Delaware's Pride, America's Joy

Why Biden, and only Biden, is mediocre enough to lead the Democrats in '08


Michelle Malkin is absolutely right. Last week's "7-Eleven slur" by six-term Senator Delaware Joe Biden wasn't a slur at all. Biden, chatting up New Hampshire voter Manish Antani, simply noted that thousands of Indians were making their nests in the First State and "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." Antani beamed: "I'm really excited for you!" No one was insulted. If anything, the men established a Reagan/Gorby bond.

That didn't prevent a mini-volcano of outrage from bubbling up. Some of it, predictably, came from Republicans like Pennsylvania congressional candidate Raj Bakhta. The reality TV celebrity, party boy and Indian-Irish-American blasted Biden as a "racist," right before slamming a whisky and groping for his car keys.

But far more abuse was flung at Biden by liberals and proud Democrats. The influential blogger Maryscott O'Connor sniffed that Biden could "kiss his Presidential aspirations goodbye." The American Prospect's campaign blogger Jay Stevens huffed that when "Biden retires each night, he must have to brush extra long to get the taste of foot out of his mouth." Eschaton's Atrios awarded Biden the sought-after sobriquet of "wanker." It fell to the conservative Malkin, whose usual esteem for Democrats slots them between child molesters and World War II-era Japanese-Americans, to point out that "a lot of Indian-Americans own such franchises (which screen employees to ensure they are here legally, by the way)."

Liberal Democrats were happy to let Joe Biden twist in the wind because liberal Democrats don't care whether he floats or sinks. It doesn't matter that he's one of only two Democrats who have actually tossed hats in the 2008 presidential ring, and the other one is will-deny-the-Holocaust-for-food ex-Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. It doesn't matter that the primary polls, the ones that reveal Hillary Rodham Clinton driving Patton-like to the party's 2008 nomination, show Biden registering higher support than media darlings like Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) On points, Biden deserves to be the Democrats' presidential candidate more than any of their hopefuls. The elements of political timidity, thoughtless lawmaking, and unoriginal (sometimes radically unoriginal) thinking are so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say, "Here was a Democrat."

Take Biden's stance on the Iraq War, the issue that roils the Democratic party, and the country, like no other. No one knows how to solve the conflict; most of the country is frustrated with George W. Bush's policies. And those are Biden's positions exactly. When a challenge arises in Iraq, Biden, like most Democrats, basically goes along with Bush and then snipes at how the administration is handling it. When he's on the spot Biden, like most Democrats, responds with longwinded, tough-sounding bilge. But his abilities on that front put his colleagues and competitors to shame. Take this anecdote he used at a press conference on Tuesday, fresh from his seventh visit to Iraq.

We were in Fallujah. Remember, Fallujah we cleaned out before, right? Well, one of the briefings we had was these Rhinos they have. They took us outside and showed us the vehicles they now have to deal with IEDs, and they're impressive vehicles. But they're talking about how they're still getting blown up.

Now, the Rhino didn't get blown up, but, I mean, this—I had no sense, in a specific sense, that things are more secure. But in a macro sense, the military does seem much more confident about their Army counterparts that they've trained up in the Iraqi military. But does that translate to you're able to have more flexibility in moving around? I see none of that.

What did he just say? Basically, that our policy in Iraq is confused and uncertain. Hillary or Warner or Feingold could have said the same thing. They do say the same thing, and often. But could any of them have dressed it up with such a blend of centripetal vacuity and Naked and the Dead machismo?

It's an unwelcome reality of presidential politics that this is how winning Democrats will have to discuss Iraq and the Middle East. They can't winningly argue that the war wasn't worth fighting; they can't argue for a speedy withdrawal without sounding like they'd take a dive whenever Islamofascists rear their heads and shout "jihad." This is the language of Iraq politics, and while Hillary and the rest stumble through reciting it, Biden has mastered it.

Of course, foreign policy is Biden's calling card and has been for years. How does he stack up against the other Democrats on the rest of the issues that set their voters salivating? Extremely well: His record on judicial nominations, on taxes, and on civil liberties is jam-packed with lowlights. He played a key role in keeping Robert Bork off the Supreme Court—the single greatest victory of Democrats over a Republican president's nominee to the bench. He passed the poisonous RAVE act, which gave the government a license to prosecute business owners if anyone uses drugs on their property.

This makes Biden a lousy senator; it also makes him a strong national Democrat. The rest of the 2008 field basically agree with Biden's policy stances, but haven't done anything to move them forward. John Kerry and John Edwards? Two years ago they failed to run on any achievements from 20 and six years, respectively, in the Senate. Russ Feingold? After the McCain-Feingold Act (the one that ended corruption in political fundraising once and for all), his biggest achievements have involved "taking a stand" and then getting swatted like a fly as the Senate approved the PATRIOT Act and deigned not to censure George W. Bush. Pundit favorite Barack Obama? He used the word "audacity" in a speech, and…then what? Hillary's big nanny-state achievement was getting Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas yanked from the shelves because the game featured sex acts. Biden, meanwhile, created the Drug Czar. Which of these triumphs is going to get the soccer moms swooning?

It's obvious why Democrats want to pretend Biden is just a comic relief or walk-on character, that he can be laughed off the primary stage. They want to support candidates who reflect their dreams; or in Hillary's case, candidates who share their checking accounts with people who reflect their dreams. Like the Republicans willing to swallow John McCain's red-faced statism in the hopes of holding onto the White House, Democrats are ready to settle for the same lame Beltway formula as they tell themselves they're aspiring for something better. Biden is the Democrats' Ted McGinley: He reflects what the party of the people actually stands for.