A friend recently directed me to a Bloomberg Politics article called “Your Week in Gaffes, Déjà vu Edition,” which documents and proceeds to adeptly crack wise about two unfortunately similar Joe Biden gaffes that occurred two years apart. I didn’t initially plan to steal those gaffes for this column, but now I think I might have something thoughtful to say about them. So here we are.
To start, the gaffes themselves: at the House Democrats’ retreat in Philadelphia at the end of January, Biden was quoted in the “Weekly Standard” as saying, “To state the obvious, the last six years have been really, really hard for this country.” The other gaffe occurred at a 2012 campaign rally, where Biden said the “middle class has been buried these last four years.” Bloomberg pulls this quote from a contemporary “Weekly Standard” article as well.
The joke here is that when Biden said the first thing about “the last six years,” he happened to have been in office for around six years. And when he said the thing about the “last four years” in 2012, he’d been in office for around four. Obviously it’d be easy for an enterprising Republican, or even perhaps a mean Democrat in some future hypothetical primary season (cough), to say that if Biden was aware of such difficulties for the country, he and the administration that employs him are responsible. It’s things like this that have given Biden his popular reputation as the resident punch line of the Obama administration.
However, as writer David Weigel notes in the aforementioned Bloomberg Politics article, “(t)o say you’ve been in charge during a period of struggle is not to say you did nothing to ameliorate that struggle.” Biden is simply telling what he sees as the truth, regardless of whether he ends up inadvertently “trashing himself” for some people, or providing fodder for the video editing staff of his possible future opponents, in the process.
And here’s my two cents on the whole thing: I love Joe Biden. He is, frankly, the primary inspiration for this column’s existence; he is also, almost without a doubt, my favorite politician. Often, when the topic of the 2016 presidential election comes up, I am liable to say that I hope Joe Biden runs for and wins the presidency. I say this not because I have anything against Hillary Clinton (the assumed democratic candidate), but because I think Biden offers something we tend to undervalue, especially in the political sphere: naïve honesty.
Of course, it is precisely the qualities that make Biden refreshing to me that also make him a pretty lackluster potential candidate. Dude’s more of a gaffe factory than George W. Bush was. He can’t even visit a frozen custard stand without saying something wrong (seriously, look it up).
What Biden’s status as joke demonstrates is that some degree of deceit seems expected from even the candidates who go most out of their way to market themselves as trustworthy: Chris Christie was a straight-talking, moderate-but-tough Republican superhero till the Fort Lee lane closure scandal; Anthony Weiner was one of the most promising young democrats until that sex scandal turned him into a godsend for lazy writers of political humor; in 2000 John McCain was at the wheel of the Straight Talk Express, but then in 2008 he turned around and sold off every one of his bipartisan bona fides trying to appeal to the Republican Party’s furthest reaches.
What we get from all this is that representing oneself as moral is important in politics, but living out those morals is bad strategy. And even if we bristle at that statement, its truth is supported to a degree by the scandal cycle that plays itself out to the point of cliché in the careers of politicians on both sides of the aisle, and by the controversy generating over-analysis of the 24 hour news cycle. The fact that a potential Joe Biden campaign tends to be handled first as a joke, and second as an opportunity for our nation’s improvement, is a severe bummer.
I guess until the mainstream comes around to the idea of a candidate who can bridge the appearance of transparency with its reality, Joe Biden will just have to keep on thanklessly calling custard vendors “smartass(es)” for the rest of us.
Austin Gerth is a member of Concordia’s class of 2016. He edits the Opinion section. He has worked variously as a pizza cook, night-time dishwasher, caterer and water park attendant. He is a writing major, having determined through his experiences in the working world that he is ill-suited to manual labor. He enjoys ginger ale and no longer owns a poodle. He also writes for The COBBlog, and contributes freelance writing to MPR.