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More Biden, Please

[ Posted Monday, July 19th, 2010 – 17:29 PDT ]

The White House is, quite obviously, getting back into campaign mode. This is a good thing for Democrats, because it means putting the last spadeful of dirt on the carcass of President Obama's hopes of bipartisanship in Washington during his term of office. But while Obama has recently begun to make the case to voters why electing Democrats this November is a good idea, Vice President Joe Biden has apparently been doing a much better job in terms of framing the debate on Democratic terms. Which means the smartest thing Obama could do right now is to send the Vice President out in front of the media and in front of campaign events to make the case a lot more strongly than Obama could (or should). In other words: more Biden, please.

Obama, being president of everyone, walks a fine line between being inclusive of all opinions and promoting his own party's ideals. He's always going to annoy somebody, whether on his left (when he talks bipartisanship) or on his right (when he dabbles in partisanship). And one gets the impression that bipartisanship is not just a political tactic or ploy with Obama, it is instead a concept he believes in at the core of his being. Meaning that setting it aside is not easy for him to do. Obama has demonstrated, over the past year and a half, that he clings to the idea of bipartisanship long after it is quite obvious that Republicans have no intention of working with him at all, and are instead deeply committed to his political failure. This, it should be pointed out, was a surprise to almost nobody -- except, perhaps, Obama himself.

So even when Obama does get a little partisan, you sense that he (or his speechwriting team) is always holding back a bit. This is shown most dramatically by his almost near-refusal to use the word "Republican" when defining his opposition. This is a basic failure of politics, because (just like in advertising) one of the bedrock rules is "define your brand in the best possible light, and define your competition in the worst possible light." By not even naming his opponents, Obama refuses again and again to reinforce this basic political message in voters' minds.

Today, Obama finally did use the word, in talking about the Senate voting tomorrow to extend unemployment benefits (a vote Obama is all but sure to win). Some pundits have criticized Obama for not getting engaged on this issue earlier, but (timing aside) Obama's remarks today were pretty good. Here's an excerpt (his full remarks are quite short, and are worth reading), which followed Obama introducing three people who would be directly affected by an extension of unemployment benefits (Jim Chukalas, Leslie Macko, and Denise Gibson):

And for a long time, there's been a tradition -- under both Democratic and Republican presidents -- to offer relief to the unemployed. That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits -- benefits that are often the person's sole source of income while they're looking for work -- are in jeopardy.

And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn't have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn't offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help.

Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried -- not once, not twice, but three times -- to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.

That attitude, I think, reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet... in town hall meetings -- Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise -- they're not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can't find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who've fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits, and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim and Leslie and Denise, but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now -- and I hope we seize it. It's time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It's time to do what's right -- not for the next election but for the middle class. We've got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We've got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and the lending for small businesses.

Now, this is significant not only because the language is stronger than we've heard for a while, but also because the word "Republican" actually appears. But after this paragraph, there are easily three or four other places in which the word "Republican" is replaced with a euphemism, such as "these leaders in the Senate." And the closing paragraph in the speech is actually a call for bipartisan support for this vote, which simply is not going to happen.

Obama wants to retain his moral and political high ground, in other words. He doesn't want to be too harsh on Republican senators, and wants to be seen still holding the hand of bipartisanship out to them. This is understandable, since (as I mentioned) he is the president of everyone, not just his supporters.

Vice presidents, however, are supposed to be attack dogs. Picture Dick Cheney in your mind's eye for about three-tenths of a second, if you have any doubts that this is the traditional role of the number two guy.

Vice President Joe Biden also recently gave a speech. It was a partisan affair, and not official White House remarks, so it's really unfair to compare his words with Obama's side-by-side here, I realize (because it really is apples and oranges). Also, I apologize for not having a full transcript to link to (if anyone has such a link, please post it in the comments). Biden spoke recently at a Jackson Day fundraiser for Democrats in Tennessee, along with other Democratic luminaries such as Al Gore. Here are some quotes from his speech (although these separate quotes may not be in the exact order Biden spoke, as without a transcript it is impossible to verify -- these quotes came from an AP article and a local article from Tennessee Report):

"[Democrats in the upcoming elections face] a recalcitrant Republican Party that is dominated by a group that ... have not shown any instinct to offer any real alternative to anything we're doing."

"Repeal and Repeat: Repeal everything positive done, and repeat the polices of the previous eight years of the Bush administration."

"Now, Republicans are claiming to be worried about spending and debt ... Republicans moralizing about deficits is a like an arsonist moralizing about fire safety."

"These guys have zero credibility. They put trillions of dollars on our kids' credit cards."

"[The Bush administration] gave us a Ponzi scheme masquerading as a vision."

"Throughout the Bush administration, they decided to let Wall Street be the cowboys of the East. Wall Street made outrageous profits, enticing people with mortgages they couldn't afford, with no down payments, teaser interest rates, forcing millions of Americans to face foreclosure on their homes."

"Next week, President Obama will sign a bill ending the outrageous practices taking place on Wall Street in the last eight years, and we did it with virtually no Republican help."

"Let’s get the facts straight. We were a nation on the verge of a depression, and we had a foreign policy that consisted of a simple proposition: Either you're with us or against us, led by a group of neoconservatives who have been wrong on virtually every issue."

The AP article went on to report:

Biden urged Tennessee voters to elect more Democrats to Congress to keep the president's agenda on track. He cited examples of drawing down combat troops in Iraq from 140,000 to 50,000 this summer and the health care and financial overhauls passed by Congress.

All of this, I have to say, is much more like it. "Repeal and repeat," in particular, is excellent. Short and snappy, and memorably alliterative to boot. Both words imply moving backward, not forward. Maybe work the word "retreat" in the extended remarks, just to cement the image.

The only problem with Biden's speech is that Biden casts a shorter shadow in the media than Obama, especially when giving speeches at party-insider events. But if Biden is deployed on a more widespread basis (appearing on a few Sunday morning talk shows, or other media interviews) and can still bring to life some Democratic fire to back up Obama's more tepid criticisms of Republicans, it could do the Democrats a world of good right about now.

Obama, to his credit, is managing to paint a picture for voters of what Democrats want to do and what Republicans want to keep them from doing. He used an old standard of politics (introducing folks personally affected) and tied what Democrats want to do politically into a larger narrative. This is refreshing to see, since Obama himself has stumbled quite badly in this regard in the past (see: healthcare debate). Bring it down to the personal level, and your audience can relate to the story much better. Which Obama did accomplish in his unemployment remarks, without slipping into being maudlin about it.

But Biden's remarks are an even bigger breath of fresh, partisan air into the campaign season. Democrats, as always, have a choice in the upcoming campaign. They can try to convince voters that their ideas are good ones, and their opponents' ideas are either non-existent, consist solely of saying "no," or are hideously bad ideas to begin with. This is called "politics." Democrats' alternative choice is to cower in a corner, allow the Republicans to define the entire debate and the entire campaign, and play reflexive defense for the next four months.

As any casual observer of politics can see, the choice of fighting back and standing up for what you believe is right is quite obviously the better one. And, so far, Vice President Joe Biden has done the best job of defining exactly how Democrats should do this. Since he's not president himself, he is much more free to put things in explicitly partisan terms than his boss. And he seems to be doing a rip-snorting good job of doing so.

So I call on Democratic election strategists, from the Oval Office on down, to realize that they've got a political asset who needs a lot higher media profile in the next month or so. Get the vice president booked on all the wonky talk shows (who is going to turn down the vice president, after all, if he asks to be on your show?). Get him in front of some campaign events, quickly. Get the media to follow him around, just in case he says something worth making a soundbite out of for that evening's news.

In other words, please -- whoever is in control of such things for the Democratic Party -- please can we have more Joe Biden in the next few weeks? Pretty please?

 

[Program Note: This will be my last "live" column until next Monday. I will be attending Netroots Nation in Las Vegas this week, and will be running a few choice repeat columns for the remainder of the week. Being a contrarian, I will not be attempting to "liveblog" the convention in any way whatsoever -- indeed, if I don't touch a computer until I get back, that'll be fine with me. Hrrmph. In any case, enjoy the encore presentation of earlier columns for the next four days, and I'll see you again back here next Monday, as usual.]

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

32 Comments on “More Biden, Please”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    I'm going to go WAY way out on a limb here, and predict Liz is going to like this column.

    :-)

    -CW

  2. [2] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    CW: "Which means the smartest thing Obama could do right now is to send the Vice President out in front of the media and in front of campaign events to make the case a lot more strongly than Obama could (or should).

    This is precisely why God created veeps. Veeps are supposed to do and say the stuff that's a little too undignified, or partisan, for the president and the office to engage in.

    I've always loved Joe Biden; not his politics, but just the guy that he is. He's such real people, as we old hippies used to say. Waaaaay too chatty at times, and prone to gaffes, but in a good way. Like a Crazy Uncle Joe kinda way. And I've always loved the passion he exudes, regardless of what the subject matter. He's always giving his 100%.

    Which made me literally LOL when I came across this article today, featuring Biden still hard at work, trying to patch things up between the White House and Nancy Pelosi, after Gibbs angered her to no when he spoke about the House being in play:

    Biden Declares Pelosi More Powerful than Obama, VP
    http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/eyeon2010/2010/07/biden-declares-pelosi-more-pow.html

    ROFL. Gotta love him.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Dearest Chris,

    I like all your columns! :)

    But, this one was extra special. We could all use more Biden, all the time.

    Unfortunately, the media will do their usual smash up job of ridiculing him at every opportunity. And, so I have to wonder if it's such a good idea for him to be out front and center so much.
    I'm kidding!!! :)

    I would like to know, though, why it's next to impossible, apparently, to find a transcript or video of this J-J Dinner.

    Have a wonderful time at the Netroots convention, stay away from all computers ... and, don't forget to kick Russ Feingold in the shins for me should you run into him ... or any other similar type self-righteous pompous progressive! Oh, I kid Senator Feingold ... and the progressives. :)

    We'll miss you while you're gone!

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Lordy, Lordy...

    LizM is in basic agreement with Chris1962.

    I think I need a vacation...

    Heh.

    Actually, I agree with pretty much all of it. This is indeed the reason Veeps were created. And Joe Biden is such an authentic down-ta-earth guy that even if you disagree with everything he says, I bet you could still sit down and have a beer with the guy and he'd have you rolling in the aisles with laughter, just with the stories he could tell.

    I'm wondering why there isn't at least a video of the Biden speech, myself, though.

    I will be meeting with at least one senator while I'm away, but unfortunately for everyone, I am sworn to secrecy, and am angling for an official interview later, so you'll all just have to wonder about that. I will say, for the record, it's not Senator Feingold.

    Any suggestions as to previous columns (from about the past year) I should run while I'm away? Any favorites, anyone?

    I should also say I'm not going to be very vigilant about answering comments here while I'm gone, so everyone BEHAVE YOURSELVES! Heh.

    -CW

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    CW,

    I'm going to go WAY way out on a limb here, and predict Liz is going to like this column.

    :-)

    "GOOD CALL!!!"
    -Jim Carrey, LIAR LIAR

    :D

    CB,

    as we old hippies used to say.

    Ya know, it just occurred to me..

    You are the epitome of the slogan that, when people are young and idealistic, they are Democrats. When they grow up, they become Republicans. :D

    CW,

    I should also say I'm not going to be very vigilant about answering comments here while I'm gone, so everyone BEHAVE YOURSELVES! Heh.

    {{{{Michale looks around nonchalantly, whistling innocently..}}}

    :D

    Michale.....

  6. [6] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    CW: "And Joe Biden is such an authentic down-ta-earth guy that even if you disagree with everything he says, I bet you could still sit down and have a beer with the guy and he'd have you rolling in the aisles with laughter, just with the stories he could tell."

    That's a perfect description of how I've always perceived him.

    I will be meeting with at least one senator while I'm away, but unfortunately for everyone, I am sworn to secrecy, and am angling for an official interview later, so you'll all just have to wonder about that. I will say, for the record, it's not Senator Feingold.

    I know who. 'D

    Any suggestions as to previous columns (from about the past year) I should run while I'm away? Any favorites, anyone?

    I vote for something about the Tea Partiers, if you have any earlier stuff. Or something about the Founders. Or Hippies. Or Glenn Beck. Or puppies. I'd check your list except that it's so early in the morning that I'm not awake enough to absorb information.

    When are you going to Vegas? Or are you there already? Can you play one of those super-duper slot machines for the board, and if you win, split the millions between us all? 'D

  7. [7] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    You are the epitome of the slogan that, when people are young and idealistic, they are Democrats. When they grow up, they become Republicans. :D

    Soooooooooo true, Michale. And I know so many old hippies just like me. In many ways, I'm going through my second hippiehood; in other ways, I'm becoming a slightly-to-the-right-of-Dick-Cheney conservative. A year and a half with Obama in office will do that to a body. 'D

  8. [8] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Biden at Brooks Brothers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41JFqDEGnms

  9. [9] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    I should also say I'm not going to be very vigilant about answering comments here while I'm gone, so everyone BEHAVE YOURSELVES! Heh.

    That's like parents heading out for vacation and instructing the teenagers not to throw any parties while they're gone.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    That's like parents heading out for vacation and instructing the teenagers not to throw any parties while they're gone.

    I am thinking either RISKY BUSINESS or WEIRD SCIENCE! :D

    Michale.....

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    I probably should post this in the "FALL POLITICAL SCHEDULE" commentary, as it is more relevant to THAT commentary.

    However, I believe this is quite important and don't want it to get buried...

    So, with my sincerest apologies to Liz, I would like to shift tracks, since we seem to ALL agree that Biden is a great guy that EVERYONE (myself included) would love to sit down and have a beer with...

    Of course, I wouldn't have a problem with sitting down with Pelosi or Reid or even Obama, if there is beer...

    "mmmmmmmmm {gurgle gurgle) Beeeeeer...."
    -Homer Simpson

    :D

    Anyways, moving on...

    The CBO predicts an increase in our public debt from $7.5 trillion at the end of 2009 to $20.3 trillion at the end of 2020 if Obama's fiscal 2011 budget is implemented. As a percentage of gross domestic product, the debt will rise to 90% from 53%.

    Employers are not hiring because they know they will soon be paying not only higher taxes but also more health care costs or penalties. Depreciation allowances for investment in equipment will be lowered from $250,000 to $25,000, which means businesses will do less investing.

    http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article/540837/201007191905/Illinois-Failures-Go-Nationwide-Under-Obama.aspx

    Now, I ask you...

    Is this any way to run a country???

    Michale.....

  12. [12] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    I am thinking either RISKY BUSINESS or WEIRD SCIENCE! :D

    I'm thinking of a Home Alone version of Animal House.

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Just for the record ...

    While Biden and the rest of us are quite aware of the traditional role played by the vice president, he took the job anyway. That's because his role in this administration is anything but traditional.

    As far as powerful vice presidents go, Biden and Cheney would rank right up there, but for vastly different reasons. Most importantly, a Biden vice presidency is value-added, in ways most people don't begin to wrap their minds around. Dick Cheney, on the other hand, added no value at all.

  14. [14] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Biden adds comic value: I'll definitely give him that. 'D

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    Liz

    Dick Cheney, on the other hand, added no value at all.

    Com'on Liz.. You may hate the man, but at least be fair.

    You have to realize that 80%-90% of the legislation and counter terrorism activities that came down the pipe were pushed by Cheney.

    Activities that kept this country safe and resulted in ZERO terrorist attacks on US proper.

    Hate the Devil all you want, but give the Devil his due.

    CB

    Biden adds comic value: I'll definitely give him that. 'D

    Ooooooo Yer gonna burn for that one! :D

    Michale.....

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Careful, CB ... your true colours are showing.

  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    I don't hate the man ... I actually quite liked him back when we was defense secretary in what seems like eons ago.

    But, Vice President Cheney gave his boss very bad advice on any number of issues. He was less interested in instituting policies at home to protect America and Americans than he was with promoting and executing an extremely dangerous foreign policy. And, on that score, many Repbulicans worth their salt would agree.

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    While you may hate the policies (and I know you do) and while we disagree on those policies (and you know we do) it cannot be denied that the policies were effective.

    Those policies DID keep Americans safe and provided valuable intel about terrorist movements...

    You can decry the methods..

    But you can't argue the results.

    Nothing succeeds like success...

    Michale.....

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What have you to say about Cheney's dismal foreign policy advice? He was wrong about everything!

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The problem with your arguments, Michale, is that you judge the success of counter-terrorism polices based ONLY on the fact that there have been "zero attacks on US proper".

    That is simply not a sound basis for judging success. You really do have to factor into the equation everything else the last administration did to endanger America and Americans, at home and certainly abroad.

  21. [21] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    "Careful, CB ... your true colours are showing."

    Errr... you might wanna get a look in the mirror, there, Liz: "Most importantly, a Biden vice presidency is value-added, in ways most people don't begin to wrap their minds around. Dick Cheney, on the other hand, added no value at all."

    'D

  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    The problem with your arguments, Michale, is that you judge the success of counter-terrorism polices based ONLY on the fact that there have been "zero attacks on US proper".

    That is simply not a sound basis for judging success. You really do have to factor into the equation everything else the last administration did to endanger America and Americans, at home and certainly abroad.

    The fact that no innocent people died is the first, foremost and ONLY consideration that concerns me..

    Anything else is subject to interpretation.

    Michale.....

  23. [23] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    "You really do have to factor into the equation everything else the last administration did to endanger America and Americans, at home and certainly abroad.

    This administration has the same policies and is doing the same things, only we're getting attacked on the homeland. NYC just escaped an attack owed only to a bomb's failure to ignite, same as the case of the Underwear Bomber. "Dumb luck" appears to be this administration's counterterrorism policy.

  24. [24] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    "But, Vice President Cheney gave his boss very bad advice on any number of issues. He was less interested in instituting policies at home to protect America and Americans than he was with promoting and executing an extremely dangerous foreign policy. And, on that score, many Repbulicans worth their salt would agree."

    You do realize that your statements of fact are nothing more than your opinions, right?

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CB,

    It seems you have some difficulty discerning fact from opinion.

    To be clear, here we are allowed to express our opinions but we are not entitled to our own facts.

    While you're thinking about that, here is something for your reading pleasure...

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-clemons/biden-dances-the-tough-da_b_653630.html

    For clarification, this is an opinion piece, peppered with countless facts. :)

  26. [26] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    It seems you have some difficulty...

    Actually, Liz, I'm a rather bright and extremely well-educated (not to mention well-read) individual. And I'm getting a little tired of your condescending attitude. So how about you try a slightly friendly approach, because the what-you-don't-seem-to-understand tactic doesn't fly with me. Just saying.

    "To be clear, here we are allowed to express our opinions but we are not entitled to our own facts."

    All the more reason to express opinions as opinions, not facts, which is the point I had made.

    Please bear in mind that while you may see Biden as some kind of extraordinary veep, others do not. I'm one of them. I don't see him doing anything any other veep doesn't typically do.

  27. [27] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CB,

    You really shouldn't pay so much attention to my condescending attitude. Really ... you're as sensitive as most of those silly progressives. :)

  28. [28] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    "you're as sensitive as..."

    And yet another little passive-aggressive slam.

    This is getting really tiring, Liz. If you can't converse with me without inserting a condescending or otherwise snide remark, I'm not interested in chatting with you further. That level of discourse is fine at the HuffPo, where it's nothing but a 24/7 foodfight, but I come to this board for civil discussion.

  29. [29] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CB,

    Now, THAT was laugh-out-loud funny. You are a real card and you ought to be dealt with! :)

    Let' see if I'm understanding your rules of the road correctly. You're OK with snide remarks as long as they are not also condescending?

    Or, is that you're just now declaring that you will no longer use the snide remark, whether it's condescending or not?

    Or ... What are you saying?

  30. [30] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CB[21]

    I'm not sure I understand that (snide) remark but I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that I don't pretend to hide behind any sort of ... what's your word for it? ... on-line anonymity?

    :)

  31. [31] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Buh-bye.

  32. [32] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    See ya.

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