Joe Biden: The incredible shrinking candidate

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  Sept. 16, 2008 at 1:20 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Someone should break the bad news to Sen. Joe Biden: As a vice presidential candidate he's doing far worse than Dan Quayle.

In 1988 Quayle became a national laughingstock to the liberal American mainstream media. But he did succeed in helping rally an even-then somewhat dubious Reaganite-conservative GOP base behind Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, who coasted to an easy victory over Democratic nominee Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

It is far better for vice presidential candidates to be lightning rods who are despised by the national media but who are good at rallying the grassroots of the party. And indeed, the more lightning strikes they attract from such Olympian figures as Eleanor Clift, Charles Gibson, Maureen Dowd or Charles Krauthammer, the better they are likely to do with the general public.

All four of those venerable, not to say Jurassic, pundits have given their dignified thumbs down to Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, yet her popularity with the general public has only continued to soar.

Palin's immunity and resilience in the face of national media scorn, in fact, reflects a venerable pattern in U.S. presidential politics: Democrat Harry S. Truman in 1944, Republican Richard Nixon in 1952, Republican Spiro Agnew in 1968 and Quayle 20 years ago were all portrayed by the national media either as scary extremists or lunatics -- Nixon and Agnew -- or as being ludicrously dim and uncultured -- Truman and Quayle. Yet all that high-toned media sneering didn't slow down any of the victorious tickets they served.

This assessment, of course, flies in the face of the mainstream American media snobbery about how poor, old Biden, D-Del., was bringing all that experience, wisdom and incorruptible decency to the Democratic national ticket and how wonderfully prepared he was for the presidency compared with that inexperienced joke Sarah Palin.

Yet the media themselves have dealt Biden a far crueler fate than they have with their obsessive and so far futile muckraking over Palin, her Down's syndrome baby and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter: They have ignored Biden entirely.

He works hard, he churns out the speeches, he castigates Republican nominee McCain of Arizona as the fearless "attack dog" he was supposed to be. Yet after he does everything he was supposed to do, even the media who sang hosannas over his selection just report it all glumly and then shrug it off. And no one else cares.

Biden cannot even get traction on the Wall Street crisis, which should be manna from heaven for any Democratic national candidate. He cannot even make ground here because his leader Obama has still refused to get specific and credible with the American public about implementing any realistic policies that will slash government spending and even raise taxes, if necessary, to prevent a national and international crisis of confidence in the U.S. government and economy.

But Biden also cannot make any significant contribution to the crucial economic debate because in all his years in the Senate, he was never able to make himself sound serious or credible on a single major economic issue. If Obama wanted credibility on the economy, he should have put a respected governor like Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Janet Napolitano of Arizona or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas on the ticket.

The only time since his nomination that Biden has generated any interest whatsoever was when he said in a typically rambling monologue that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., would have made a better and more qualified vice president than himself.

Conservative Web sites and radio talk shows were all over that one, wondering if Obama, D-Ill., had told Biden to say it as part of an orchestrated process to ease the poor old fellow off the ticket and replace him with Clinton after all.

But one can safely junk that theory, tantalizing though it sounds. There has not been a hint of any such maneuver from the Obama camp. Obama clearly fears Clinton and may even hate her like the plague. He has moved only reluctantly, awkwardly and always at the last moment to show her any modicum of respect or support. There is not a hint that he wants her on the ticket.

Nor is there the slightest indication that Obama truly respects, let alone reveres Biden. It already appears clear that if Obama wins the presidency in November, Biden will be the weakest, most inconsequential vice president since Hubert Humphrey -- another venerable Senate windbag who came to be despised by his master, President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Humphrey at least had an admirable and courageous record as a reformer ahead of his time on such issues as civil rights and Medicare. His years in the vice presidency were a sad, even heartbreaking epilogue to an honorable and respected 16-year Senate career. Biden, in his 36 years in the Senate, has not managed a fraction of Humphrey's achievements.

Media intellectual hairsplitting, arrogance and old-fashioned, plain insecure snobbery lose track of two basic, bedrock facts:

First, the United States thankfully remains a democracy, and what ordinary people decide and do in the voting booth is, at the end of the day, all that really matters.

Second, presidential elections are about choosing leaders. And since John McCain came out of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., he has been cleaning Obama's clock on the leadership issue. And Palin has been doing exactly the same thing to poor old Joe Biden, simply because she has actually run things -- a fishing business, a small but significant city for many years, and the largest, most energy-rich state in the Union for the past two years -- with notable and consistent success.

Biden has never run anything. Senators don't. McCain hasn't either, but he at least is certainly outside the Senate norm of being permanently protected from responsibility, because five years as a heroic, defiant and disgracefully tortured prisoner of war is probably the best inoculation anyone could have against the meaningless pomposity of the United States Senate. Obama already has picked up that contagious infection after only four years sitting there.

In general, senators of both parties come to imagine they are already outstandingly successful CEOs, brilliant generals and potentially magnificent presidents even while their staffs are changing their daily diapers.

So far, Attack Dog Biden hasn't managed to land even a friendly lick on John McCain's face. While Palin flourishes amid the media's most frenzied efforts to smear and destroy her, Biden shrivels under that far crueler death blow to any politician's ego -- amiable and polite forgetfulness. He is too ineffectual and peripheral to even warrant contempt.

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