Joe Biden told the truth, but telling the truth can put a man in lonely company in Washington DC.
When Democrat presidential hopeful Senator Joseph Biden complimented his colleague and rival for the party’s nomination, Senator Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who’s articulate, bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook man,” anyone with half a brain knew, in spite of a few poorly chosen words, what Biden meant. The problem is that there’s a bloodlust for political faux pas that seems to drive honest politicians out of the spotlight, leaving the calculating hucksters free to step forward.
And they are more than happy to do so.
Following Biden’s statement, the usual suspects emerged, clamoring to find latent bigotry in the senator’s words. Obama couldn’t find them (at least not until a consultant got a hold of him). Al Sharpton, on the other hand, did, and he made certain to find the spotlight.
To hear Ol’ Mainstream Al tell the story, Biden might as well have said that Barack Obama is a credit to his race.
But what did Biden imply that was so offensive? That Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun, and Alan Keyes were not mainstream candidates? High-profile, perhaps, but the support – or lack of it – that each was able to attract is evidence that Biden was right. As far as mainstream goes, they were right up there with Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
All of these candidate contributed to the national dialog as anyone running for office (Chris Dodd, call your campaign office) aims to do, but none of them were serious contenders for the Oval Office. Sure, they ran for major party nominations, and they each got their fair share of attention, but that’s where the comparisons end.
When the campaigning heats up later this year and into early 2008 we may find Obama relegated to the same dustbin, but for the moment, anyway, he is a legitimate frontrunner; a candidate most observers believe is electable. He also happens to be black.
When I read and listen to Biden’s words, I can almost hear him sighing that Obama has many of the superficial qualities he wishes he possessed. He’s young (Biden’s 63), articulate (Biden’s known for rambling), good-looking (Biden’s not a bad-looking guy, but we all remember the pre-hair plug days and the bad combover), bright (Biden’s no slouch, but on paper Obama’s Columbia/Harvard pedigree is a bit glitzier than his University of Delaware/Syracuse chops), and clean (Biden’s plagiarism, anyone?).
The only thing Obama lacks is Biden’s experience, and in context all he was doing was attempting to offer Obama plaudits as a setup to contrast the strengths Biden brings to the debate. And that’s the shame of it – that the substance of the discussion has been lost to political correctness.
Biden knows he needs to get America to pay attention for more than 15 seconds if he’s to have any chance of convincing them of his qualifications. He called out Senator Clinton’s ridiculous plan for withdrawal from Iraq for what it is – a silly pandering to the anti-war crowd, even though she’d been relatively hawkish on the war when that seemed like the thing for a smart politician to be. He called out John Edwards on the same grounds. And he called out Obama’s lack of experience. This is a debate Biden believes he can win, but he succeeded only in providing a brouhaha that proved a convenient and politically juicy diversion from the real issues we face as a nation.
So, instead of discussing issues of global importance, Biden finds himself in a Michael Richards no-win situation: the more he talks, the deeper he gets into racial hot water. If he defends his statement honestly, by pointing out that black candidates who came before Obama were not mainstream candidates, he’ll be further denigrated. If he offers enough mea culpas, he’ll come across as weak. Unfortunately for Biden, he’s chosen the latter course of action.