Planet Gore

Joe Biden, Mature Statesman

Last August I took note when then-presidential aspirant and now Obama running mate Sen. Joe Biden (D., Del.) appeared on The Daily Show touting his book Promises to Keep. The book, like his appearance, was designed to get some buzz for his presidential foreign policy bona fides. As we saw then (and will surely see again), one of his favorite approaches is to mock President Bush. This stab, at least as Biden tries it, warrants derision. If “expertise” combines perspective with an appreciation for specifics and nuance, Biden needs a little more work. Let’s return to the recent past for a brief look at the near-term future.
Biden’s approach of self-promotion-by-negative-comparison involves regaling us with the tale of how one morning soon after Biden assumed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair following Sen. Jim Jeffords’ defection, Bush had the gall to summon him for a meeting at ten after the hour. The idea! A still obviously nonplussed Biden claimed he had never before experienced such a thing . . . not even meeting on the hour?!
Anyway, Bush wanted a briefing on Europe. Biden also found this amazing, “swear to God” he says in disbelief, forgetting for the moment that the Dems’ meme at the time was that Bush wouldn’t sufficiently consult with the Democratic Congress. What got Joe’s goat was that Bush buttered him up — a tactic that seems to have been lost on Biden, who seems to sincerely believe such chatter simply represented ignorance — by saying the White House staff may be crack “but they don’t know the individual leaders I’m going to meet with like you.”
Speaking of ignorance, Biden wanted us to know that Bush has a boatload of it, confiding to host Jon Stewart “God love him, he said: now why is . . . why is [then-German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder so angry with me, and this was after Schroeder came into office and he was now the Chancellor of Germany and the President said that we’re pulling out of the Kyoto Treaty . . . and he couldn’t understand why [Schroeder] was mad. And I wasn’t much help. I wasn’t much help.” Oh, what to do with such people, Jon!
Hmmm . . . yes. Technically, this was “after Schroeder came into office,” which actually occurred more than two years before Bush did, and three years before Jumpin’ Jim Jeffords handed control of the Senate to Biden’s party and prompting Bush’s outreach. To Stewart’s credit, he interjected at the ellipses that Schroeder had to dance to the tune of the German Green Party. Biden remained less focused on such Realpolitik. For example, although Biden simply couldn’t believe that Bush said he was maintaining the Clinton-Gore stance of not seeking Kyoto ratification – Bush never “unsigned” the treaty and cannot be described as having pulled out of something we never formally joined, Mr. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and International Guru – Biden himself voted to instruct President Clinton not to enter the treaty. Clinton never sought a vote one way or the other. If anyone could force that issue, it would have been the chairman of the FRC.
So as Joe Biden reintroduces himself to America tonight, I would like to reintroduce Chairman Biden to his then-counterpart on the House side, the late Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), who had not long before Biden’s Daily Show appearance articulated a somewhat better grasp of things, and one that rejected the insistence that Europe was acting the way it was to retaliate against George W. Bush. As Lantos noted, transatlantic relations were normalized with regime change, but over there — with Jacques Chirac, Schroeder, and the shorter-serving Romano Prodi out of office — not here in Washington.
Is my criticism of Biden’s distortions of such arcana to suit his agenda too picky, too inside baseball? — after all, isn’t that just politics? Possibly, to some. But it does seem likely, along with Biden’s strong appreciation for self, to be symptomatic of what we will be treated to from Denver tonight, and for (at least) the next ten weeks or so. 


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