Delaware Senator Joe Biden has been telling people for months that he's going to run for president, as if nobody could actually believe it. Even when he formally announced last week, I still didn't believe it. In fact, I'm not quite sure what it would take to make me believe it. If I turned on the television and watched Biden formally accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, I might believe it then. (On the other hand, I'd probably figure I was suffering some hallucinatory episode and check myself into a hospital.)
I'm not saying Biden shouldn't be president. I have tons of respect for him, and I think he'd do a terrific job if he could get it. I just find it amusing that he thinks there's some chance he could actually become president. It's a case study of that bizarre mental affliction that strikes so many senators. They see younger, less-experienced Senate colleagues — who are far less esteemed than they are — running for president, and they're offended. If the 100 senators were the only ones who could vote, Biden would probably beat Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Unfortunately for Biden, that's not how it works.
Biden's charming cluelessness was on display in a recent ABC news interview. The famously verbose senator was asked to state in 25 words or less why Democrats should nominate him. His response was 45 words. I suppose that, by Biden's standards, coming in at just under twice his allotted length counts as a victory of sorts. Biden then explained why he could win: "If people learn my story, learn my record, I think I can compete. The question is, can I raise the money?" This is sort of like me saying that I think I can compete for a starting NFL quarterback job, but the question is, can I avoid injuries? It's a question, but it's certainly not the question.
In addition to his uncontrollable verbosity, Biden is a gaffe machine. He ran for president 20 years ago but had to abandon his campaign when it was discovered that he had plagiarized speeches from a British politician, substituting in key details to make the story his own.
In his latest effort, Biden wasted no time subverting his already microscopic chances. On the day of his announcement, he mused about Illinois Sen. Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."
In Biden's defense, the quote was widely misunderstood. Having listened to it, it's obvious that Biden was not saying Obama is the first mainstream African American candidate who is also articulate and so on. He was saying he's the first mainstream candidate — meaning ideologically mainstream, unlike Carol Moseley Braun, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson — and that he's articulate and so on. He wasn't calling Jackson or the others inarticulate. To be sure, this is still a pretty cringe-inducing way for white people to talk about African Americans. There's a famous Chris Rock routine in which he complains about how people describe Colin Powell as "articulate," as if it were a surprise that a secretary of State can speak well.
And, of course, last summer Biden attempted to endear himself to an Indian American supporter by telling him that in Delaware, "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." Not only was this an offensive line, it didn't even make any sense: The observation, familiar to anybody who watched a comedian on cable television 15 years ago, is that Indian Americans are the only ones who work in convenience stores, not that they're the only ones who shop there. The man can't even keep his condescending cliches straight.
Biden looks as if he's the product of a laboratory experiment designed to create the world's worst presidential candidate. If the Obama gaffe doesn't knock him out of the race, something else will. I doubt he makes it to Iowa.
Yes, Biden's very knowledgeable and dedicated. But to win the presidency, you actually have to be good at mass politics. Why is Biden not smart enough to recognize that?
By Jonathan Chait
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