Thursday, August 28, 2008

Very Telling Article on Joe Biden

In October of 2001, right after 9/11, The New Republic did an article on an ebullient Joe Biden, now enjoying the spotlight as the lead Democrat on foreign policy issues.

We also covered some of this article in a previous link: Joe Biden wanted to give Iran $200 million after September 11.

Salient quotes...

A blandly handsome man in a pilot's cap steps forward and asks Biden to help pass emergency benefits for laid-off airline workers. Biden nods as the men and women cluster around him with fawning smiles. Then he speaks. "I hope you will support my work on Amtrak as much as I have supported you," he begins. (Biden rides Amtrak to work every day and is obsessed with the railroad.) "If not, I will screw you badly."

A dozen faces fall in unison as Biden lectures on. "You've not been good to me. You're also damn selfish. You better listen to me..." It goes on like this for a couple of minutes. Strangely, Biden keeps grinning--even fraternally slapping the stunned man's shoulder a couple of times. When we finally head into the building, Biden's communications director, Norm Kurz, turns to me. "What you just witnessed is classic Senator Biden."

No other Democrat has been as visible in the weeks since September 11, and Biden, who began promoting himself almost immediately after the attacks, is likely to speak, for the foreseeable future, for a party lacking in foreign policy experts. That's good news for a man who is thinking seriously about running for president in 2004. But is it good for the Democratic Party?

"He lacks the filter," says one Democratic strategist. Or as a senior Senate foreign policy aide put it: "Biden is an unguided missile."

Speech is at once Biden's great strength and his great weakness. As a presidential candidate in 1987 he brought audiences to tears with his stump speeches about reclaiming the lost dream of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Then his campaign imploded when he was caught plagiarizing from British Labour Party head Neil Kinnock.

And when Biden spoke before a meeting of Democratic senators shortly after the September 11 attacks, to explain the importance of the use-of-force authorization he had helped craft, he received a standing ovation. Afterward California Senator Barbara Boxer approached Biden to say, "Thank God you're here."

In fact, the only thing Biden likes better than reminding people about his anti-terrorism bill is reminding them that he predicted the September 11 attacks. On September 10 Biden delivered a foreign policy speech to the National Press Club complaining about the administration's fixation on missile defense. "The real threat comes to this country in the hold of a ship, the belly of a plane, or smuggled into a city in the middle of the night in a vial in a backpack," Biden said. So give the man credit.

"This," Joe Biden announces, "is what I've spent my entire adult life preparing for." It's exactly three Tuesdays since the September attacks, and Biden is presiding over a morning meeting of his committee staffers. It's a formidable group--a collection of super-earnest twentysomethings and grave committee veterans, all wearing dark suits and grim faces. Biden, with his pearly smile and sugar-white hair, seems almost to glow in contrast.

At the Tuesday-morning meeting with committee staffers, Biden launches into a stream-of-consciousness monologue about what his committee should be doing, before he finally admits the obvious: "I'm groping here." Then he hits on an idea: America needs to show the Arab world that we're not bent on its destruction. "Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran," Biden declares. He surveys the table with raised eyebrows, a How do ya like that? look on his face.

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