Biden: Second Chance for The Everyman
By Al Giordano
Twenty years ago, Joe Biden was 46, almost the same age Barack Obama is today, and was running for the Democratic nomination for president after eight years of Ronald Reagan's White House. He coulda been a contendah, until John Sasso - campaign manager for rival Mike Dukakis - leaked a videotape to the networks of a British politician's speech that had used the very same words Biden was using on the stump:
"Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go a university? Why is it that my wife . . . is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? . . . Is it because they didn't work hard? My ancestors who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come after 12 hours and play football for four hours? It's because they didn't have a platform on which to stand."
Biden had, on previous occasions, credited the Brit, Neil Kinnock, with the words, but on subsequent moments did not. "Plagiarism" was the charge - hardly the kind of thing that would have sunk a candidate today, but in 1988 - when a less politically savvy public didn't understand that most politicians don't write their own speeches - it was devastating. Biden dropped out of the presidential contest and didn't enter it again until last year. But by then it seemed more a Last Hurrah; a kind of revival tour for a one-hit wonder pop group from the 1980s.
Yet the words in that 1988 speech were essentially true, if not original. He was the first Biden to go to college. He did descend from coal miner country. This was a man with the class resentment that comes naturally to being born from below. And as the national media vetting process will disclose in the coming days, after 36 years in the US Senate, he's still one of the poorest US Senators: he never availed himself of the back-door personal enrichment techniques that most of his colleagues - Democrat and Republican - have utilized. Beyond class resentment, he retains a sense of class solidarity. His wife since 1977 never went into Washington lobbying: she remained a public schoolteacher.
Biden has also lived personal tragedies that would have splat most people like watermelons tossed from the sixth floor of a Wilmington tenement: between his first US Senate election in 1972 and being sworn in, his first wife and three small children were in a gruesome car accident. Mrs. Biden and his daughter died, his two boys were wounded, and he became a single father. Biden never quite entered the Washington DC culture so seductive to his peers: commuting from Delaware to DC, always coming home at night.
Had he not been driven from the 1988 presidential contest, perhaps George H.W. Bush, Sr., would have never been elected president. Perhaps we never would have settled on Bill Clinton as a lukewarm response to that crisis. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, sure, but here's my point: Whatever we think of Biden's ideology - his hawkishness on wars, foreign and domestic, his foot-in-mouth disease, his addiction to TV news liveshots (oh, lordy, Patty Solis Doyle won't be able to sleep for the next ten weeks, monitoring her invisible electronic shock collar that has now been fastened around Biden's neck) - his personal story is compelling and honorable.
It's that personal story that is going to be featured heavily in the coming days as he migrates through Springfield, Eau Claire, Quad Cities, Kansas City, Billings and Denver. His native Pennsylvania is now a lock for Obama, and he puts Pennsyltucky (West Virginia, Southeast Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Western Virginia, in particular) back in play.
And in Biden, we have a textbook example of the difference between holding racist ideations (his "clean and articulate" comments about Obama, his stereotypical remarks about Indian-Americans and convenience stores, etc.) and "race baiting" (the Clintonian and Republican penchant for willfully using the wedge of race to divide Americans in order to win elections). Biden is surely guilty of the former but, let's be honest, who isn't? You? Go to the mirror and think again! Watching Biden over the decades, I've not seen him willfully use race to divide others (which is what has placed so many of us in an unforgiving stance toward Bill Clinton, especially this past year). Even when they were still primary rivals for the nomination, Obama came to Biden's defense during a debate, defending that "in his soul," Biden's not a hater.
I think the two of them are going to get along splendidly, and have a lot of infectious fun using John McCain as a punching bag. Apollo Creed has now signed on as coach and sparring partner with Rocky Balboa. Multi-racial class warfare - there's a place for us, somewhere a place for us - now becomes the wedge against the millionaire McCain.
Yes, I would have preferred the "three point shot" - that Obama pick a running mate from outside of Washington - but as DC insiders go, it's interesting that Biden chose all these years to refuse to live inside it, or meet with its lobbyists.
Obama stopped at the three point line, passed the ball to the new muscle man with the sharp elbows, and put two points on the board instead. I can live with that. And my working class soul is actually looking forward to the populist campaign that will come out of the unlikely alliance of two guys from humble beginnings against the owners of this coal mine called America.
The 2008 election now has its very own "Comeback Kid," and his name ain't Clinton. Oh, yes, I can live with that.
Update and Query: Has the Obama campaign said anywhere how many cell phones received that text message overnight? (It took at least four hours to reach them all!)
Update II: The sound you hear is of plates being thrown in the McCain household (or is that households plural?) when they hear the statements today from three moderate Republican senate colleagues:
Sen. Chuck Hagel: U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel issued the following statement today following Senator Barack Obama's selection of Senator Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic Vice Presidential nominee: "Joe Biden is the right partner for Barack Obama. His many years of distinguished service to America, his seasoned judgment and his vast experience in foreign policy and national security will match up well with the unique challenges of the 21st Century. An Obama-Biden ticket is a very impressive and strong team. Biden's selection is good news for Obama and America," Hagel said. LINK
Sen. Richard Lugar: Tbilisi, Georgia - U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar made the following statement today en route to Tbilisi. "I congratulate Senator Barack Obama on his selection of my friend, Senator Joe Biden, to be his vice-presidential running mate. I have enjoyed for many years the opportunity to work with Joe Biden to bring strong bipartisan support to United States foreign policy..." LINK
Sen. Arlen Specter: Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, a Republican who serves on the Judiciary Committee with Biden and often rides Amtrak with him to Washington, also offered praise. "No one on the Democratic side knows more about foreign policy than Sen. Biden," Specter said. "He's been an articulate spokesman on the subject. He also knows about domestic policy. He's been a leader on crime control." LINK
Ouch, ouch and ooouuuuch!