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
[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
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.