Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Joe Biden Don't Get No Respect

It appears to have been Michael Kinsley who first said that a gaffe in politics is when you tell the truth. Senator Joe Biden seems to have committed a major gaffe yesterday with his remorseless assessment of the Democratic Presidential candidates, in an inverview the The New York Sun link. Greg Sargent at TPM gets the money shots:

Here's Biden on Edwards: "I don’t think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about." And here's Biden on Hillary's Iraq plan: "nothing but disaster."

[On Obama:] “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

But—and the “but” was clearly inevitable—he doubts whether American voters are going to elect “a one-term, a guy who has served for four years in the Senate,” and added: “I don’t recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic.”

There is already a kerfuffle over the meaning of the first sentence about Obama (link), but that’s my topic here. What fascinates me is what you might call the “Senator/President” theme. Did we mention that Biden is running for President himself? You hadn’t noticed? No wonder, because for all his flailing and arm-waving, Biden’s campaign seems to be going exactly nowhere.

Which brings me to my point: seems like every year we have (at least) one (or more) senator(s) who think: I’m smarter, more competent, better equipped in every way, to be President, than the rest of these dingbats--why not me? Think Bob Graham in 2004 (link). Think Orrin Hatch in 2000 (link). Think Bob Dole over and over and over again.

You can hardly blame these guys. It’s hard work being a good senator: long days poring over detail, long nights with a full briefcase—the slow boring of hard boards (link [$]), three yards and a cloud of dust (link). It takes patience and stamina and a bladder the size of Toledo. Graham and Dole were good at it. It hurts me to say so, but apparently Orrin Hatch is good at it too (but still a creep, okay?). FWIW, apparently Hillary is pretty good at it too, and perhaps getting better.

Thing is, these skills don’t translate. Partly it is a matter of audience appeal: most voters don’t know and don’t care why it is that Graham and Dole get so much respect for what they do. But it’s more than that: the senate and the presidency are two different jobs. The job of a senator is to claw your way through a heap of semi-colons; the job of a president is to lead. Think of the most successful modern presidents: Reagan and Roosevelt. They were both lousy detail men, but they had that knack for crystallizing and clarifying (or, if you prefer, caricaturing) that makes leadership what it is. Jack Kennedy only proves my point: he was a lousy senator but dandy at crystallizing. Lyndon Johnson doesn’t contradict it: he got to the presidency without election.

Biden is the ultimate I-don't-get-no-respect guy. Something about him—the smile, or the adenoids, or the hairplugs—just make it hard for voters to take him seriously. But follow him carefully and you have to recognize that he is serious, and hard working, and mostly on the side of the angels. Also a shrewd judge of political talent. More’s the pity.


New York Crank said...

Obama, it seems to me, is almost precisely in the Kennedy model.

"Ask not what you can do..." was not a policy. It was a rallying cry. Sure I like Biden, but can you imagine Biden rallying the nation? Oh please!

Inexperienced though he is, Obama may have the rare ability to inspire America to some cohesive status and get people thinking straight again -- assuming Obama is thinking straight and surrounds himself with good advisers -- about everything from Iraq to healthcare, to equitable taxation.

Focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. Share the burdens. Care for the old and the sick. Re-establish American prestige. Be strong, but rattle no sabers. Improve America's vision of itself.

Am I dreaming? Maybe. But for a brief while in the very early 1960s, America was a magic and joyous place, and it was the Kennedy ethos that made it so.

Anonymous said...

Does Obama look like JFK? No. When he has no respect for our country's flag, when he shows no remorse for his 20 years of sitting in front of Jermiah Wright, he can not be my candidate. He needs to stop acting like nothing has happened. His pitch says, "How does this alll help Americans to solve gas problems, and others like those". But Mr. Obama, you must know that in this Game, the first thing is your credit, your stature, your honesty and credibility. When you dish your own Pastor, there is no doubt in my mind you can one day dish this country out too, especially when you refuse to wear its flag pin.

Anonymous said...

I just don't understand why people are even looking at Obama any more. Is not there a fine person named Hillary Clinton? She has lived in public life for the past 12 years and more. It is time all democrats re-look at her - even in spite of her Bosnia remarks - and give her a tramendous credibility over Obama. Let us go Win Hillary. She has a great plan for saving on Gas bill this summer. WHy did Obama refuse to sign that I do not know.