Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Veep Debate Will Pit "Attaboy Joe" Against "Oh S--t Sarah"

Leading up to Thursday night's vice presidential debate, Republican operatives have been trying a new line of distraction against the Obama/Biden ticket. According to the whine of the day, the media have been treating Sarah Palin unfairly, running her through the ringer for her gaffes, awkward silences, errors, and outright ignorance, while they've been giving Joe Biden a pass.

According to Rudy Giuliani, “Sarah Palin is treated horribly different than Joe Biden." According to Fred Thompson, "Governor Palin’s every comment was scrutinized by the media and judged against what Jefferson or Lincoln might have said. Never mind that her counterpart, the 30-year-Washington-veteran Joe Biden, apparently is unaware that America relies upon coal for a lot of it’s electricity or that he recently referred to a top level U.S. official’s visit to Iran that never happened. That’s just Joe being Joe – protected by the sheer number of his gaffes and the fact that he is Barack Obama’s running mate."

And while the McCain campaign is pushing Biden's gaffes, it's insisting that Palin's shouldn't count. Today, McCain testily swiped at Biden's recent eroneous suggestion that FDR was president at the start of the depression and used the television to reassure the American people. "Some people allege that others may have spent too much time inside the Beltway," McCain said, "...and too much time not out in touch with the American people, some people that know that Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn't adress the American people on television."

It is absolutely the case that Biden has gotten a lot less press generally than Sarah Palin has. And it's also absolutely true that his gaffes -- which have been more plentiful than I'd have hoped, God love him -- have caused a lot less alarm among voters and members of the pundit class on both sides of the aisle.

But that absolutely makes sense, and here's why: we know Joe Biden -- loquacious, folksy, windy, goofy, but competent. On this, even conservatives like David Brooks agree. Nobody wants to have a phone conversation with him necessarily, and nobody would want him to be his star witness at a murder trial, but I think that if, God forbid, Barack Obama dropped over dead on January 25, 2009, 95 percent of us could still sleep soundly at night knowing folksy, windy old Joe was at the helm.

Sens. Biden and Obama at their first joint campaign rally in Springfield, Illinois. I am at top right, behind the fellow in the green shirt stretching out his hand, who happens to be none other than Mr. Jacob Trimble.

He's been in the Senate for three decades. Not only does he know Supreme Court cases, but he's taught them. He's even crafted laws that have been the subject of them. He's on two of the most prestigious and important committees in the Senate -- the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. He's been to Afghanistan. He's been to Iraq. He's been on Meet the Press more than almost anyone. We trust him.

And who is Sarah Palin? She seems okay, even though she's stonewalling an abuse-of-power investigation in Alaska. But her roll-out has been one mistake, one wrong answer, one non-answer after another, to Charlie Gibson, to Katie Couric, and to her fellow cheesesteak eaters. All we know about her is an unsettling and desperate incompetence.

We have to ask her hard questions, not because she should be held to a higher standard, but because Joe Biden has already been tried in the refining fire of the public eye for 30 years. We're not intentionally leaving Biden out; we're just trying to bring Palin up to where Biden -- and generally all other VP nominees -- already are.

I'm reminded of the New Testament story about non-Christian exorcists in Ephesus who had heard about the miracles and exorcisms the Apostle Paul was performing. Without converting to the faith or giving much thought to the consequences, seven of these exorcists decided they'd get in on the action. When they came across a man possessed by a demon, some of these name-dropping coat-tailers yelled out, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches."

The demon replied, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know. But who are you?" Then the demon-possessed guy proceeded to beat the tar out of the posers.

I think a lot of Americans right now look at Sarah Palin and think to themselves, "Joe Biden we know, and John McCain we know, and heck, even Barack Obama we know. But who are you?" And when McCain repeats assertedly, as he did again today, that Palin's running for vice-president after just 20 months as a governor is the same as Reagan or Clinton running after considerably more experience, Americans scratch their heads and say, "Um...wait a sec. Reagan we know, and Bill Clinton we know. But who are YOU?"

"Ronald Reagan we know, and Bill Clinton we know, but who are YOU?"

Republicans always argue against affirmative action and taxes by saying that people should have to earn each opportunity and dime they get. Well, Joe Biden has earned a presumption of competence; Palin hasn't.

Before my Dad was a pastor, he was an oil field worker for Marathon, and his boss had a crude saying that explained his management style: "It takes about 20 'attaboys' to make up for one 'oh shit!'"

Biden's tenure as Obama's running mate has been peppered with a fair number of "oh shits" so far, but he's got the wind of a lifetime of "attaboys" at his back. Palin, on the other hand, was foisted on us all fully formed, like Athena from the mind of "Zeus" McCain, and she's done nothing but clumsily skip from "shit" to "shit" ever since.

The decent thing for the McCain/Palin campain to do is to start digging themselves out of this hole honestly and honorably, rather than bashing poor Joe Biden and the media over the head with the shovel.


BobsAdvice said...

Terrific entry and a great blog! Caught your comment on the Times with the link and glad I was introduced to your writing!

Levi said...

Thanks, Robert. Tell a friend! :-) Do you have a link to your blog?

Lori said...

Nicely put. I've recently found your blog and went through the archives, and look forward to more.