Barack Obama may have bitten off more than he can chew by picking
Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate. Biden, elected in
1972, is the longest-serving Delaware senator, as well as a Catholic
from working-class Scranton whose father sold used cars. Nevertheless,
Biden’s personality has never suited the role of a popular tribune.
If that is what Obama expects will happen, then he is sadly mistaken.
Many of Biden’s votes in the small, very blue state that he represents
come from inner-city blacks, but this is a constituency that Obama
already has in his pocket. Except for isolated pockets of trial lawyers,
it is hard to find anyone who resonated to Biden’s soon-ended
presidential primary campaign. The Delaware senator has a voting record
that is as skewed to the left as that of Obama. But unlike the junior
senator from Illinois, Biden thinks of himself as an expert on any
subject taken up by any committee to which he has been assigned — whether
the Senate Judiciary Committee or, more recently, the Senate Foreign
His disjointed comments to Judge Robert Bork during the confirmation
hearing for the Supreme Court in 1987 gave the term “chutzpah” a
new relevance. Bork was generally considered one of the most brilliant
legal minds who ever taught at Yale Law School. Biden, who had graduated
in the lowest tenth of his class from Syracuse Law School, chided the
judicial candidate for his inadequate understanding of the Ninth Amendment.
According to Biden, that Amendment’s mention of unenumerated
rights “which were retained by the people,” and which Congress
was prohibited from touching, actually empowered the federal government
to fight sexism from Washington, D.C. Biden was stunned that Bork did
not endorse his interpretation.
Biden not only voted against Bork; he helped draft the Violence against
Women Act. This Act, which reflecting Biden’s interpretation
of the Ninth Amendment, charged the federal government with combating “gender-motivated
crime.” Shortly after its passage, the Supreme Court struck down
some of the Act’s key provisions on the reasonable grounds that “they
exceed Congress’s authority and are therefore unconstitutional.”
The one thing that might cause me to mistake Biden for a working stiff
is his bar-room garrulousness. He talks up a storm; when he really
gets going, as Peggy Noonan noted in The Wall
Street Journal (January
12, 2006), he can sound remarkably “stupid” for someone
who is not yet fully inebriated. Biden was already running at the mouth
during the Bosnian crisis in the late 1990s. He not only pushed hard
in the Senate for military action against Serbia; he repeatedly denounced
Serb president Milosevic as a war criminal and called for trials, even
before American hostilities had begun.
As we now know, that conflict featured more than one set of human-rights
violators. our military intervention in Serbia allowed the Albanians
to practice ethnic cleansing at the expense of the Serb minority in
Kosovo. Anyone who thinks that, on the basis of his past record, Biden
would have a moderating influence on foreign affairs may be due for
a rude awakening.
His behavior during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge
Samuel Alito in January 2006 reached, even for Biden, new high point
of tastelessness. Although Noonan’s reproduction of his verbal
globs in The Wall Street Journal, punctuated by the phrase “You
follow me, Judge,” indicates the speaker’s unjustified
self-importance, it does not entirely capture the depth of his silliness.
At one point the senator, who was wearing a Princeton tiger cap, went
after Alito for having belonged to an organization at Princeton that
opposed minority quotas. Biden chided Alito for having forgotten that
Catholics had once suffered discrimination at Princeton. Without quotas,
Biden went on, his and Alito’s co-religionists would not have
been able to attend that university. Because of such unproved bigotry,
we were led to believe, Biden himself would not have been admitted
I am extrapolating from this tirade, which was so jumbled that it would
be impossible to reproduce literally. Noonan observes that throughout
this outpouring Alito sat like a “stunned bull.” What he
obviously knew but did not dare say, if he had any hopes of being confirmed,
was the following. Minority quotas were established not specifically
for Catholics but for certain ethnic minorities and more generally
for women. Many Catholics, including Judge Alito, had been able to
attend excellent universities not because of quotas but because of
their high intelligence; for self-evident reasons, Senator Biden was
not one of them.
Even on one of the few issues on which I happen to agree with him — the
Iraq War — I cannot bear hearing Biden express his rambling opinions.
Unfortunately for Democrats, the Delaware senator is going to be mixing
with large numbers of people in the coming months. If enough of them
react to him the way I have, then the Democratic ticket may be in for
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2008
by by Paul Gottfried. A version of this column appeared in the
Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Newspapers. All rights reserved.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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