The Campaign Spot

Why Does Joe Biden Keep Remembering Things That Didn’t Happen?

I remember when Joe Biden was named Obama’s running mate, some Democratic talking head on Larry King gushed over his unequaled depth of knowledge, calling him “a genius, with encyclopedic knowledge of foreign policy.”

Now, really, the coverage and conventional wisdom surrounding Biden has to start reflecting the fact that almost every time he opens his mouth, he says something glaringly, obviously wrong. And I don’t mean, he said “Medicare” when he meant “Medicaid”, or said “Sunni” when he meant “Shia,” or saying they were 57 states. Those are excusable slips of the tongue. 
I mean Biden keeps going on at length citing events that didn’t happen (at least not in this world) — being forced down on the Superhighway of Terror in Afghanistan, or being shot at in Iraq, or FDR getting on the television in 1929.
And now

Criticizing McCain for opposing negotiations with Iran, Biden said even the Bush administration now favors such talks — which Obama has long supported.
“After seven years, in which our senior diplomatic personnel were not allowed to make a single contact with Iranians, the Bush administration realized the absurdity of its own policy and sent our leading diplomat to Iran,” he said. “The Assistant Secretary of State as he went to Tehran, sat down at the instruction of the President of the United States.”
It sounds great for Obama and Biden that the president came around to something so close to their position on talks with Iran; trouble is, the event Biden described never actually happened.
In point of fact, the one “meeting” that has taken place was in Geneva, Switzerland, when Under Secretary of State William Burns sat in on a discussion between Iranian representatives and the other “P5 +1″ political directors involved in nuclear talks. The meeting, while a first, was not a negotiation; Burns was there merely as an observer, and had no formal role or talks with the Iranians.
So, point by point: Burns was not sent to Tehran; he did not go to Tehran; and there was no such instruction from the President.
Why the story from Biden? Turns out, he was taking a characteristic detour from his prepared text. Here’s the far more factually accurate version of what he was supposed to say:

“After seven years in which our senior diplomat responsible for Iran was not allowed to meet a single Iranian, the Bush administration realized the absurdity of its policy and sent a leading State Department official to deal directly with Tehran.”

The spin from the Biden team is… well, about what you would expect:

Biden’s spokesman David Wade admits the slip of the tongue, but says “I’d bet my first born that the McCain campaign, led by a candidate who thought Czechoslovakia was still a country, doesn’t really want to have a debate on geography. To sum it up: wrong city, right policy.”

Eh. You say Czechoslovakia when you mean Czech Republic, I can see how that can happen. I don’t think Obama’s “57 states” gaffe says much about him, as he pretty obviously meant 47 states. But I think Joe Biden’s constant flights of fancy indicate he’s not a terribly precise thinker or speaker, and he’s certainly not used to being called out on these, or being corrected. He takes in data and remembers what he wants to remember, not the facts as they actually are.
(More on this list – he keeps insisting that his wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver when the driver in question was sober; he keeps saying he was a coal miner when his grandfather was; he says the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said we’re losing the war in Iraq (he said we were “not winning” in Afghanistan)… )
I know we’re supposed to be worried about whether Sarah Palin is ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, but I really wonder what kind of diplomatic crises could be triggered by a globetrotting vice president who kept talking about events that didn’t happen…

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