Last week, Vice President Joe Biden, touched off a firestorm of criticism at a campaign stop while addressing the Romney/Ryan plans to “unshackle” banks and Wall Street through deregulation. Of course, Republicans have long been railing against nearly all government regulation, running the gamut from the E.P.A. on the environment, to product/consumer safety regulations, to banking and stock trading on Wall Street. Speaking to a large crowd Tuesday in Virginia, Biden accused Republicans through their candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as, “going to put y’all back in chains.” The statement drew charges of pandering and race baiting, largely due to the fact that there was a large number of African-Americans among the crowd at the rally, held near the former capital of the old Confederacy. It appeared to some as a shameless allusion to the dark days of slavery. Rather than merely embedding the short clip being played everywhere else, I include here more complete coverage of Biden Speech and reaction (including video) from CNN Opinion for your consideration.
Biden’s “gaffe” was reported widely, like in The New Yorker and the conservative media…notably Fox News and The Daily Beast went ballistic with commentary that Biden should either resign or that Obama should replace him on the 2012 Democratic ticket (many suggesting with Hillary Clinton). The Sunday morning talk shows contained a great deal of discussion over the ‘incendiary remarks.’ This morning, continuing his attacks of last week on Biden, Rudy Giuliani, former New York Mayor, and one-time Republican presidential hopeful called into question Biden’s, “mental capacity.” Of course Rudy and Joe have never exactly been best pals, going back to Biden’s 2007 observation that Giuliani’s 2008 campaign consisted of “a noun, a verb and 9-11,” chiding Rudy for his constant pandering to his 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attack notoriety and dubious title as “America’s Mayor.”
Pressured for a response, President Obama has generally stood by his vice president and The Boston Globe has reported that support renewed as recently as today. While not echoing the same language Biden used, Obama did not assail it either; stating only that Biden’s choice of words was a “distraction” from the debate that is taking place on the two competing visions between the Democrats and Republicans. A few Democrats have suggested that Biden’s remarks were “intemperate,” especially given the venue before such a large number of African-American supporters. Democratic Maryland Governor, Martin O’Malley called the remarks, “an indelicate choice of words.”
Vice President Joe Biden has a long history of making eyebrow raising political or social comments or, as they’re better known, “gaffes.” Of course committing a “gaffe” is commonly characterized as meaning, ‘when a politician either tells you the truth or tells you how he/she really feels about a given topic.’ Joe has certainly committed more than his share and I’m not going to recount them all here…you can probably Google “Joe Biden gaffes” and find a very long list.
Joe Biden is well-known for speaking from the heart and off the cuff, and with a lot of force and passion…not a safe mix of emotions for a politician these days it would seem. I guess you might best compare him to another politician we know, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie is, to my mind, the Republican Joe Biden. As a fifty-year observer of all things political in America, I like them both, if not for their politics (Christie’s anyway), then – at least – for their passion and candor. I find it somehow refreshing in our modern age of “political correctness” and “focus groups” messaging.
My personal take on Joe’s remarks and the resulting controversy is a little more nuanced than what I’ve heard thus far from the Right…or even from the Left (at least publicly). Without delving into an esoteric analysis of the competing ideologies, let me summarize briefly where we are today with the basic difference(s) here. I could go on and on about the threat to our democracy from a looming “hereditary oligarchy” or a conspiratorial “New World Order” , but I’ll save that for another time.
Republicans (i.e. conservatives) are for small, limited government (i.e. states rights over federalism) and their party is largely influenced by three competing and overlapping interests. There are the wealthy corporate interests, anti-union and anti-regulation; the Tea Party element, convinced that taxes are too high (even though they’re at the lowest in more than a generation) and, that government is the enemy (except for Medicare, which they like) and; the religious fundamentalists, who are largely anti-science and anti-education that isn’t based on theology. There are NeoCons too, but they’re just too sinister to discuss in greater detail here. Their number includes, I believe, an unhealthy, dangerous mix of the above.
Democrats (i.e. liberals and progressives) believe that our federal government can and should do things for all the people and should represent that fact. They support worker/union rights, public education, a fair and progressive tax structure to fund defense, public works and promote the general public welfare. In essence, they support the principle first espoused (in modern times) by English philosopher, jurist and social reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) who wrote, “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.” John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), a better known British philosopher and economist, was a disciple of Bentham’s and more fully developed the dynamics of the utilitarian views of society.
I have mentioned (in earlier articles) my own personal journey to my present identification as a Liberal. They took me from being a moderate Republican in the 60’s and 70’s through the personal experiences of war (Vietnam) and the Nixon years. I noted, with alarm, the rise of the far-right, Goldwater version of the Republican Party. It seemed a racist and narrow-minded viewpoint to me (Goldwater, in fact, opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act on Constitutional grounds). It also seemed that the party I respected for its fiscal austerity (I really think a balanced budget makes for a stronger nation), strong national defense and, for its compassion (Lincoln is my political hero), had somehow developed into something I no longer recognized nor wanted to belong. It had become bitter and angry and seemed determined to fight the Civil War all over again. Not on the battlefield but – rather – in the legislature(s) and in the courts. No longer dedicated to expanding rights and progressing our common welfare, but rather, resolved in standing still or…even returning to the “good old days,” which really weren’t all that good for millions of women, minorities, the poor and elderly, gays, etc.
Ronald Reagan, a former Democrat, who became the very paragon of Republican ideology and idealism, once remarked that “‘[he] didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left [him].” I feel the same way about the Republican Party. And, so, I give Joe Biden a wide pass here. I think that is what he was talking about. A bit clumsy? Perhaps. But that’s our Joe…he says what he really feels and for that, I for one, can not and will not fault him. In closing, I think the debate and anger raging on the Right and the calls for Obama to cast Biden aside (throw him under the bus) are merely out of their self-realization that there is a great deal of truth in his speech. Their outrage represents an attempt to marginalize his role in this campaign: to effectively energize the base and reach out to moderate and independent voters. To paraphrase a line from Hamlet, “Methinks they doth protest too much.”
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