Biden’s no genuis either

During all the hysteria about Sarah Palin and whether or not she is fit to be vice president, has anyone noticed that Joe Biden is a persistent, unreformed, downright clownish bungler whose gaffes are simply too many and too wild to be considered perfectly excusable slips of the tongue?

True, he’s a likable guy who projects sincerity and any number of other impressive attributes, and maybe that’s why his barrage of mistakes draws no great press criticism. Some commentators have gone after him, of course, but mostly we get buried stories with small-type headlines and opinion pieces on how his gush of talk can get ahead of an astute brain. We mostly get winks when we ought to get astonishment.

The debate with Palin gave us false information very nearly unbelievable in someone who has served in the Senate for 36 years and yaps his head off on TV talk shows all the time. Unbelievably, he said the United States and France kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, when, in fact, no such thing ever happened.

He also made it clear to viewers that he had absolutely no idea of what the Constitution says about the office he is seeking. In stern tones, he informed Palin that the vice president can preside over the Senate only in case of a tie vote, and that this is outlined in the Article One, which according to him concerns itself with the executive branch of government.

Nope. Article One is about the legislative branch, and what a part of it says is this: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."

Biden made any number of other errors, and yes, Palin got some things wrong, as well, such as referring to Army Gen. David McKiernan who commands our military in Afghanistan as "McClellan." But nothing she said was as fundamentally amiss as Biden’s inaccuracies, and nothing she has said since her nomination is as dumfounding as he was a while back on the subject of the 1929 stock crash.

"When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed," he said in an interview with Katie Couric of CBS News. "He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’"

What we all know, of course, is that TV wasn’t around in those days, and that Roosevelt wasn’t president then. What we ought also to know is that it bespeaks something frightening to confuse this version of things with Roosevelt’s radio talks during the Depression. Either Biden is so loose with details as to be prone to major policy blunder, is ignorant of basics or just can’t distinguish between fact and fiction.

Or he may sometimes lie.

This possibility brings us to another sort of mistake he has made in the past and this year, stories about his own life that just aren’t true.

He portrayed himself in his vice presidential acceptance speech as coming from a working-class family, but as columnist Steve Chapman has observed, his father had been a business executive, had been part owner of an airport and crop-dusting firm and was a sales manager. Despite some hard times, the father wasn’t working class.

Biden said when running for president three decades ago that he graduated in the top of half of his law-school class. He graduated 76 out of 85.

In the debate, he aimed to show his connection with everyday folks by making it sounds as if he sometimes hangs out at Katie’s restaurant in Wilmington, Del., only it turns out the place has been closed for 20 years.

Whatever explanation exists for all of this, it does not bolster one’s confidence in Biden’s qualifications for vice president.


(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)