August 19, 2008


We still won't believe this until we see it. Such a huge unforced error seems too much to hope.

Loose Lips Sink . . .: Biden's Leadership Is Lost in All His Talk (Richard Cohen, January 12, 2006, Washington Post)

The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth. That, though, is no small matter. It is a Himalayan barrier, a Sahara of a handicap, a summer's day in Death Valley, a winter's night at the pole (either one) -- an endless list of metaphors intended to show you both the immensity of the problem and to illustrate it with the op-ed version of excess. This, alas, is Joe Biden.

The reviews for Biden's first crack at Samuel Alito, the humorless Supreme Court nominee, were murderous. The New York Times had Biden out on Page One -- normally a position to kill for -- only this time it was not a paean to his considerable merits, but an account of how it took him nearly three minutes of throat-clearing to ask his first question and then took the rest of his allocated 30 minutes just to get in four more. He concluded with about half a minute still left to him -- something of a personal best that even he had to acknowledge.

"I want to note that for maybe the first time in history, Biden is 40 seconds under his time," he told Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, no clipped speaker himself.

The Post had a similar account of Biden running off at the mouth. In that piece, Dana Milbank wrote that during Biden's round of questioning, he "spoke about his own Irish American roots, his 'Grandfather Finnegan,' his son's application to Princeton (he attended the University of Pennsylvania instead, Biden said), a speech the senator gave on the Princeton campus, the fact that Biden is 'not a Princeton fan,' and his views on the eyeglasses of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)."

The tragedy is that Biden, who is running for president, is a much better man and senator than these accounts would suggest. But his tendency, his compulsion, his manic-obsessive running of the mouth has become the functional equivalent of womanizing or some other character weakness that disqualifies a man for the presidency. It is his version of corruption, of alcoholism, of a fierce temper or vile views -- all the sorts of things that have crippled candidates in the past. It is, though, an innocent thing, as good-humored as the man and of no real policy consequence. It will merely stunt him politically.

What Democrats Should Be Saying (David Ignatius, August 19, 2005, Washington Post)
The Democrats' problem is partly a lack of strong leadership. Its main spokesman on foreign policy has become Sen. Joseph Biden, a man who -- how to put this politely? -- seems more impressed with the force of his own intellect than an objective evaluation would warrant. Listening to Biden, you sense how hungry he is to be president, but you have little idea what he would do, other than talk . . . and talk.

Biden His Time: Is there room for one more Democratic senator? (Jim Geraghty, 1/22/03, National Review)
"Much like Gary Hart, he's identified more with the party's presidential past than its present or future," said political scientist Larry Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia. "He was, after all, forced out by a mini-scandal which would come up again."

In 1987, Biden quit the Democratic primary race early after the revelation that he had delivered, without attribution, passages from a speech by British Labor party leader Neil Kinnock. A barrage of subsidiary revelations by the press also hammered Biden's image: a serious plagiarism incident from his law-school years, boastful exaggerations of his academic record at a New Hampshire campaign event, and the discovery of other quotations in Biden's speeches pilfered from past Democratic politicians.

In the post-Clinton era, plagiarism may seem like small potatoes. But, Sabato explains, the key to a scandal is how it counters — or in the case of Biden, reinforces — his public image.

"The reason it became such an issue was that it reinforced the Biden image that already existed among the press, that he's a blowhard, a guy who talked before he thought," Sabato says. "Now, he's a little older and more experienced, but do people really change that all much after they reach adulthood? I've rarely seen anybody change that much, and I've taught thousands of college students over the years."

Then came that August day at the Iowa State Fairgrounds when Biden simply became British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock—acting out, without any attribution, Kinnock’s entire working-class shtick: “Why is it that my wife…is the first in her family ever to go to college? Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after twelve hours and play football for four hours?” Campaign aides spun it as an homage, even though Jill Biden was not the first in her family to attend college and Joe Biden, unlike Kinnock, did not have coal-mining ancestors. And when it later came to light that Biden had failed to cite Bobby Kennedy in a speech, that he’d also claimed (falsely) to have attended Syracuse University law school on a full academic scholarship and to have graduated in the top half of his class, and that he’d received an F in a law-school class for an apparent act of plagiarism…well, “homage” didn’t quite cover it. At best, Biden was a careless, immature overstriver. At worst, he was a liar. Either way, as Republican consultant Eddie Mahe told The New York Times that year, “What all of this means in a nutshell is that Joe Biden will never be elected president of this country.”

On plagiarism (James Fallows, 2/19/08, Atlantic Monthly)
respect and admire Joe Biden, but his "similar" case in 1988 was completely different, and actually bad. On the stump he was telling someone else's personal story -- as it happened, Neil Kinnock's -- as if it were his own. That is not the kind of detail you just swap into and out of a stump speech to make it more powerful. Indeed, the mystery is how anyone could actually utter words -- "My daddy was a coal miner," "there I was, at Valley Forge" -- knowing them not to be true. And -- mentioning again that I respect and admire Biden -- the incident wounded him because in fact he had been a weak student in college and law school. Not, say, the president of the Harvard Law Review.

Biden Stumbles at the Starting Gate: Comments About Obama Overtake Bid for President (Dan Balz, 2/01/07, Washington Post)
Biden sought to highlight his experience on the day he declared his candidacy, but an interview he gave to the New York Observer, a weekly newspaper, overshadowed his announcement.

In the interview, Biden described Obama as "the first mainstream African American [presidential candidate] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Asked during an afternoon conference call with reporters to explain his choice of words, Biden said he meant no offense in describing Obama the way he did, then lavished praise on the Illinois senator as a "very special guy" who has caught "lightning in a jar" like no politician he has seen before. "This guy is a superstar," he added.

Biden also said that he had called Obama after the remarks became public and that Obama had taken no offense from them.

Obama later issued a statement that absolved Biden only in part. "I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally," he said, "but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

Military experience rare among '08 candidates (Andy Sullivan, 6/25/07, Reuters)
Democrats Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich failed their physical examinations, as did Republican Tom Tancredo.

N.B. If anyone sees a clip of the C-Span bit can you send me a link...thanks.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 19, 2008 3:38 PM
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