Heartbeat Away

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 15, 2012

Yesterday, when the vice president of the United States embarrassed himself, the Obama campaign, and all those who believed that the incumbent ticket might bring about Hope and Change, I wondered why Joe Biden’s brain-resembling-thing was still stuck in the 19th century, and the arguments that raged during that time. (I mean honestly, we’re making allusions to slavery now? How long before Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are accused of having joined the Barbary Pirates?)

Today, I am forced to take even more serious the possibility that the vice president’s brain-resembling-thing is indeed bogged down in some kind of time warp. Consider:

Now, of course, I am aware that none of the vice president’s flubs–many though they may be–will be enough to get him dumped from the ticket. But that hasn’t stopped the (reignited) rumors that he might be dumped from the ticket. Assuming that Joe Biden understands the import of that speculation–always a risky enterprise–he has to feel pretty humiliated:

Renewed speculation that Biden could be dropped from the ticket comes on the heels of yet another gaffe by the vice president. “They gonna put y’all back in chains,” Biden said of the Republican candidates for president and vice president yesterday at a campaign stop. CNN reported that a senior adviser called Biden’s comments “not helpful,” and that “they believe the vice president has knocked them off track.”

On Monday, Vice President Biden also came under fire after questioning the values of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan by invoking the Wisconsin congressman’s deceased father.

Naturally, all of this hubbub has reminded people that should anything happen to the president, Joe Biden will be the inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a prospect that ought to fill one with dread. Of course, it ought to go without saying that one does not want someone with the vice president’s taste for offensive and appalling rhetoric to lead and represent the nation. But even putting offensive and appalling rhetoric aside, why on Earth would anyone want to let Biden have a shot at having access to the nuclear launch codes when, well, take it away Rudy Giuliani:

KUDLOW: You know, what did he say? ‘Y’all going to be put back in chains’? That almost has racial overtones, Rudy Giuliani. What’s your take on that?

GIULIANI: Well, I think if it came from somebody serious maybe we’d get all excited about it. But the — I think the vice president of the United States has become a laugh line on late night television. I mean, he — I’ve never seen a vice president that has made as many mistakes, said as many stupid things. I mean, there’s a real fear if, God forbid, he ever had to be entrusted with the presidency, whether he really has the mental capacity to handle it. I mean, this guy just isn’t bright. He’s never been bright. He isn’t bright. And people think, ‘Well, he just talks a little too much.’ Actually he’s just not very smart.

And take it away John Fund:

Biden’s rhetorical belly-flop yesterday was a doozy. He first told a largely black audience in Danville, Va., that he hoped they could help Obama win North Carolina. He followed that up with the claim that Mitt Romney wanted to “unchain Wall Street.” He then switched to a comic down-home accent and bellowed, “They’re gonna put y’all back in chains!”

Willie Geist, a co-host of MSNBC’sMorning Joe, was blunt: “If Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate, said that to an African-American audience, there would be calls this morning for him to get out of the race, for Mitt Romney to withdraw from the race. There’s a double standard.”

But there has been a double standard for Joe Biden for decades, and almost every reporter in Washington knows it. Last night, a frustrated Rudy Giuliani acknowledged it on CNBC. “I’ve never seen a vice president that has made as many mistakes, said as many stupid things,” he told Larry Kudlow. “I mean, there’s a real fear if, God forbid, he ever had to be entrusted with the presidency, whether he really has the mental capacity to handle it. I mean, this guy just isn’t bright. He’s never been bright. He isn’t bright. And people think, ‘Well, he just talks a little too much.’ Actually, he’s just not very smart.”

Biden has been very lucky that the national media have largely given him a pass until now. American history for the last half-century has been replete with Republicans who have been portrayed by the elite media as dim or addled — from Dwight Eisenhower to Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan and Dan Quayle to, of course, George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. No Democrat with comparable national stature has been saddled with a similar reputation. The media have tended to explain away Biden’s strange statements and unforced errors by saying, “Oh, well. That’s just Joe, you know.” Or they casually admit, “Well, he just talks a bit too much,” and then move on.

In the middle of a hotly contested presidential campaign, that may now be changing. In the Washington Post yesterday, Alexandra Petri discussed “the trouble with Joe” and took the VP to task for “periodically alarming outbursts” that are unbecoming of the second-highest office in the land. “He inspires the sort of discomfort one feels upon introducing one’s fiancé to Grandpa after he has had a Scotch too many,” Petri scolded. “His cringe-inducing gaffes . . . inspire less anger than embarrassment.” A New York publishing source told me that “Biden is now seen as a Catholic Sam Goldwyn, and that’s not a good place to be.” Sam Goldwyn was the legendary Hollywood producer who was known for malapropisms (“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”).

We are now at the point when Biden’s intelligence is not our sole concern when considering his qualifications, although Heaven knows that it should be and should have been for quite a while now. In addition to wondering whether Biden ever had the brainpower to be a good vice president/president-in-waiting, we now need to wonder whether he is simply too old for the job and whether his age compounds his mental problems.

Joe Biden will be 70 years old on November 20 of this year, and it is not unreasonable to think that he is well past his prime. It is also not unreasonable for the Romney-Ryan ticket and for members of the media who don’t think that the word “journalist” means “unabashed cheerleader for the Democratic party” to talk at length about the fact that his addled mindscape along with his advancing age means that any decision to place him a heartbeat away from the presidency is a thoroughly irresponsible one. And given that it was Barack Obama’s decision to put Biden a heartbeat away, the vice president’s miscues, malapropisms and misadventures reflect badly not only on him, but on his boss as well.

Mitt Romney chose a highly intelligent, intellectually curious, experienced public figure in the prime of his life to take on the rigors of the vice presidency, and the presidency should something happen to Romney. Barack Obama chose a broken down jalopy of a human being whose every utterance runs the risk of horrifying and embarrassing the Obama campaign and all of its allies. The comparison is telling. And given the way in which John McCain–who never acquired Biden’s penchant for making a fool out of himself–was derided as old and out of touch throughout the 2008 campaign, I see no reason why the comparison should not be regularly emphasized throughout this campaign.

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