Will the Real Senator Biden Please Stand Up?
With the decision of who he would choose as his running mate behind him, Barack Obama showed up at the old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois, for a little symbolic fist bump with history. It was seventeen months ago, in the snow and cold of a midwestern February day, that Obama announced his candidacy on the steps of the grand old structure.
Candidate Obama realized at the time his one major shortcoming:
I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness -- a certain audacity -- to this announcement. I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.
Since then, everyone from Hillary Clinton to John McCain has questioned whether he has anything to recommend him for the job besides the gumption to declare for president as a sitting senator with a little more than 2 years experience under his belt.
Enter Joe Biden, who was also in Springfield to stand shoulder to shoulder with the nominee and proclaim to the world that he really didn't mean all those things he said during the primary; that when Biden said about Obama, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training," he was talking about some other Obama -- the one that didn't choose him as a running mate expecting people to believe that someone with Biden's foreign policy experience would fill in the massive holes in his own resume.
Obama certainly gave his former critic a big buildup in his speech before 30,000 of the faithful. He spared no praise for the six-term senator, even going so far as making believe that 36 years in Washington and membership in the most exclusive club in the world -- the select clique that runs the Senate of the United States -- doesn't affect the way such a man looks at the world:
Joe Biden is that rare mix — for decades, he has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn’t changed him. He’s an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in the middle class. He has stared down dictators and spoken out for America's cops and firefighters. He is uniquely suited to be my partner as we work to put our country back on track.
A real "Man of the People" -- that's our Joe. Except Obama, who has heavily criticized John McCain for his ties to lobbyists and for taking their dirty money, seems not to have noticed that the man whose "values are firmly rooted in the middle class" also has his hand firmly rooted in lobbyist's wallets:
The industry that has given Biden the most cash has been lawyers/law firms ($6,567,404) followed by real estate ($1,297,690). Pro-Israel groups are the 8th biggest contributing industry.
Obama may decry lobbyist cash (or at least federal lobbyist cash), but Biden has taken $344,400 from lobbyists since 1997 -- making lobbyists the 10th biggest contributing industry.
That seems a direct contradiction of the Obama message.
Given Obama's problems with flip-flopping, his positions on everything from victory in Iraq to FISA reform, and the biggie on campaign finance, a little contradiction like this should thankfully go almost unnoticed.
The Joe Biden that Obama described in his speech was a far cry from the savage questioner of Clarence Thomas, the brutal inquisitor of Robert Bork, the Democratic pit bull of the Judiciary Committee who conservatives came to hate. Instead, this was working class hero Joe, the senator with the lunch pail who commutes daily to and from Delaware on the Amtrak express to Washington:
Time and again, he has made a difference for the people across this country who work long hours and face long odds. This working class kid from Scranton and Wilmington has always been a friend to the underdog, and all who seek a safer and more prosperous America to live their dreams and raise their families.
It is unfortunate that if you were an underdog and looking for help from Senator Biden in getting out from under a load of debt by filing bankruptcy, you were given the back of his hand. It seems one of Senator Joe's major contributors through the years was the bank holding company MBNA, the world's largest issuer of credit cards who was pushing bankruptcy reform that would have been favorable to the credit card industry. Biden was one of the bill's biggest proponents -- and why not? MBNA executives contributed hundreds of thousands to his campaigns. And then there was the rather cozy personal relationship between Biden and MBNA executives:
The relationship was also personal, with an MBNA executive's buying Biden's house at a favorable price, and one of his sons taking a job for a time as an MBNA management trainee, as the Wilmington News-Journal reported. Hey, it's a small state.
Biden returned MBNA's favor by delivering key Democratic support for the company's top legislative goal: the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act, which made it tougher for broke people to escape their credit card debt. Biden's staff says he forced lenders to add special protections for low-wage workers and single mothers before he would back the bill.
What was it that Biden wrought with his support for this bill?
It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset-protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses that frequently turn manageable debt into unmanageable crises. Even in failure, ordinary Americans do not get a level playing field.
George Babbitt couldn't have imagined a better bill.
But Obama can be forgiven his little exaggeration of Biden's heartfelt attachment to working Americans. His campaign is hard at work reinventing Joe Biden, turning him from a partisan gladiator into a post-partisan pussycat. Obama in Springfield:
I know he’ll be able to help me turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington, so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people.
Is Obama talking about this kind of "ugly partisanship?"
Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), piling on to Democratic complaints about President Bush’s speech in Israel today:
“This is bullshit, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset ... and make this kind of ridiculous statement.”
Speaking before the Knesset, Bush said that “some people” believe the United States “should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."
I look forward to hearing more post-partisan consensus-building rhetoric from Vice President Biden.
Yes, the Obama camp has their work cut out for them. But then, Obama didn't choose Biden because he emotes well. He didn't choose Biden because he can garner votes from white, working class ethnics in Pennsylvania and other states. Nor did he choose Biden because he is necessarily the smartest, the best looking, the most compelling, or even the most qualified to be president.
Barack Obama chose Joe Biden to attack John McCain and savage him like there's no tomorrow. But Biden will do it with that huge teeth-baring grin on his face so that people believe he's really not a bad sort of fellow. It seems that Obama is determined that if he does lose to McCain, Democrats will not be able to criticize him for not being tough enough on the other guy.
Hold on to your hats -- and bring plenty of paper towels. It's liable to get very messy, very soon in this race.