bad; YOU’RE not running for President based on supposed national-security credentials like Rudy was.  The answer is, North Korea had already successfully tested a couple of nuclear weapons;  Iran by most estimations is ten years away from a weapon.)


Senator Biden has done two very disappointing things in recent years:

1.  He voted in favor of the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq, which Bush used as a green light for his disastrous and illegal invasion (also guilty – Hillary, Kerry, Edwards, and many other disappointing Democrats.)  On the other hand, at the same time with Senator Lugar, “he pushed a compromise bill that would’ve slowed the president’s rush to war in Iraq, and maybe derailed it entirely… Since then, he’s been considerably more outspoken, and has pushed some smartly strategic approaches, including calling for the repeal of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution.”

2.  He was one of the prime movers of 2005’s horrific Bankruptcy Bill, which made sense given the power of the credit industry in Delaware;  since then we have sometimes snidely referred to Biden as “the Senator from MBNA.”  Maybe ensconced in the White House he won’t be such a credit whore?  We can hope.

On the other hand he voted against the horrible recent anti-privacy FISA upgrades with their telecom immunity, and for twenty years he’s been a great voice on the Judiciary Committee – I first remember him as being one of the fighters keeping the psychotic Judge Bork off the Supreme Court!

And any red-blooded American knows you can have two strikes and still hit one out of the park!

The Supposed “Plagiarism Problem”

One thing that’s bothered me about Biden since his Presidential run in 1987 was how (allegedly) he stole several paragraphs from an inspirational speech from the great British Labor politician Neil Kinnock; and recited it verbatim without credit, including a reminiscence of his childhood in Wales and his coal-miner father.  This sure made Biden look flaky and maybe drunk, and I still hear people bringing up his “plagiarism problem.”

Well, finally I hear the whole story in context thanks to Keith Olbermann!  Biden had been using that passage for weeks or months in his stump speech and had always credited Kinnock.  ONE TIME he accidentally skipped the creditting part, and Mike Dukakis, who was running against him in the primary, got it on film and sent it off to all the media, creating the first modern “media feeding frenzy.”

Gee, thanks a lot, Mike.  As I recall, you won that primary.  As I recall, that turned out real good.  Now I don’t feel so bad about those Willie Horton ads.


In Conclusion

I think Joe Biden was the best possible choice, and I say that both as someone who considers it a matter of life and death to defeat John McCain, and as someone who wants to be entertained while doing it.  Your move, McSame!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.