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The Ornery Observer
September 18, 2008

Joe Biden: A Dubious Choice
by Paul Gottfried

Barack Obama may have bitten off more than he can chew by picking Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate. Biden, elected in 1972, is the longest-serving Delaware senator, as well as a Catholic from working-class Scranton whose father sold used cars. Nevertheless, Biden’s personality has never suited the role of a popular tribune. If that is what Obama expects will happen, then he is sadly mistaken.
Many of Biden’s votes in the small, very blue state that he represents come from inner-city blacks, but this is a constituency that Obama already has in his pocket. Except for isolated pockets of trial lawyers, it is hard to find anyone who resonated to Biden’s soon-ended presidential primary campaign. The Delaware senator has a voting record that is as skewed to the left as that of Obama. But unlike the junior senator from Illinois, Biden thinks of himself as an expert on any subject taken up by any committee to which he has been assigned — whether the Senate Judiciary Committee or, more recently, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His disjointed comments to Judge Robert Bork during the confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court in 1987 gave the term “chutzpah” a new relevance. Bork was generally considered one of the most brilliant legal minds who ever taught at Yale Law School. Biden, who had graduated in the lowest tenth of his class from Syracuse Law School, chided the judicial candidate for his inadequate understanding of the Ninth Amendment. According to Biden, that Amendment’s mention of unenumerated rights “which were retained by the people,” and which Congress was prohibited from touching, actually empowered the federal government to fight sexism from Washington, D.C. Biden was stunned that Bork did not endorse his interpretation.
Biden not only voted against Bork; he helped draft the Violence against Women Act. This Act, which reflecting Biden’s interpretation of the Ninth Amendment, charged the federal government with combating “gender-motivated crime.” Shortly after its passage, the Supreme Court struck down some of the Act’s key provisions on the reasonable grounds that “they exceed Congress’s authority and are therefore unconstitutional.”
The one thing that might cause me to mistake Biden for a working stiff is his bar-room garrulousness. He talks up a storm; when he really gets going, as Peggy Noonan noted in The Wall Street Journal (January 12, 2006), he can sound remarkably “stupid” for someone who is not yet fully inebriated. Biden was already running at the mouth during the Bosnian crisis in the late 1990s. He not only pushed hard in the Senate for military action against Serbia; he repeatedly denounced Serb president Milosevic as a war criminal and called for trials, even before American hostilities had begun.
As we now know, that conflict featured more than one set of human-rights violators. our military intervention in Serbia allowed the Albanians to practice ethnic cleansing at the expense of the Serb minority in Kosovo. Anyone who thinks that, on the basis of his past record, Biden would have a moderating influence on foreign affairs may be due for a rude awakening.
His behavior during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Samuel Alito in January 2006 reached, even for Biden, new high point of tastelessness. Although Noonan’s reproduction of his verbal globs in The Wall Street Journal, punctuated by the phrase “You follow me, Judge,” indicates the speaker’s unjustified self-importance, it does not entirely capture the depth of his silliness. At one point the senator, who was wearing a Princeton tiger cap, went after Alito for having belonged to an organization at Princeton that opposed minority quotas. Biden chided Alito for having forgotten that Catholics had once suffered discrimination at Princeton. Without quotas, Biden went on, his and Alito’s co-religionists would not have been able to attend that university. Because of such unproved bigotry, we were led to believe, Biden himself would not have been admitted to Princeton.
I am extrapolating from this tirade, which was so jumbled that it would be impossible to reproduce literally. Noonan observes that throughout this outpouring Alito sat like a “stunned bull.” What he obviously knew but did not dare say, if he had any hopes of being confirmed, was the following. Minority quotas were established not specifically for Catholics but for certain ethnic minorities and more generally for women. Many Catholics, including Judge Alito, had been able to attend excellent universities not because of quotas but because of their high intelligence; for self-evident reasons, Senator Biden was not one of them.
Even on one of the few issues on which I happen to agree with him — the Iraq War — I cannot bear hearing Biden express his rambling opinions. Unfortunately for Democrats, the Delaware senator is going to be mixing with large numbers of people in the coming months. If enough of them react to him the way I have, then the Democratic ticket may be in for trouble. 

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The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2008 by by Paul Gottfried.  A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Newspapers. All rights reserved.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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